County Clare visitors Fionn Hegarty, 10, and Naoise Hegarty, 12, at the Fleadh Cheoil in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, last weekend. SASKO LAZAROV/ROLLING NEWS

'In Reel Time' sound is big & rich

About a zillion musicians descended upon the town of Mullingar in County Westmeath last week for the 2023 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann!  As readers will know, the Fleadh (sometimes called the “All-Ireland”) is the premier competitive event on the traditional music calendar and it attracts hundreds of thousands of musicians from the world over.  If you’ve not been, it’s great craic!

 Lots of folks from North American (and especially the New York City area) travelled over to compete and there was some outstanding success.  First, a hearty congratulations to everyone who went over, but a special shout-out to those who placed.  The names I’ve seen thus far (at the time of writing, anyway) include Dawn Doherty (1st, Whistle Slow Airs O18;, Sean McComiskey (2nd, Melodeon O18;, Seamus Noonan (2nd, Flute O18), Alice Bradley (2nd, Fiddle Slow Airs 15-18), and Rio Navarro (2nd, Piano Accordion 12-15) – great job everyone! (And let’s not forget Pearl River’s own John Paul Reynolds, who took 3rd in O18 Fiddle and O18 Miscellaneous; while he qualified in and competed for Kerry, we all know he’s one of ours.)

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 In the ol’ media player this week is “In Reel Time,” the new album from Jake James & Brenda Dowling, a couple of New York City folks who are no strangers to Fleadh success.  James and Dowling are a couple of great young players and “In Reel Time” is a lovely, relaxed album that does an excellent job of showcasing their superior talent.

 For those who mightn’t know, James ( plays fiddle and bodhrán, is a champion dancer and a twice-over All-Ireland winner.  He is currently a member of the band The Consequences (, plays with the Trinity Dance Company ( and the McLean Avenue Band (, and in 2018 he released “Firewood,” his outstanding debut solo recording.

 Dowling is an All-Ireland winning flute, whistle, concertina player, and singer.  She’s a highly regarded teacher in New York who has been a part of the Erin Loughran School of Irish Music & Arts ( and is a real delight to hear play.  “In Reel Time” is Dowling’s recording debut, but don’t let the short discography fool you as she’s accomplished beyond her years.  In addition to her All Ireland success, Dowling and James have twice toured the U.S. as part of the Paul Brock Band, alongside seminal box player Brock and pianist, composer and arranger Denis Carey, which is a rare feat that speaks highly of her skill.

 That James and Dowling are superb musicians who have a great chemistry together, makes “In Reel Time” is a very satisfying album to sit down with.  The music here is almost entirely of the unaccompanied instrumental variety (“The Briar and the Rose,” the album’s final track, is a nice, Dowling-led song and the one exception here) and as the title suggests, all the tunes are reels, which makes the album sort of unusual in its construction.  Every tune is a banger, though, and there is nice variety in terms of keys and tempos.  

 A few standouts to discuss. I love “The Otter’s Holt / The Caucus in Secaucus,” the album’s opener, because it really shows off the feeling each musician has for the other’s playing.  Their sound is big and rich (thanks, in part, to Jefferson Hamer, of Murphy Beds fame [] who engineered, mixed, and mastered  the album) which helps tease out the lovely swing here.

 “The Whistler Of Rosslea / The Grand Spy” is another intriguing track.  Starting off with the sound of a big, round flute, the Ed Reavy composition begins to unfold into something rather stately, buoyed by strong phrasing and strong attack that accelerates with the change of tune.  I have similar thoughts about “Farewell to Ireland,” which they do an equally fine job with. 

 I also very much like “The Broken Pledge / Donald Blue.” It’s a more fiery track (with subtle bodhrán accompaniment) that gives nice contrast to the other music here.  The tunes really suit the approach – it’s an ear-grabbing track.

 Notably, both Dowling and James have each contributed an original tune to the album, and both of them are lovely.  Dowling’s contribution, “What’s My Name,” which is paired with Reavy’s “In Memory of Coleman,” is the sort of good, ear catching tune that would attract inquiry if played at a session.  James’s tune, “He's Playing Tunes With All The Rest,” is one he tells me he wrote in memory of Mick Moloney and is very nicely done.  It’s a great pairing with “Maude Miller” (here, Dowling joins him on whistle) and James’s performance is ear grabbing.

 Speaking of whistle, Dowling has a solo whistle feature with “Jenny’s Welcome to Charlie.”  Her playing here is outstanding and I find it one of the album’s highlights.

 “In Reel Time” is a terrific showcase for two very talented musicians.  James has really built himself a great resumé as of late and based on this recording, Dowling is someone in particular we should look to hear more from.  If pure drop traditional music is your thing, this is an album you’ll want to check out.  To have a listen and purchase, visit