Ó Faoláin's adds richly-nuanced EP to his impressive resume

Bittersweet news from the world of broadcasting this week with the announcement that National Public Radio program “The Thistle & Shamrock,” a stalwart home for traditional music for 41 years, will come to an end on Sept. 30.  Fiona Ritchie, the show’s award-winning host, made the announcement on NPR’s website last week.

 “The Thistle & Shamrock” debuted on American Public Radio in 1983, seven years before it metamorphosed into NPR.  Over the years it has featured “music from Celtic roots in Europe and North America” and likely has been the most widely syndicated radio show for traditional music in North America.  Its role in the broad popularization of Celtic-influenced music over the years has been significant but as of October, unfortunately, there will be fewer national platforms in the United States for it going forward.  We wish Fiona and her production team well on the next phase of their careers!

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 In the player this week is “Do Shamhlaigh Mé Tír Nua…,” the recently released EP from Macdara Ó Faoláin.  A contemplative and moody collection of intriguing tracks, it’s richly nuanced music from a very up-and-coming artist whose efforts are well worth hearing.

“Very up-and-coming,” you say?  Yep, Ó Faoláin is a multi-instrumentalist and instrument maker from An Rinn, Co. Waterford, who, in addition to having recently graduated the Cork School of Music (with an honors degree), has recorded with the likes of Derek Hickey, the Friel Sisters, Nell Ní Chróinín, Cormac McCarthy, Victoria Adiiye and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, and who was a founding member of the group Nuadán.

  Ó Faoláin is a multi-instrumentalist and instrument maker. 

 He was also on “Beo,” with the piper Pádraic Keane and the banjoist Páraic Mac Donnchadha, which I think is one of the best albums of past few years, and were that not enough, he was named TG4’s Gradam Ceoil “Young Musician of the Year” for 2024.  It’s quite a resumé for someone so young.

 Plus, I mentioned above that Ó Faoláin is a luthier.  His specialties are bouzoukis and mandolins and his instruments have generated a good bit of buzz, not simply for their attractive visual qualities, but also, as you’ll hear on this EP, for their superb sound.  (This recording is a great advertisement for Ó Faoláin’s lutherie if there ever was one!)  If you’re interested in knowing more about this facet of his work, visit http://www.mofluthier.com/ for comprehensive information.

 “Do Shamhlaigh Mé…” opens as Gailege with “Anam Lách an Cheoil.” It’s a richly nuanced song to which Ó Faoláin sets in a brilliant solo bouzouki arrangement.  It’s interesting not only because it’s sung in Irish, but because it sounds so modern and projects a cosmopolitan sensibility.  “Suantraí na hOíche,” another song in Irish and one that closes the album, has a similar sort of appeal.  Here, Johnny McCarthy adds flute accompaniment, which complements Ó Faoláin’s accompaniment on the fiddle.

 A lot of the EP is instrumental. I quite like “Foraois an Iúir/…,” a really nice set of jigs that I believe are Ó Faoláin compositions and are well wrought tunes played with great rhythm and flair.  “You Should See the Other Guy /…,” a set of reels, is similarly well done.  “Go Moch,” a short playful, rhythmic melodic exploration, is another instrumental that shines light on Ó Faoláin’s fine musicianship.

 These tracks are less challenging to the casual listener than the instrumentals I feel are more ambitious.  “The Lark in the Clear Air” is a good example.  A superb take on the old air, Ó Faoláin brings a keen ear to its music possibilities.  He also tries his hand at J.S. Bach’s “Partita in E Major.”  The results are lovely and show a gorgeous side to Ó Faoláin’s musicality that goes a beyond the word of traditional expression.

 Ó Faoláin’s released “Do Shamhlaigh Mé Tír Nua…” in advance of his debut solo album, which will include these tracks and will be released this fall.  This release is intended to showcase Ó Faoláin’s arrangements that are more individual in nature.  

 While only seven of these tracks are available to hear on streaming services like Spotify, if you you purchase the album you also get an extra track, “Billy’s March to Glory,” which is a lovely relaxed bonus.  The purchase of the album also gets you a 20 percent discount on the full album on its release in the fall, which is a nice perk indeed.  I understand the expanded album will also include a number of more ensemble-based contributions from Conor O’Sullivan (baritone guitar), Johnny McCarthy (flute) and Michael Riordan (bass).

 “Do Shamhlaigh Mé Tír Nua…” is a lovely release; the music is thoughtful, gorgeous sounding and extremely well played.  Ó Faoláin is definitely a musician to have on your radar and this one’s a terrific starting point for getting to know him better.  Check it out!  To download, visit https://macdaraofaolain.bandcamp.com/.  You can learn more about Ó Faoláin at his website, http://www.macdaraofaolain.com/.