CUAS is Meabh Ni Bheaglaoich, Nicole Ni Dhubhshlaine, Kyle Macaulay and Niamh Varian-Barry.

Huge statement from new group

Congratulations to Kerry on their victory over Derry last weekend!  A great victory against a competitive Derry team and a portentous one for this column, as I write about the self-titled release from CUAS, a group that, as they put it, “celebrates the wild and diverse music, song, and dance of their West Kerry [home].”  Up the Kingdom!

 CUAS is Nicole Ni Dhubhshlaine (concertina, flute, vocals), Niamh Varian-Barry (fiddle, viola, hardanger fiddle, and vocals), Meabh Ni Bheaglaoich (button accordion, vocals), and Kyle Macaulay (guitar).  Exceptional musicians, each with a special connection to and affinity for the music of Kerry, they brought this project together early last year and by summer’s end a Sept 6 live recording date had been scheduled.  Recorded in front of 50 in a schoolhouse in Cuas a’ Bhodaigh (or Brandon Creek, said to have been the embarkment point for St. Brendan’s 6th-century voyage but also the home place of the Begley family), this album is a huge statement from a great new group.

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 The music here is all about West Kerry.  Slides and polkas are found here in abundance, as are a few songs and even a bit of dancing, all of which give this album its lively feel.  The first two tracks are real crackers.  A pair of slides, “Sleamhnáin Deálaí / The Peeler and the Goat” open the album fast out of the gate.  The playing is strong and vigorous and the set dancing that takes place during gives the music an extra lift. “Miss Admiral Gordon's / O'Sullivan's / Mairtín OConnor’s,” the set that follows, features a strathspey followed by two polkas and is a great combination that once again is quite ear catching.

 “Old Torn Petticoat that I bought in Mullingar / Cuz Teahan's / Peadar Ó Riada’s” is a superb set of slides.  The playing here is quick and light, giving the players good opportunity to pull out the nuance both in the tunes and in their arrangement.  

 I find “Keys to the Convent / Sliabh Mis,” a couple of gorgeous jigs, to be another particularly strong track.  Taken at a fairly slow tempo, the tunes are set well and played fairly straight throughout, however, the crescendo that takes place towards the end frames the tunes in a most elegant way.  I also really enjoy “Margarita's Waltz / Poitín March / Páidín Ó Raifeartaigh.”  Moving through three different rhythms (waltz, march, and jig) can be a challenge, but the tunes are so well matched that the trio sound very natural set together as a group.

 The album also includes some great songs.  I think the finest here is “Dusty Little Wings,” a composition of Varian-Barry’s that appeared on her 2018 album “Wings.”  It’s beautifully rendered, with the lead vocal standing out over the very tasteful, understated guitar playing and especially so when the gorgeous vocal harmonies kick in.  However, I won’t sleep on Ni Bheaglaoich’s performance of “An Cailín Bán,” which is its musical equal.  The smart, sensitive arrangement gives the melody a lot of breathing space and complements the feeling of her delivery well.

 CUAS is an excellent group and the playing on this, their debut album, is deep, broad and crisp – it’s a great expression of West Kerry sensibility.  The live element gives this one a special energy that I think makes it a nice companion to Pádraic Keane, Páraic Mac Donnchadha & Macdara Ó Faoláin’s “Beo,” a similarly incredible live album from last year that features a pair of Galway musicians (and one from Waterford!) playing in a style very different from – but complementary to – that found here.  CUAS is a very satisfying album overall.  It’s got a great and somewhat wild vibe that will surely thrill all lovers of traditional music for a variety of reasons – very highly recommended!  For more, visit