Debut album is a crowd-pleaser

 In the media player this week is “Sailors on the Rock,” the debut album from John Nolan, John Reynolds, and Bruce Foley, three musicians who would be very familiar to the Irish music community of New York.  Nolan (button accordion), Reynolds (fiddle, viola) and Foley (vocals, guitar, uilleann pipes, bass), all three of whom are members of the Mid-Atlantic Region of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Hall of Fame, are seasoned veterans who contribute to New York’s musical life in myriad ways, so it should be no surprise that the music they’ve put together here is an easy listening feast for the ears that has an elevated old school approach.

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 As Paul Keating tells us in his liner notes, Joanie Madden’s “Folk’N Irish Cruise” (, the grandest party at sea, had a lot to do with the genesis of this album.  As she planned the entertainment on one of them, Madden selected this group of “seasoned musicians” because she felt they would best “welcome her passengers aboard with music [and] immediately set the tone for a memorable week at sea.”  The rest, as they say, is history.

 The combination really makes a lot of sense.  Nolan and Reynolds play together with the kind of intuitive feel that really only develops over decades.  I know I’ve seen them together at various events over the years, but their connection goes way back, as both started their musical journeys in the 1960s in the John Glynn school.  (Reynolds branched out early on and continued his studies with the Pete Kelly school.)  There’s a great longtime connection between them and it’s a little surprising they’d not yet collaborated like this.

 Foley is a perfect match for this pair, not just because he has a track record with both Nolan and Reynolds, but because he’s a gifted multi-instrumentalist in his own right and possesses a marvelous voice.  He makes for a very neat musical fit and adds great variety to this project as a vocalist.

 Also contributing here is an intriguing cast of players that include Hughie Boyle (piano), Mary Coogan (guitar/octave mandolin), Joanie Madden (harmony vocals/whistle), and Aidan Vaughn (snare drum).  Each adds significantly in their respective roles.

 There’s lots of lovely music here.  The jigs, reels, and hornpipes are extremely well rendered.  The playing is very classy, which is precisely what you’d expect from these three.  Several of the instrumental tracks include Vaughn’s snare drumming, which imparts a transformative “céilí band” feel.  The accordion-forward track of Scottish waltzes “June Clover / Snow in Summer” is a real stand out for me.  Nolan brings a very sensitive and compelling touch to these tunes, and Boyle’s piano accompaniment is pitch perfect in style.  A real crowd pleaser, I think.  “O'Carolan's Draught / Hughie Travers Reel” is another I like quite a bit.  The fiddle playing is wonderful, but the tone off the fiddle and box together blends very, very nicely.  (The sound here reminds me of McGann/Burke or the Boruma Trio, but with guitar instead of piano.)

 Foley’s vocal talent is well featured on the album’s seven vocal tracks.  He brings a sensitive and nuanced approach to the material he’s selected and of them all I particularly like “Carrickfergus” (with great harmony vocals by Madden) and “The Contender,” where in both his vibrato adds subtlety and his phrasing draws out the pathos of the songs.  Foley has exactly the right touch for what he’s contributed to this album.

 “Sailors on the Rock” is a perfectly delightful album with a throwback aura.  Its mix of ballad and ballroom recalls an earlier era of Irish music that many readers will recognize.  I think if you grew up around Irish music in New York in the 1970s and ‘80s, this music will inspire waves of nostalgia and you’ll appreciate how well it’s been done here.  You’ll surely want it for your collection!  If you’ve ever been on Joanie’s cruise, I imagine this album would be a priority, too, because it’d be a brilliant way to relive some of the craic.  One to check out!  To learn more and purchase, visit