Two play as one on gorgeous CD

In the deck this week is Dermot Byrne and Yvonne Casey’s most recent project, “As We Feel It.”  A true duet CD, its delightfully straightforward artist credits, “Dermot Byrne – Accordion; Yvonne Casey – Fiddle,” provide a clue for what to expect.  But while the accordion/fiddle pairing is one that’s good and familiar, especially from musicians of this high caliber, what sets this album apart are Byrne and Casey’s compositional talents – they’ve written its entire contents.

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 Born in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, Byrne is one of the finest living button-accordion players.  He was immediately immersed into the music from a young age learning from the area’s legends and these days is probably best known as a member of the supergroup Altan.  However, his career is long and extremely distinguished, having recorded and toured extensively with the likes of Eamonn Coyne & John Doyle, Floriane Blancke, Brid Harper, Pierre Schryer, Terry Bingham, Paddy Keenan & Frankie Gavin (as KGB), Donal Lunny, Steve Cooney and Stephane Grapelli, and many others.  He was named TG4’s Traditional Musician of the Year in 2013.  

 Casey, from Corofin, Co. Clare, is a stalwart of that county’s music and plays with a distinctive style.  A member of the Céilí Bandits (who released their album “Hangin' at the Crossroads” in 1999), she’s recorded a pair of solo albums (“Yvonne Casey,” 2004 and “Croí,” 2018), and along the way has accrued renown as a gifted composer, with her compositions found on these album and others.  Some have even been presented as part of the Irish Traditional Music Archive’s “Saothar” project.

 If we simply consider the music as presented, it’s nothing but gorgeous. The two play as if one, each sharing a feeling for the other’s playing and compositions that comes through in the expression.  Their music is quite attractive under the ear.  But listening through the immediate beauty and more closely to the tunes themselves, a number of dingers emerge.

 The album opens with a pair of jigs, Byrne’s “The Teelin Feelin’,” followed by Casey’s “Úisce,” both of which are both fine, lovely tunes.  The pair go very well together, but they really illustrate the fine contrast between the compositional style of the two musicians.  Subtle similarities and differences in phrasing make this a lovely standalone set of contrasting tunes that articulate well with each other.

 In this sense, it’s interesting to listen through the performance to the tunes themselves.  Casey contributes a few really lovely oens tunes.  In particular, I dig the “Yellow Gem” and “The Sídhe.”  The former sounds quite old and has a nice hook in the B section, while the latter takes a visceral, brooding tone that is easy to appreciate.  Casey’s “Waltz for Cáilín” is quite nice as well.

 Byrne has also contributed some superb tunes.  I particularly like “Cití’s Dance,” a barndance that has a bit of an angular melody with a nice rhythmic feel.  It’s a lovely tune of the type and as performed the track gives it a handy key change in the middle.  I also dig “PK’s March.”  There don’t seem to be a lot of marches being composed these days, but I find this one especially interesting.  “Freewheelin’,” done solo as both a highland and a reel, is also quite nice and shows different rhythmic takes on the same tune,

 “As We Feel It” is an excellent album, noteworthy not just for the quality for the playing but for the superiority of the tunes. There’s a great confidence that these two are able to channel, which gives this album its life, but its tune tunes that give it extra depth.  Musicians will be particularly interested in this one, as the tunes are all session worthy and have some “under the finger” interest, but the way they’re presented is the real attraction here.  Byrne and Casey play beautifully together.  The album is available through their website here.