NIAMH VARIAN-BARRY – Wings (own label NVB001)

WingsSometimes you just want to snuggle down and be wrapped in the voice you’re listening to. Niamh Varian-Barry has one of those voices. Have a listen to ‘Dusty Little Wings’, the opening track on the album Wings, and you don’t want to do anything other than just listen. Wings was released earlier this year and is the debut solo album of Varian-Barr, former lead singer of the highly respected Solas. The link below takes you to the video she used to help fund the album and gives you a good feel for the music – not just aurally but also, as befits the daughter of an artist, a visual sense of how embedded her work is to the landscape as well as the sounds of Ireland.

The album pulls off the difficult task of keeping the sense of being a single piece of art while covering a range of music in its eleven tracks and it maintains a sense of Irish musical style throughout. And it does this even though the middle of the album has a track ‘Tar Eis an Bhastaigh’ which reminds me of the art rock of Marianne Faithful from later periods of her career. This is pretty impressive given that the track sits effortlessly between a couple of tunes which are very different to this – it follows the strings, cor anglais and piano of ‘She’s Here’ (Varian-Barry’s newly born daughter) and is followed by ‘Gerry Barry’s’ a tune for violin and accordion written after hearing a melodic chime on a TGV station.

Varian-Barry has composed six of the eleven tracks. Whether it’s the pull of her voice or her violin/viola playing I’ve just wanted to sit and listen to Wings. There are tunes which can holds you with their stillness – the traditional ‘Dancing The Baby’ for example – or their liveliness (‘Escapade In A Minor’ or ‘Padrino’). And to finish where I started, there are songs where all you want to do is to listen to Varian-Barry’s voice. ‘The Lark Of Mayfield’ is just as affecting as the opening track. The stripped down version of ‘Satisfied Mind’ which closes the album is as affecting as any version (I’ve just dug many of them out on YouTube) of this widely covered song.

Wings is a debut album, but a debut from an experienced singer and musician with a handful of equally talented colleagues. It was engineered by Donogh Hennessy (ex of Lunasa) and is just a delight to listen to. Play it loud on a decent hifi and wait for your partner, or other passing strangers, to come in and say “That’s lovely, what are you listening to?

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

Introductory video:

Caroline Keane and Tom Delany – new album

Caroline Keane

This new recording of traditional Irish music presents Irish cultural heritage in a fresh and creative context while remaining steadfastly loyal to the music, song and dance traditions of past generations. Caroline Keane and Tom Delany have been performing together for a number of years and are both founding members of the powerful quartet FourWinds. Renowned for their unmistakably energetic playing which transports the listener in a whirlwind of musical euphoria, this album stands as the latest testament to their musical virtuosity.

Having spent the last number of years living in communities where traditional music is at the heart of daily life, this album reflects the beautiful richness of Clare, Limerick and West Kerry Music.

“We wanted to illustrate the last four years of music together; our friends, our travels and our homes are all intrinsic to this recording project”, says Caroline.

Having grown up in Limerick, Caroline has a very fond affinity with the music of her own home county. Living on the Dingle Peninsula for the last number of years, the local music has also put an influential stamp on her unique style of concertina playing. Tom’s music is heavily influenced by the “travelling style of piping” and his dynamic playing echoes the music of North Clare and Ennis where he moved after completing his studies.

“We both studied at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, at the University of Limerick. We started playing music there and we were both very attracted to those different styles, it’s great to blend and interweave our influences.”

Performing with the band FourWinds has seen Tom and Caroline entertain audiences worldwide; including Dublin Irish Festival, USA, Goderich Celtic Roots, Canada and Woodford Folk Festival, Australia (attended by over 125.000 people every year).

For this duet album they focus on melodies and tunes that relate to home. “We picked tunes which we learned from our friends and from our musical heroes.” The repertoire chosen encompasses traditional tunes and also some more recent compositions by pillars of the tradition such as Richie Dwyer, Paddy

Keenan and Maurice Lennon. The record also features an exciting selection of Tom and Caroline’s own melodies.

This new release features an incredible cast of guest musicians such as Donogh Hennessy, Cyril O’Donoghue, Robbie Walsh, Elaine Hogan, Brian O’Loughlin and Laura Kerr. “It was important to us to have some of our friends on this recording, they are all true masters of their instruments as well as incredibly nice people”, laughs Caroline.

Never Say Goodbye, Say Good Luck, captures the music of two young master musicians in their prime; embracing culture, music, friendship and life.

“This duo combines the effortless exuberance of youth with the precision and depth of mature performers. The album is a delight from start to finish. Very danceable tunes, reflecting the bubbly and engaging personalities of Caroline and Tom.” – Gerry O’Connor

Artists’ website:

The album launch gig – well, a taste of it:

JANET DOWD – Home (Blue Cow Records)

HomeAlthough Janet Dowd writes songs, and there are three of her own compositions on Home, her particular forte is in covering other writers. Her subjects are mostly Irish and an album like this will serve to introduce British audiences to some new songs, but she also encompasses Scotland and Australia and unless you are a particular fan of the writers involved these too may be songs you haven’t heard before.

The album opens with Eric Bogle’s ‘All The Fine Young Men’ which has been covered quite frequently (but good luck finding Eric’s original these days). It features producer Donogh Hennessy on guitars, keyboards and programming with strings from Niamh Varien Barry. Janet’s strong, clear voice does full justice to a song that should be rated alongside ‘No Man’s Land’.

