Murray and Magill have played together for years and it shows.
By Daniel Neely
Happy December, everyone! Hope everyone reading this is well and managing to find yourself feeling the sprit of the season. In the media player this week is “Murray & Magill” from Alan Murray & Andrew Finn Magill. It’s a short, sharp album that came together after a two hour pre-COVID hang in February, and one traditional music fans will be interested in learning of.
Magill (andrewfinnmagill.com) is a prolific recording artist with broad interests who literally grew up at The Swannanoa Gathering in Asheville, N.C. Over the years, in addition to Irish music, he’s immersed himself in Brazilian choro, jazz, old-time, and bluegrass musics and has fashioned himself into a consummate professional stylist. He’s performed with the likes of John Doyle, Rising Appalachia, Charm City Junction, Open the Door for Three, Greg Ruby, the Paul McKenna Band, and Malawian singer Peter Mawanga, and right now, in addition to this album, he’s released a seasonal three hour audiobook, “A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.”
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Originally from Glasgow, Murray spent a long time living in New York City and is now currently based in Boston. He is a tremendous player and is considered one of the scene’s premier backers (he’s played with the likes of Niall and Cillian Vallely, Eileen Ivers, Colin Farrell, Paul Brock, Battlefield Band, and FourWinds). His playing here is excellent and he is a perfect foil for Magill.
This album, made up exclusively of instrumental music, is strong throughout, with tunes being the name of the game. Magill and Murray flash great good taste in terms of the repertory they’ve selected and score points with their unfussy approach. I particularly like the reel set “Master Crowley’s / …” and the jig set “The Yellow Wattle / …” because of the tune choices but also because of the intensity they bring. A similar intensity is reflected in “The Turnpike Gate / Casey the Whistler” (slow reels) and “The Concert Reel / The Kylebrack Rambler” (reels), but these tracks stand apart for me because each brings a different sort of feel that adds to the album’s effect. (There’s a particularly nice drive on the latter of these two tracks.)
Magill is a fiery player with great technical skill, but he shows off his flair for composition on a few of tracks as well. “Alex’s New Pipes / Lillie’s Colours” features a pair of his own reels, the former being an acrobatic tune composed for a uilleann pipe-playing friend from Brazil, while the latter is a groove-heavy excursion written for a musician and artist friend from Georgia. Then there’s “Harry’s House,” a waltz Magill wrote for a longtime friend of his that to my ears draws from a palette inspired by American roots music. It has an easy mood that sets it apart from everything else on the album. In addition, there’s “Marc & Amy’s,” a jig named again for friends, that begins a set that includes “Old Man Dillon” and “The Mouse in the Kitchen,” a tune by Lúnasa fiddler Colin Farrell. The trio sit well together and add another interesting facet to the project.
“Murray & Magill” is an album that will satisfy all the tuneheads out there. Magill and Murray have the kind of strong rapport that comes from having played together for years and they’re showing it through a well-chosen group of top-shelf fiddle tunes, well-chosen obscurities (both old and new) and select originals. The high technical standard Magill sets throughout will immediately attract the ear of his fans and Murray will turn some heads with his tasteful and proficient playing. The overall effect is lovely. “Murray & Magill” will make an excellent gift for the traditional music lover in your life this holiday season. It is available exclusively through Bandcamp, both as a straight download and in a special “fan package” that includes sheet music of every tune with chords and extensive liner notes by tune guru Don Meade. To learn more about this and other of Magill’s assorted projects, visit andrewfinnmagill.bandcamp.com.