Recently, the Ward Irish Music Archive, the largest repository of Irish music and dance in the United States, put out a call for papers for an exciting upcoming conference it will hold April 11-13, 2024, named “Archiving Irish America: Music, Dance, and Culture.” An in-person event at the Archive’s facility in Milwaukee, the conference call was looking “for participants to explore the new realities of Irish archives in North America” and “the ways that cultural practitioners engage with archives and archival practices.”
“In Irish America,” the website reads, “archives have been essential in allowing recent generations to tap into the long history of music, language, oral traditions, dance and folklore essential to a vibrant and living culture.” It is hoped that this conference “will bring together those who engage with archival materials in their research or creative practice, those who have collected and curated cultural treasures for these archives, and those who wish to contribute to documenting and creating Irish American culture through these important institutions.”
Conference organizers are looking for presentations of both academic and non-academic nature. Submissions can center on ongoing academic research, or they can be about things like individual collection projects, historically-informed performance interpretations, or personal experiences or narratives. If you’re interested in running a workshop on practical issues in collection or archiving, this can be proposed as well.
The conference has already announced Liz Carroll as one of its keynote speakers. (A second keynote speaker announcement is forthcoming.) If you’re someone who engages deeply with the history of Irish music and/or dance, this is a great opportunity. The submission period is already open and proposals are due no later than 5 p.m. Central Time on Nov. 17. To learn more and to register, visit https://wardirishmusicarchives.com/.
In the media player this week is “The Yew & The Orchard,” the new album from Cillian Vallely and David Doocey. Vallely and Doocey are a superb musical match and the music they make here is sophisticated, well selected, and brilliantly executed. This is an album that will surely hit with traditional music audiences for its many strengths.
Vallely is one of the world’s great pipers. The product of an important musical family and a member of the supergroup Lúnasa (https://www.lunasamusic.com/), he’s played and recorded with the likes of with Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Merchant, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Tim O’Brien, and Riverdance (among dozens of other projects) and has toured extensively over four continents. Productions he leads are always of an exceptionally high standard and ultimately, he’s a musician who needs little introduction to readers of this column.https://www.blasmusic.com/
Doocey (https://www.daviddoocey.com/) reflects a similarly premier musical standard. An award winning fiddle (which he plays here) & concertina player and composer from Foxford, Mayo, he released his outstanding debut solo album “Changing Time” in 2013 and since then has played & recorded with the groups Blas (with Stephen Doherty, Anne Brennan, and Shane McGowan; https://www.blasmusic.com/), and NxNW (with Stephen Doherty, Ryan Molloy and Kieran Leonard; https://nxnw-irl.bandcamp.com/). He’s the sort of player who seems to shy away from the spotlight but is in genuinely high demand, be it as a performer, as a teacher, or even as a session player (if you’ve been to Matt Molloy’s in Westport, for example, you might have seen him and his brothers playing there).
Joining Vallely and Doocey in this effort are guitarist Patrick Doocey (five tracks), guitarist Sean Óg Graham (four tracks), and pianist Caoimhin Vallely (one track). Each is a top player and contributes here expertly.
Vallely and Doocey are superb together and seem very much on the same musical wavelength, which is surely the reason this album is of uniform excellence. This stands to reason, as you’ll see Doocey and Vallely play together with some regularity. You might see them here in NYC together, but the Dooceys also play with Lúnasa now and again, which adds to that band’s performances.
The affinity the two share is clearly evident on all the album’s tracks, but the ones that stand out to me include “O’Reilly’s Greyhound,” a set of four reels, which I find particularly well done. The track opens with Doocey playing over his brother Patrick’s thoughtful and complex accompaniment. I find an interesting (but surely unintentional) “Martin Hayes” quality to Doocey’s tone here and it blends incredibly well with the sound of Vallely’s pipes. The arrangement, which shifts between lead instrument and between tempos, is lovely and results in one of the album’s great tracks.
Another would be “The Jug of Punch.” Again, Doocey takes the lead here, this time to Og Graham’s gorgeous backing. Together they create a cool and evocative soundscape that intensifies when Vallely joins in, about halfway through.
“The Bullet Thrower,” a set of hop jigs named in reference to Irish road bowling, is another track I like very much. The set opens with Vallely on the whistle playing “Tha’m Buntáta Mór,” an attractive tune that comes from highland piper Allan MacDonald, followed by two of his own, “The Bullet Thrower” and “Red Ned’s,” the latter named for the pub in Armagh City. Both are great tunes, but I’m particularly interested in the “Bullet Thrower” for its catchiness – it’s a great tune.
“The Worcester Reel” is another memorable track. Nicely arranged, but particularly attractive for the first tune (which the track takes its name), as it’s a Doocey composition that has a bit of a throwback setting. Placed over the very modern-sounding guitar backing here provides an interesting stylistic contrast and makes for a great track overall.
“The Yew & The Orchard” is a rewarding album from a pair of brilliant musicians. As I noted above, Vallely and Doocey’s musicianship is top notch, but it’s their style and their approach to arranging that makes the package complete, as it gives the album it’s accessibility and stylistic flair. And although I singled out a few tracks, there are other fine tracks as well as facets of tracks that draw the ear. (For example, I think of moments in Vallely’s playing on the slow air “A Ógánaigh An Chúil Chraobhaigh” that stand out, or the idea of including in a tune by the great Mayoman Paddy Joe Tighe as great examples of this idea.) If you love traditional music, you won’t go wrong with this album and I recommend it highly for your collection and daily listening! To purchase and to learn more about the group’s in-progress tour dates (which include stops in Boston MA, Charlottesville VA, Portland OR, Yachats OR, Seattle WA), visit https://www.cillianvallely.com/.