Irish songwriters have a sentimental streak and Tommy Sands indulged his on ‘County Down’, a song of the auld country calling the expatriate home. It features Alan Doherty on whistle and Colin Henry’s Dobro, an instrument which appears several more times. Quite why a resonator guitar should suit celtic songs so well, I can’t say, but it just does. The theme of home, and not being there, returns in Dougie MacLean’s ‘Garden Valley’, Janet’s own ‘Westport Town’ and, supremely, Brendan Graham’s ‘My Land’.

The second Australian represented here is The Waifs’ Josh Cunningham whose ‘Lighthouse’ actually has someone coming home and happy to be doing so. Another highlight I must mention is the traditional ‘Súil A Rúin’ which again features Niamh Varien Barry and Pauline Scanlon’s backing vocals.

Home manages to combine the simplicity of emotion in both writing and singing with arrangements that are always interesting without being too clever or overwhelming the songs. Beautifully done.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

LUMIERE – My Dearest Dear (IRL Records IRL075)

Lumiere My Dearest DearThe art of successfully bringing ‘folk’ music to a wider audience has been surmounted before by the likes of Steeleye, Fairport and The Corrs and with the duo Lumiere it looks as if we have another artist batting for ‘our’ side. Whether we in the folk world deserve it or not remains to be seen as sometimes it would appear a thankless task pleasing the die-hard ‘traditionalists’. Personally speaking, to scorn anything ‘commercial’ would, in my opinion be churlish as both Eilis Kennedy and Pauline Scanlon have fine voices and, when joined by the more brittle vocals of guest Sinead O’Connor on Sandy Denny’s timeless “Who Knows Where The Time Goes” this really would be an unfairly negative response. Adding a touch of gloss to this musical undercoat producer John Reynolds has assembled an exemplary band of musicians including ex-Lunasa guitarist Donogh Hennessy, Clare Kenny (bass), Caroline Dale (cellos), Kevin Armstrong (guitars), Eamonn De Barra (piano/keyboards), Julian Wilson (Hammond organ), Catriona MacKay (Harp) and Reynolds himself on drums. Although the album is unashamedly commercial it will undoubtedly appeal more to say a Radio 2 audience than Radio 1 listener but there’s nothing wrong with that so long as you’re also happy to be tagged “easy listening”. Reflecting the duo’s passion for traditional songs such as “The Wind That Shakes The Barley”, “The Streets Of Derry” and a nicely understated “Ye Jacobites” it will sit nicely among those ethereal sounds of Clannad you have in your collection.


Artist’s website:

KYLE CAREY – Monongah (Self-Released)

A bit like President Obama I feel that Ms Carey is a ‘nice’ person. It’s not that I know her personally of course but judging her on the merits of this album I feel that all is right with the world. This could also have something to do with the fact that Lunasa’s Donogh Hennessy is sitting in the producer’s chair and in company with a guest list of musicians including Trevor Hutchinson (Bass), Aoife Clancy (harmony vocals), Neil Fitzgibbon (string driven things) and the crisply tuneful glissando mandolin of John Kirk this album really is something of a gem. If I said that the recording should be played relentlessly on BBC Radio 2 then I hope that there are enough producers out there to take note to steer the album in the direction of Mike Harding and Aled Jones etc. A much seasoned traveller Kyle’s Appalachian/Scots influenced songs have an organic ‘feel’ that is delivered in a laid-back way that would do justice to any recent recording by Dolly Parton…minus the ‘howdee’ drawl if you’ll excuse me being so presumptuous. Intriguing subject matter often inspired by poems from the pens of authors such as Louise McNeill (RIP) who unknowingly contributed to the title track and “Devil At Your Back” would I’m sure be proud to be represented in such a way. The final track “Reprise” proved a little unsettling for me (in a good way) in that it opens with a stark fiddle ‘Civil War’ type slow air (think Clint Eastwood in the film “Beguiled” or a soundtrack not dissimilar to the movie “Ravenous”) and, after a monumental pause of 57 seconds (and yes, I did time it!) before the final song (a reprise of “Adenine”) is more than worth while waiting for. Like discovered treasure you’ll find this a rewarding experience.


Artist Web link:

LUNASA – The Merry Sisters Of Fate

LUNASA The Merry Sisters Of FateA nice opening set-up from Donogh Hennessy’s driving rhythmic guitar settles comfortably in to the jig ‘Aoibhneas Eilis Ni Cheallaigh’ with Kevin Crawford’s flute and Sean Smyth’s fiddle taking up the lead lines.

The rather nifty segue from the second tune ‘Jimmy Ward’s’ into the closing ‘Not Safe with A Razor’ is a typical demonstration of the band’s main strength, that of the art of arrangement. Many of today’s aspiring Celtic musicians could take note for a well-structured arrangement is pivotal in keeping the audience’s attention.

Adding colour are Cillian Valleley’s pipes and underpinning it all is Trevor Huthinson’s double bass. The addition of Hennessy’s electric guitar adds warmth on ‘The Kilarney Boys of Pleasure’.

All of the tunes on this 11 set album go with a swing and the self-assured way in which they are put across leaves you in no doubt that Irish music is in safe hands and continuing to break the boundaries of musical prejudice.

Pete Fyfe

Originally posted – 17-May-2001