'Let Her Go Boys!' is another home run for Old Time Records

Starting this week with a quick note to say that I just learned Mick Mulvey (who is originally from London but who now lives in Carrick-on-Shannon), one of the great flute players in Irish music, has finally made his 2009 album “Bridging the Gap” and his 2003 album “Within a Mile o’Jamestown” available on Bandcamp.  Both are wonderful recordings and if you’re among those who dig pure drop-style flute music, know you’re not going to do much better than these older chestnuts.  Beautiful music and something for the true connoisseur to check out.  Visit https://mickmulvey.bandcamp.com for more. 

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 What I’ve been spinning in the media player all this week is "Let Her Go Boys!”, the new reissue https://mickmulvey.bandcamp.comcompilation from Old Time Records.  I absolutely love everything this company puts out, and this set is no exception.  Consisting of “Rare and Spirited Recordings 1922 – 1947,” it’s a brilliantly presented collection of early tracks that reveal the stunning variety of styles and approaches in Irish traditional music of that era.  I love this set, and if you’re a regular reader of this column, I think you’ll find yourself loving it, too.

 Old Time Records are responsible for the finest modern reissue projects, including ”The Genius of Peter Conlon,” “Sunshine,” “The Fiddler's Delight,” “If There Weren't Any Women in the World,” “Vol 1 U.S. Recordings,” “Vol 2 U.S. Recordings,” and “Vol 3 Piping Rarities.”  Each of these have been covered here.

 The company’s presentation is of the highest standard.  Like most of Old Time’s collections, this particular set comes in a DVD-style case and sports cover art by the legendary illustrator and 78rpm record collector R. Crumb.  (The collection in fact features a pair of Crumb illustrations: inside the booklet is a majestic portrait of the great banjoist Mike Flanagan.)  As always, it  include a large, full color and impeccably researched booklet and the transfers of the original 78rpm discs are carefully – and more important, smartly – done.

 I think the first thing that will strike listeners about music on this set is how differently it was played in this earlier era.  These weren’t young professionals navigating their way through competition and festival circuits, these were organic musicians, often emigrating from rural areas, who played in a manner that was handed down to them.  This might mean that one musician’s rhythm sounds hard, or that another’s sense of tuning might sound off.  But somehow, it works.  An as this set illustrates, this approach was often adapted to contexts that were popular in that time. It’s just fascinating to hear.

 Knowing this in advance lets us recognize the real gems that are included in this collection, starting with the very first track.  The “Medley of Reels” that opens the album by the amazingly-named Smiles And Tears Of Erin Orchestra, is an excellent first example.  It features two fiddle players in Frank Quinn (who also lilts and invited the band to “let her go, boys” at the outset) and Jim Clarke, and unknown flute, piano, and wood block players, who play a rousing set of tunes with fantastic life.  The music moves along briskly and confidently, while the lilting and wood block playing breeze in and out without a care as folks whoop and talk in the background.  It just sounds like the best sort of party.

 “The Shaskeen” by the Flanagan Brothers is another outstanding track.  For one, it’s an utterly brilliant example of Mike Flanagan’s trail blazing banjo playing and gives this one some historical gravitas.  But the interplay between the banjo and accordion reminds us that the Flanagans played for dancing.  It’s fast, hard music.  But there’s great life in their playing and it all contributes to what I think is a magical track. (BTW, for those interested, I’ve written a couple of pieces – and will do others in the future – that look more deeply at the Flanagan Brothers music on the Flanagan-family run “Michael A. Flanagan Irish Music Heritage” webpage, https://flanaganfamilymusic.com/)

 Another track I love is Mike Hanafin’s “Bandon Jig.”  Hanafin, who was born in Callinafercy, Co. Kerry and moved to Boston at the turn of the twentieth century, came from a family seriously involved in music and dance and was an inventive musician who played with great lift.  There are some interesting moments when you can literally hear him lift the melody.  I have had a longstanding interest in Hanafin’s music and was delighted to see this track included here.  He was a player whose solo tracks deserve much more attention.

 Others that really stand out to me are “The Glendoan / … “ by fiddle player Danny O’Donnell.  Recorded in Ireland in 1945, it features superb playing from a fiddle player of whom I was previously unaware.  His playing is really full of life.  “The Honeymoon / The Cora Dhun” by Edward Meehan's Rosaleen Orchestra has a brilliant, bouncy dance rhythm that it quite attractive to my ear. (Sample it for yourself here.) I also like “The Mountjoy Hotel” by William McElligott and “The Rose Of Tralee; Terence's Farewell” by Erin's Isle Ballroom Orchestra.  Both come as something of a contrast to the rest of the tracks here in that they have an almost maudlin sentimentality about them.  McElligott, who sings and plays accordion on his track, gives a wonderful and very earnest performance that sounds very “of it’s time” and the Erin’s Isle Ballroom Orchestra’s music feels like something you might hear on New Year’s after the ball drops.

 “Let Her Go Boys” is another triumph for Old Time Records.  If you’re a fan of Old Time Records’s other collections, or of reissues like the “Taisce Luachmhar (Valuable Treasure)” sets, or even if you just love exploring the history of Irish music, this collection is a must-have.  Every track here is extraordinary and the overall selection terrific.  I found myself finding something interesting and noteworthy in everything.  Congrats to the team that put this together, it’s the kind of collection that will remind you how rich the Irish music tradition really is.  Highly recommended.  To purchase “Let Her Go Boys!”, visit https://www.oldtimerecords.com/.