Caroline Keane’s new album puts her front and center in a way that lets listeners really focus on her playing more directly.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
In the player this week is the album “Shine” by concertina player Caroline Keane. Some readers will recognize Keane from the band FourWinds (fourwindsirishmusic.com), an outfit with which she has recorded and toured the festival circuit with in the U.S. and Europe, and perhaps even from “Never Say Goodbye, Say Good Luck,” the album she made with FourWinds bandmate Tom Delany.
This album, however, puts Keane up front and center in a way that lets listeners really focus on her playing more directly, and that’s a great thing. “Shine” is a fabulous album.
The thing that is most apparent from the get-go is Keane’s musicality and commanding sense of rhythm. (Would you expect any different from one of Noel Hill’s protégées?) Originally from Limerick but now living in Dingle, she cites Clare and Sliabh Luachra influences in her playing which are quite understandable given what’s included here. Listen, for example, to the jig set “The Nightingale / …” or the slide set “Charming Lovely Nancy / …,” to find lovely examples of her playing. Her intensity and drive is admirable overall, but as one listens to the album as a whole, the nuance in her playing becomes increasingly apparent.
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Many of the standout tracks are those on which her gifts are paired with those of another melody player. I think of “The Gatehouse Maid / …” which includes uilleann piper Tom Delaney; “The Roscommon / …” which showcases the playing of Laura Kerr (fiddle), Conal O’Kane (guitar), and Robbie Walsh (bodhrán); and “Denis Murphy’s Slide / …” with Jeremy Spencer (fiddle) and Alec Brown (cello). Each of these is tastefully arranged and very finely executed, but you can tell she’s really listening to and playing off her guests in a way that enriches the moment.
One track that stood out for me in particular was “When You’re Gone I Say Your Name.” A composition of Gerry O’Bierne (who provides guitar backing here), it is delivered in slow air fashion and it’s wonderfully delicate and expressive – Keane does a great job with it. But there’s something about the melody O’Bierne came up with here that seems very adaptable, in the same sort of way that mid-century songs written for the theater could be reworked as vehicles for improvisation and reharmonization by jazz musicians. It’s a really interesting tune. Also interesting is the pair of waltzes, “Carlisle Bay Waltz / The Waltz of Happiness,” composed by Ciarán Tourish & Cliff Hamilton, respectively. Both tunes – and especially the second – have kind of wry old timey-ness about them that Keane really keys into and gets the most out of.
For those looking for great tunes, this album also delivers. Some of the really lovely ones are of a somewhat more recent vintage, including “The Apple Blossom Reel” (Niall Vallely), “Father Newman’s” (John Brady), Gráinne’s Jig / Don’t Touch that Green Linnet” (Tommy Peoples), “The Arkle Mountain” (Tony “Sully” Sullivan), “The Leading Role” (Liz Carroll), and “The Jig of Port Fleadh” (Seán Ryan). Keane has also included a pair of her own compositions, “While the Cat’s Away” (a jig) and “The Wine Strand Hornpipe.” Both are lovely and featuring Keane’s compositional skill in a way that suggests her keen insight into what makes a tune work.
“Shine” is a must for the concertina players out there, but it’s really an album for anyone who loves brilliant traditional music. Keane’s feel is excellent and her approach is one that favors a tune’s inner beauty over pyrotechnic flash. This one’s a real delight to listen to and one for your collection or playlist! For more information and to purchase, visit carolinekeanemusic.com.