Chemistry comes from musical commitment

"The music hit with good force right away, which is always a good way to start an album," says columnist Daniel Neely about "Carlos Sweeney McCartin."


By Daniel Neely

Okay, so I’m a little late to the table with this week’s album – I only just received it last week – but have you heard “Carlos Sweeney McCartin” by Dylan Carlos (fiddle), Cein Sweeney (flute,) and John McCartin (guitar)? Gracious, what a powerful, fiery album! It features cool, invigorating instrumental music played in a way that traditional music lovers will thoroughly enjoy. It’s an album you’ll want to consider adding to your collection for sure, and this week I talk about why.

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A few things to get out of the way so as to orient ourselves: a) Carlos is from Roscommon, Sweeney is from Cavan, and McCartin is from Leitrim; b) they all come from musical families and are rooted in their musical community; c) Carlos (2019) and Sweeney (2015) have won the senior All-Ireland on their respective instruments; d) McCartin’s got a master’s (with honors!) in “Traditional Music Performance” from the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick and also plays with a group called Garadice; and e) they’re all renowned teachers and performers. These are the major “talking points” one’s first presented with regarding the musicians on this album, anyway, and it’s the kind of information that does a good job establishing their bona fides.

However, a more thorough dive into each musician makes things more interesting. It reveals more background and deeper connections, you find things like photos of one or two of them at cool looking sessions with folks you know, or of each in great, reputable céilí bands, or playing with legends. From this, one gets a much better sense of the chemistry that makes this album work. It’s where the deepest commitment to a life in the music becomes apparent, framing this album as not only a solid reflection of individual achievement, but as a statement on an important web of musicians playing traditional music today.

And really, you can’t beat the music here. I was truly delighted to hit play and hear “The Castle / The Green Fields of Woodford / The Newtown Bridge” because the sound was full, the playing robust, and the tempo just right. The music hit with good force right away, which is always a good way to start an album. But this feeling remained as the album unfolded. As I listened through, I marveled at the outstanding tune selection and tastefully understated arrangements against the sustained musical intensity. Great tracks I thought included “The Corner House / …,” “The Stig Jig / …,” “McKenna’s / …” and “Up in the Garret / …” (especially the latter two, which have wonderful contributions from excellent banjo player George McAdam), but every track here had something to recommend it.

For example, one of the real standouts for me was “Boy on the Hilltop / Martin Wynne’s #4 / McDonagh’s,” on which Sweeney taking a solo spotlight on the first tune, Carlos on the second, and then both fall in and drive it home together on the third. Being able to hear the nuance of each musician’s playing was great and to have it capped by the strong ensemble characteristic of the rest of the album made this track a nice microcosm for the album as a whole.

I mentioned McAdam above, but the album also includes important contributions from the legendary Donal Lunny (bouzouki and bodhrán) and John Joe Kelly (bodhrán). It’s amazing how much personality these players have, and how their playing gives music that already rocks a different look. Kelly shows up on three tracks, but Lunny is a consistent presence throughout the album. They’re great – but not necessary – additions here.

“Carlos Sweeney McCartin” represents a really great strain of today’s music. The musicians here are strong and connected, and the thick, enveloping sound they project here gives the album a substantive and “chunky” feel. This is an album that I would recommend to fans of traditional music, but one that I would also suggest to folks who only have a casual interest in it. The players comes with a strong pedigree, the music is quality throughout, and they’ve done a whole lot, really, without overdoing it. This is high level stuff, and I look forward to hearing more from these folks down the line. To learn more, visit