I want to open this week by congratulating Donie Carroll for the successful concert he put on last Friday at the New York Irish Center that helped raise $13,000 for the Mercy Center . It was a superb evening of music and dance, especially since the proceeds will be used to help folks in real need. Thanks to Donie Carroll for all the good work he does. It’s great service!
In other news: back in April I was in Galway having a few pints at Tig Choili and was fortunate enough to be there on a day when the music was helmed by Brian McGrath, Dónal Clancy and Damien Quinn. I’d never before seen McGrath, a banjo player I greatly admire, play in person and he was outstanding, but there was a brilliant energy between the three that I found really compelling. It was just wonderful music. Flash forward a few months and I learn that Clancy, McGrath and Quinn were coming out with an album they were calling “Tell Her I Am.” It was an exciting prospect, but would the studio effort live up to what I’d seen in person?
With “Tell Her I Am,” Clancy (guitar/bouzouki/vocals), McGrath (banjo/piano/keyboards), and Quinn (bodhrán) have put something together that I think traditional music fans will throughly enjoy. The album has 12 tracks, four of which are songs. Of the instrumentals, all are good, although there are a few that stand out to my ear especially. For example, I particularly like “The Bread Tin Reel / Spike Island Lasses.” The first tune, a composition of McGrath’s, is very nice and quite memorable and it sits well with “Spike Island,” which is a great old tune that McGrath plays with flair. I also throughly enjoyed “Casey’s Pig / Money Musk / The Concert Reel,” two highlands that are followed by a reel. The first two tunes in this set are fun and played with a playfulness that I think listeners will be drawn to. The reel at the end provides an exciting contrast that changes the feel and sets the track apart.
The songs are very nice as well. I think Clancy’s take on “The Tunnel Tigers” is gorgeous, its fingerstyle guitar-led arrangement reminding me of the style he presented on his fabulous 2013 album “Songs Of A Roving Blade.” The harmonies in the refrain are well done and add to the track’s overall effectiveness. “Lowlands of Holland” takes a different sort of approach in its arrangement, using keyboard and guitar to create a much larger sound. Clancy’s voice is well suited to this sort of treatment and the results are a very fine song.
“Tell Her I Am” is just lovely. At its root is playing that is relaxed, warm, and conveys a “kitchen session” type of intimacy. Much of this is due to McGrath, whose musicianship I find quite elegant. His playing is brilliantly inventive and I find the subtlety in his ornamentation and variation exciting and really something to hear. But I think the real genius in his musical expression lies first in his superb rhythm – at times it sounds like he’s dancing the melody. This brings immediate interest and I think this sort of stately rhythmic command is the reason why Quinn’s bodhrán playing fits in so well here. He’s able to strike a very fine percussive balance.
The harmony instruments add to the picture substantially. Clancy has a great intuitive sense for how to back a tune and his guitar and bouzouki work here bring good depth to the melody playing. McGrath also adds some excellent backing work on the set that starts with “Casey's Pig / …” and it’s quite nicely done.
Clancy’s songs are the cherry on top. Again, he’s a brilliant singer. His voice is strong but what I like most about his singing is how he phrases things. It’s something that brings a set of lyrics come alive and allows him to dig into an arrangement.
“Tell Her I Am” is an album that folks who love traditional music will throughly enjoy. The songs add welcome variety to the instrumental tracks and they’ve done a good job of capturing the energy I was able to experience live at Tig Choili. This is an album that banjo players will especially want to listen to because McGrath is high standard player we hear entirely too little from. Good stuff all around, check it out! (And if you’re in Galway, make an effort to see them since they seem to be making the rounds as a unit.) To learn more and purchase, visit here.