Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Many years ago, my wife and I, both fans of John Carty’s music, were in Dublin and had the opportunity to see his son James play a gig at the Cobblestone. We didn’t know his music at all, but we went and found his playing most impressive. We left that evening with a very strong impression because musically, he seemed very much his father’s son.
It was a delight, then, a few weeks ago to learn that the pair, John & James, were to release “The Wavy Bow Collection,” a 15-track assortment of tunes that provided the chance to get reacquainted with John’s music and discover more about James’s. As you’ll read, I found it a real stunner of an album.
Followers of this column will likely know all about John’s output, which includes several sensational solo fiddle and banjo albums, a few great ones with the band At the Racket, and a number of important duet albums, including “Pathway to the Well” (with Matt Molloy), “At Complete Ease” (with Brian Rooney), “Settle Out Of Court” (with his daughter, Maggie Carty). James would be far less known: he made his solo debut recording, “Hiding Daylight in Dark Corners,” in 2017 (learn more at jamescartyfiddle.com).
Here, though, the two of them are in impressive form and they’re joined by some top-shelf guests, including Shane McGowan (guitar), Michael McCague (bouzouki), Jonas Fromseier (guitar and bouzouki), Brian McGrath (keyboards), Matt Griffin (guitar), James Carty Senior (flute), Mike McGoldrick (snare drum), and James Blennerhassett (bass), all of whom add to the whole in significant ways.
I’ll begin by saying that I love every track on this album. “Toss the Feathers set” and “Ode to Lad,” for example, each feature both Cartys playing fiddle, and show the real fire the two possess, especially together. Then there’s “The Sligo Goose” a track that pairs a jig with a reel, which is just outstanding – lovely phrasing, a crisp change, and the tasteful piano playing of McGrath give this track great life.
However, there are a few tracks that I think really stick out. John’s solo feature on “Juggerpunch” is one of them. A banjo track, it features a pair of reels taken from Jolyon Jackson and Paddy Glackin’s weird and cool 1980 synth-trad album “”Hidden Ground” and he’s absolutely flying through them. His tone and rhythm are beautiful, but the way he handles the tunes – settings, variations, and lift alike – is fabulous.
John dazzles again (this time on tenor guitar) on “O’Carolan’s Dream,” which includes James on fiddle, and McGowan on guitar. It’s a totally different mood that shows a different facet of Carty’s music wonderfully.
Another one I love is “The Drummer Boy,” a set of flings that the Cartys got from reissued recordings of Philadelphia’s own Four Provinces Orchestra. Here, John and James are on banjo and fiddle, respectively, and they shine as they do literally everywhere else on this album. John starts off and James comes in on the second tune, balancing the sound. But it’s the rhythm section – here, Blennerhassett, McGoldrick, Fromseier, and McGowan – that carries the day, providing an accompaniment that’s cool and slinky-sounding, and a total reinvention of the Four P’s approach.
“Polcaí” is also brilliant. The Cartys, both on fiddle here, run through a pair of polkas, the first from the playing of Michael Gorman (of whom I wrote a couple of months ago), the second by Seamus Begley, named after his daughter Méabh (a great musician) on the occasion of her birth. The music moves along briskly, as if on glass, but the style here is what is great. James and John are superb together and maybe this track shows off this rapport the best.
But you know? There are other tracks, like “Corkscrew Hill” (which is made up of three tunes written by Clare flute player Michael Hynes and features John’s brother James on flute), “Lord Galway Meets Jenny,” and “The Hearty Boys Set” that are also incredible and show this off as well. “Best” here surely comes down to taste – what I like mightn’t be what you like, but for fans of traditional music there is a lot to enjoy.
As a rule, I don’t do end of year best of lists. However, were I to “The Wavy Bow Collection” album would almost surely top it. The playing here is inspired. The Cartys are both great, as is their supporting cast. The tunes they’ve selected are truly lovely and show good variety, and it’s all captured in a way that gives the music a very satisfying “live” feel. This is a superb album, and I’m not sure I can recommend more highly without sounding like I’ve slipped into parody. If you love traditional music, buy it, it’s exceptional. Learn more at www.johncartymusic.net.