Patrick Mangan’s playing is top tier
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
In the media player this week is fiddle virtuoso Patrick Mangan’s wintry-themed album “The Frost is All Over.” Mangan is an impressive, accomplished musician – a longtime member of Riverdance, a couple of All-Ireland titles to his name, a top-tier session player – and this album is not only a record of his high-level musicianship, but of the bonds he’s made along the way. “Frost” a polished, professional offering that many Irish music fans will find an easy listener.
It’s also an album with a story. It was actually recorded in November in different parts of the world. Because Mangan couldn’t assemble musicians in the studio (as is custom) he was forced to construct this album remotely, passing recordings he’d worked on in his home studio onto friends who added to them in theirs. Although technology makes this easy, it’s not an ideal circumstance for music making. However, the appetite for collaboration was strong and the approach offered some intriguing possibilities that Mangan & company really ran with.
Essentially, this de-centered approach meant that Mangan could coordinate a diverse array of folks all over the U.S. and Ireland and maximize their artistic input. The list of guest artists is quite impressive: Johnny Cuomo (guitar & vocals), Steve Holloway (bodhrán), Julia LiBassi (keyboards & vocals), Nate Lueck (electric guitar & mandolin), Declan Masterson (piano, guitar, bouzouki & low whistle), Seamie O’Dowd (guitar, mandolin, & vocals), Chris Ranney (keyboards), Peter Sachon (cello), and John Whelan (accordion) appear on tracks here. Some of these folks are active on Broadway (Riverdance, especially), some are well known traditional musicians, but each is a powerhouse player.
There are many lovely tracks here, all with a wintry theme. Now, you would be forgiven it you thought that upbeat instrumentals would be the order of the day here, and indeed there are a few excellent tune-based tracks, notably “The Frost is All Over / …” (w/Holloway & Masterson), “Eleanor Plunkett / …” (w/Masterson & Whelan), and “The Wexford Carol / …” (which includes “Johanna’s Jig,” an excellent composition of Mangan’s), a solo piece. Here, Mangan excels (as one would expect) with some fiery playing.
However, the album has a good bit of variety and it’s the other tracks that I find especially compelling. For example “Wachet Auf,” a J.S. Bach Cantata (BWV 140), is very nicely done. Mangan’s pulls a brilliant, warm tone from his instrument, and together with Lueck’s mandolin and Sachon’s cello it’s a fairly stirring approach that is matched by the execution. The slow air “Tune for Joe” (w/Ranney) is a lovely, expressive track that feels very seasonal. And there are several vocal tracks, including Cuomo’s “Oh, Watch the Stars” and O’Dowd’s “The Snows They Melt the Soonest” that stand out and give the album a more expansive character. LiBassi’s track, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” drew my ear in particular. Cool, stacked harmonies, a stately but understated instrumental accompaniment, and an interesting fiddle break make this track notable, indeed.
This is not a holiday album, per se. However, it is certainly holiday-appropriate. There is also a bonus YouTube-only track, “Alilo (Christmas Song)” (composed by Vakhtang Kakhidze), that does center upon an explicit Christmas theme. It’s a nice bonus for an album that already has so much going on.
“The Frost is All Over” is a lovely album. Mangan’s playing is, of course, top tier, but it’s how well the various musicians he’s enlisted come together in artistic collaboration (despite distance and circumstance) that gives this album its real life. Although an album for all seasons, the wintry theme is well handled and defined, and will help give this album perennial appeal. Check it out! To learn more, visit patrickmangan.com.