It's special when these 3 meet

This week I’ve been listening to “All Jokes Aside,” an exceedingly charming album of mostly instrumental music from Kathleen Conneely, John Coyne, and Sean Clohessy.   These three musicians are an ideal crew – each is an outstanding player, but as you’ll hear on this record there’s something special when they get together to find common ground.  Their music is simply top shelf and if you’re a traditional music lover it’s one you’ll absolutely have to have to hear for yourself.

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 Over the years, it’s seemed like Conneely (whistle), Coyne (vocals, bouzouki, guitar), and Clohessy’s (fiddle) musical paths have been in a state of constant overlap.  If you saw one of them, you could be certain that one or both of the others weren’t too far off, and nowhere was this more the case than in the sessions around Boston, specifically the Druid in Cambridge (the session that yielded the great CD “Live At The Druid”) and the Burren in Somerville, where the three have long been regulars.  There, they raised the musical standard as individuals, but it’d be a good night when all three were together, as they share a special chemistry – it’s the basis of this album.

 Recently, I reached out to both Coyne and Clohessy to learn a little more about this chemistry and about what led to this project.  “Well, we were teaching in the Comhaltas, me and Kathleen, and kind of playing a lot and having a good time in general, really,” Clohessy told me. “We have a similar musical instinct, the same kind of influences and approach [and] with John with us, well, we just found it to be a really good time.” 

 Or as Coyne put it, “it just clicked with the three of us.” They found all sorts of opportunities to play together, at sessions and parties, but also mentioned that the three also did gigs for things like the Cranston Ceili Club in Rhode Island and at Blue in Portland, Maine and found that their chemistry worked in front of audiences as well.

 Then, things changed: Conneely’s decision to move to Chicago mid-pandemic challenged the trio’s regular good times.  So, Clohessy raised the idea of recording something, if only just for posterity.  “The idea was to capture the feeling we shared for ourselves,” he told me.  “We were doing kind of nothing else over the pandemic and it was an an opportunity to play tunes and put some stuff together.”  Coyne pointed out that since there weren’t a lot of fiddle and whistle albums it might even find an audience. 

 So, last year the three met up with with engineer Michael Harmon and spent a weekend at his Wachusett Recording Studio.  Joining them as guests were Owen Marshall (guitar, bouzouki), Anna Colliton (bodhrán), and Evangelos Stowell (concertina) who added to the music and the crack.

 It turned out a brilliant combination.  The playing here is stupendous and bold throughout, as one would expect.  Conneely and Clohessy make for a brilliant pair.   However it’s not the combination of instruments that I find most satisfying (although it is quite nice), it’s the joyful rapport apparent on every track.  You can tell these are people who truly enjoy spending time together and that feeling comes through in the music.  You hear it in how similarly they phrase the tunes, in the subtle nuances in ornamentation that they share, and in the lift the get from their melodies.  

 They’ve made some lovely tune choices here.  There are indeed many well-worn session tunes that they breathe fresh air into, but they’ve also made some nice, more modern choices, including Damien Connolly’s “The Man From Clare” (written in tribute to Patrick Ourceau), Connie O’Connell’s “Fire on Cleanrath,” and Charlie Lennon’s “Planxty McCarthy” (written in honor of the McCarthy family).  Clohessy’s even revealed his compositional skills, with the superb jig “The Turraree Lass.”

 The album also includes two songs, “Sweet Ballyvaughn” and “The Craic was 90 on the Isle of Man.”  Coyne is a wonderful singer and the songs add lovely variety here.  In the former, he’s paid tribute to Ballyvaughn, where he spent his childhood (his version was inspired by Ballyvaughn resident Sean Tyrell).  He chose the latter, a popular Christy Moore selection, because a song about a lads weekend away simply spoke to him.  Both are great.

 “All Jokes Aside” launched earlier this month at The Burren and was a wild success.  “A lot more people came than we expected,” Coyne told me.  “It was first chance for all of us to get together properly.  It seemed people needed a night out – it was cathartic.”  (You might say the Craic was 90?)  He credited The Burren’s Tommy McCarthy and Louise Costello (of “Planxty McCarthy” fame) for bringing a great night together.

 This is a great, highly recommended album.  The music is pure and gorgeous and just a delight to listen to.  These three really do make marvelous music together and it’s represented extraordinarily well on this recording.  Don’t let this one slip by!   “All Jokes Aside” is available by visiting