You know, it’s great when an album shows up that’s made by a group of extraordinarily talented young people who share a vision for how traditional music should sound and be played? “Keane Connolly McGorman” is the debut album from Pádraic Keane, Aidan Connolly, and Fergus & Ruairí McGorman, a quartet of highly achieved musicians who have worked with each other in a variety of different contexts. What you get with it is a nigh-perfect bit of sophisticated and very beautifully set traditional music that discerning traditional music fans will absolutely adore. This is a brilliant album that I think everyone should own.
Even before listening, there are clues to the quality here, including the involvement of Jack Talty/Raelach Records (who only seem to put out quality records) and a testimonial by the great fiddler Paddy Glackin. But there’s also the individual reputations of the musicians involved, each of whom has a very strong track record. For example, I’ve written glowingly about three of Connolly’s fiddle albums, including "Be Off," "Portland Bow," and "Away On Up The Road" (with John Daly). Ruairí McGorman (bouzouki/guitar) has appeared on several standout albums I’ve written about, including (but not limited to) Connolly’s “Portland Bow,” Diarmuid Ó Meachair’s “Siúl na Slí,” Dan Brouder & Angelina Carberry’s “A Waltz for Joy.” Ruairí also appeared on his brother Fergus’s impressive 2018 flute album “Sweeping the Cobwebs Out of the Sky,” which was outstanding. (Incidentally, the McGormans come from a top shelf musical family – their parents are flute players Catherine McEvoy and Tom McGorman and their uncle the fiddle player John McEvoy.) And then there’s uilleann piper Pádraic Keane, who along with Páraic Mac Donnchadha (banjo) and Macdara Ó Faoláin (bouzouki), released “Beo,” an extraordinary album that might well have been the best of last year. Simply put, this is a superb group of players that are doing themselves justice here.
The ensemble playing on this album is stunningly good and it’s enhanced by great tunes and an approach to arranging that is elegant and nuanced. Tracks like “Ted Furey’s / …,” “Brogan’s Land / …,” “Séamus Mór McKenna / …,” and “Lady Iveagh” are all fine examples of this group’s depth and illustrate what this group’s music is all about. There’s a lot to love with these.
And while ensemble tracks are mostly the order of the day here, the album includes a few solo features that put the focus on group members’ individual achievement, including Fergus McGorman on the reels “The Road to the Glen / Toss the Feathers,” Keane on the slow air “The Mountain Streams Where the Moorcocks Crow,” and Connolly (with accompaniment by with Ruairí McG., bouzouki, and Jack Talty, piano) on “The Shannon / The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen,” a crowd pleasing set of waltzes. Each musician’s playing is just lovely and thees tracks bring the album nice variety.
And if this weren’t enough, they hit you with a few curveballs, like Connolly’s melodion playing on “When Sick is it Tae you Want? / …,” which is fascinating to hear. And as cool as this is, it’s really the tracks that feature harpist Noreen O’Donohue that I think help elevate an already outstanding album. Her first appearance is on the Carolan tune “Robert Jordan,” where she brings stately grace to a gorgeous arrangement. (The harp is also something of a surprising textural shift, given the context.) Perhaps even more interesting is her appearance on “La Cinquantaine,” a 19th century French piece (made famous by the Woody Herman big band in 1940) that to me is one of the album’s highlights. Her strong playing enhances a well-considered arrangement which I think makes it one of the album’s highlights.
“Keane Connolly McGorman” is a marvelous collection that certainly has the world of traditional music buzzing. These four musicians are supremely talented and it’s a treat to hear them play, but talent will only take you so far. Here, really, it’s the combination of next-level musicianship, great good taste, and a sublime vision shared by everyone involved that makes this one as terrific as it is. If you’re a fan of traditional music, run out to get this one, it’s an absolute treasure. Learn more at www.raelachrecords.com.
Finally, speaking of young people who have a sense of how traditional music should be played, a huge congratulations to Éimhear Flannery of Rockchapel, Co. Cork, who won the 2024 Seán Ó Riada Bonn Óir/Gold Medal traditional music competition. It’s a major and well-earned achievement. And an extra special shout out to Boston’s own Seamus Noonan, who was one of the competition’s finalists and the only from America. Although the gold eluded him this time, the significance of even qualifying in such a prestigious and highly competitive event should not be overlooked – good stuff, Seamus!