Jack Talty and Maurice Gunning.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
It used to be that you could go to a shop and buy music in person. You’d spend time poring over racks of records or CDs, either to uncover something you’d been long searching for or, on occasion, to discover something new. Back then, you were happy to take the odd chance on new artists simply because you trusted the label that released their music. In those days, labels like Gael-Linn, Topic, Shanachie, and Green Linnet suggested the imprimatur of quality, which gave consumers confidence in the artists they were supporting.
And then everything changed. In the last 20 or so years labels became increasing less relevant. Physical product took a back seat to digital, as peer-to-peer networks and streaming services grew in popularity, all of which required that the industry restructure. And as this was happening, high quality home recording rigs became affordable, allowing people to record and release music on their own, without third party intervention or representation. The results were varied and often hard to learn of.
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The bottom line now is sort of similar to that of yesterday – music still runs the gamut of the good, the bad, and the ugly – but it’s harder for less engaged consumers, especially those just outside the scene, to know what’s worthwhile and what isn’t.
This is where the efforts of Raelach Records stand tall. Based in County Clare, Raelach was founded as a traditional and folk music label by Jack Talty in 2011. Since then, Talty, a top-tier concertina player, has done yeoman’s work building a catalog that reflects the finest in Irish music today. In the past, I’ve written about several of Raelach’s releases and sung the label’s praises because everything it puts out really is of the highest standard. Quite simply, a record from Raelach is one you can have confidence in buying because their track record and stable of artists has been so consistent.
Raelach’s most recent album, a sampler called “Rogha Raelach,” reflects this good work in spades. And it comes at a time when artists are most in need support, as its liner notes explain: “While a series of compilation releases has long been an ambition of the label, postponed album launches and interrupted recording sessions arising from current restrictions have disrupted our plans for 2020, and accelerated this goal. As a result, this release serves as a way of continuing to release music at a time when it is most needed, while also supporting artists who have been deprived of opportunities to do what they love.”
It really seems like the future is bright for Raelach, because the artists that appear are incredible, as is they music they provide. Those represented include The Martin Hayes Quartet (Hayes, fiddle; Dennis Cahill, guitar; Liz Knowles, fiddle & viola; and Doug Wieselman, bass clarinet); Noel Hill (concertina); Bobby Gardiner (melodeon); Geraldine Cotter (piano); Nell Ní Chróinín (voice); Pádraic Keane (uilleann pipes); Saileog Ní Cheannabháin (voice, viola, piano); Derek Hickey (accordion) & Macdara Ó Faoláin (bouzouki); Aoife Ní Bhriain (fiddles & viola); Sean Gavin (flute) & Michael Gavin (bouzouki); Síle Denvir (voice); and Jack Talty (concertina).
The selection, variety, and balance throughout “Rogha Raelach” is just fabulous. The mix of vocal & instrument and solo & group tracks is lovely, and while each track is distinct on its own, each is very artistically complementary of the others. The twelve tracks (which comprise 51 minutes of music) really seem to fly by. I won’t pick one over another here, as each has something that recommends it fully.
I should note that every great record label has a “look,” and Raelach is no exception. The man who brings the visual side together is photographer Maurice Gunning (www.mauricegunning.com), who has been Raelach’s art director and photographer since 2017. His easy-to-discern graphic style is something that makes Raelach releases identifiable in a fairly diverse field. His eye is stellar and deserves mention here, as “Rogha Raelach’s” design is excellent.
It also lets me shine light on another of Gunning and Talty’s projects, “Duala: a film” (tinyurl.com/DualaFilm). “Duala” is a 24-minute meditation on music in County Clare and was the product of the duo’s tenure as artists-in-residence at the Irish Traditional Music Archive in 2019. It is made up of new and archival footage, includes narration in both English and Irish by Martin Hayes, Geraldine Cotter, Caoilfhionn Ní Fhrighil, Claire Egan, and Liam O’Brien, and features the music of Siney Crotty, Paddy Canny, Claire Egan and Willie Clancy. It’s a special film and one reflects the Raelach standard described above.
The movie focuses on the notion of place. Visually, they’ve teased out this idea by juxtaposing fairly generic visual cues common to the Banner County – iconic buildings of old, running streams, rock formations, hanging fuscia, dappled light through trees, and the odd verse of poetry – against footage or musicians and onlookers in different settings that snaps this familiar material into sharp meaning. The effect is often very powerful, especially since few of the musicians are explicitly identified. Sure, names are mentioned in the narration, but the filmmakers seem intent on lifting Clare and its music as an idea as opposed to re-inscribing twice-told legends. Ultimately, they’re able to make their point about place to outsiders, but it’ll be different for those who grew up in Clare, as they’ll watch this wonderful, rare footage, eyes twinkling with recognition. It’s a beautiful film and a short must-watch for traditional music fans.
Bottom line? “Rogha Raelach” is a great collection. The music is brilliantly curated and each track shines in its own way. This is an album traditional music lovers will want in their collection, if only to know what albums to keep their eyes open for in the near future. But it’s also the kind of album that would make a marvelous Christmas gift, especially for the casual fan of traditional music, because each track speaks of the tradition’s pure drop so forcefully. A “must give,” if you will. And although not an explicit Raelagh product, “Duala: a film” was made by the Raelach team and reflects the label’s high artistic standard. It’s an archival and visual feast, as much of the footage is unfamiliar, and it’s presented in a way that takes an abstract idea and gives it vigorous musical and visual meaning. A must watch for people from Clare!
To purchase about “Rogha Raelach” and learn more about the label’s other releases visit www.raelachrecords.com.