Congratulations to WFUV’s “Ceol na nGael” radio program, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend with a gala concert at Symphony Space in Manhattan. The show will feature Cillian Vallely, Kevin Crawford, the Seamus Egan Project, Pat Mangan Music, Alan Murray, Jenna Moynihan, Celtic Cross and the Rogue Diplomats – it promises to be a special evening.
Hard to believe the show has been going on for a half century! Gerry Murphy and Mary Maguire, who were Fordham students at the time, started it in 1974 and since then it’s had over 40 hosts and six producers! Over that time, it’s been a most loyal friend to the Irish community and a stalwart clearinghouse for the sort of news, events, and music that certainly readers of this paper find important. Current hosts Allie Small and Matt Cuzzi, under the guiding hands of producers Maura Monahan and Kim McCarthy, have kept the show’s flame lit and continue to do the kind of amazing work for Irish music the show has always been known for.
So, congrats to WFUV and “Ceol na nGael” – we hope the concert on Saturday will be a brilliant success and a befitting way to celebrate the last 50 years. Here’s to 50 more! To listen to “Ceol na nGael” in the Tri-State area, set your radio dial to 90.7 from noon to four on a Sunday. However, if you live out of area or streaming is more your thing, you can listen online, too, at https://wfuv.org/.
In the media player this week is “Ón Tuath” (“From The Country”), the new album from New York uilleann piper Jerry O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan needs little introduction to readers of this column, as he stands among the finest uilleann pipers playing today, having recorded five solo albums, including two volumes of the historically significant “O'Sullivan Meets O’Farrell,” and most recently “The Killasser Flute.” For many years he was a member of Mick Moloney’s Green Fields of America and not only recorded with that outfit but has recorded or performed with many, many others, including Eileen Ivers, Don Henley, Dolly Parton, and the Boston Pops (conducted by John Williams) to name just a few.
Gabriel Donohue joins O’Sullivan here, contributing on guitar, bouzouki, field organ, drums, bodhrán and synthesizer throughout. Donohue is, of course, a consummate musician who over the years has worked with the likes of John Whelan, Séamus Connolly, Martin Mulhaire, Joe Derrane, Cherish the Ladies, Mike Rafferty, James Keane, and many, many others, including the Chieftains for three years. His contribution here is extensive, such that O’Sullivan wrote in his liner notes “in many ways, it is really a duet album,” which is a fair statement. In addition to playing, Donahue handles production duties in typical “Cove Island” style. Incidentally, this year Cove Island Productions celebrates its 35th anniversary, so congratulations to Donohue on that milestone and all the fine work!
The music here is excellent.
There are several tracks that feature O’Sullivan’s uilleann piping and they’re great, particularly on the reels “Long Way From Home / ….” (Many of these also feature whistle and flute as well!) But there’s a ton going on here. It’s hard not to enjoy the way he handles the Scottish low pipes on the polka set “Patrick O’Connor’s” / …” and the highlands ““Miss Drummond of Perth / ….” The playing is both fascinating and well done.
A couple of tracks I enjoyed were of O’Carolan compositions. Both feature whistle & pipes and are done very well. The tunes are played with beautiful feeling and strong expression, and O’Sullivan’s phrasing here is especially gorgeous.
One of the album’s finest moments is “Sidebrook,” a composition original to O’Sullivan. Named after the home of his second cousin and composed in her family’s honor, the piece moves in a baroque stylistic direction akin to O’Carolan’s. The approach is magisterial and contemplative (and quite well arranged), and is a track that I think listeners will find very moving.
Another outstanding moment (and for my money, the album’s finest) is the air “An Binsin Luachra” (“The Bonnie Bunch of Roses”). For it, O’Sullivan’s drew inspiration from the piping and singing of the legendary Seamus Ennis, who embraced the air in both vocal and instrumental forms, and found distinguished accompaniment by Donohue on a portable field organ. This combination of pipes and organ is breathtaking (I love how the organ does the work of the regulators); I find this combination not only calls to mind Ennis’s work, but also that of his apprentice, the great Liam O’Flynn, who often performed on pipes alongside Ennis’s daughter Catherine, who was herself a gifted and important organist.
“Ón Tuath” is a lovely album from an uilleann piper who proves once again the breadth of his musical vision. As usual, O’Sullivan’s playing is of an exceptionally high technical standard but with it comes a very tasteful selection of out of the way and original tunes couched in impressive stylistic variety. It’s great stuff that discerning listeners with a mature ear for traditional music will relish. O’Sullivan will play at the New York Irish Center with Michelle Bergin in support of the record this Friday as part of Don Meade’s “Blarney Star” concert series (https://www.newyorkirishcenter.org/). To learn more and to purchase, visit http://tinyurl.com/JerryOSullivanPiper.