CARL HESSION, FRANCIS CUNNINGHAM AND EIMEAR COUGHLAN – Úrnua   (own label URN001)

ÚrnuaCarl Hession is held to be one of the finest accompanists, arrangers and composers in Irish music; a veteran of Moving Cloud and a number of bands with Frankie Gavin. Concertina player Francis Cunningham and harpist Eimear Coughlan are both making their recording debuts on Úrnua in this distinguished company. Also appearing are violinist Bogden Sofei, cellist Sharon Howley and percussionist Jim Higgins. It’s a tribute to Carl’s skills as a producer that Eimear’s harp shines so brightly in the mix.

If I were a talented session player I’d be all over this album like a cheap suit. There are forty tunes here, spread over eighteen tracks – some sound deceptively simple and others definitely are not. The majority are written in the Irish traditional style: reels and jigs with a set of slip jigs and another of polkas plus slow reels, a march and a couple of waltzes.

Sadly, I’m not a player and here’s my problem. I’m not a fan of the piano in folk music although I appreciate its use as a continuo in Celtic music. To his credit, Carl doesn’t try to dominate the other players but provides a firm basis for the melodies, enriching the sound while allowing space for the harp and concertina. Secondly; can a tune be traditional if it’s only just been written? Inevitably, some of these tunes will be adopted into the tradition and welcomed simply because they are good tunes but their origins will always be documented. Is that also the case with the majority of Irish instrumental music?

Because of the above my favourite tracks are those which don’t quite fit the traditional mould. ‘Celtic Storm’ is listed as an adagio and classical gigue and ‘Minuet/Sprightly Spring’ is a paring of a minuet and a waltz while ‘Inishbofin’ is a delightfully mournful slow air. The playing is never less than exemplary and, despite myself, my foot was definitely tapping by the end.

Dai Jeffries

www.copperplateconsultants.com

‘Sporting Galway/The White Plains/Threadneedle Reel’:

STEPH GEREMIA – Up She Flew (Black Box Music BBM009)

Up She FlewI was beginning to muse about why it is that Irish, and indeed Scottish, musicians have such a deep desire to rework and circulate the music from their native lands and then I read that Steph Geremia is actually from New York. Up She Flew is Steph’s second album, almost ten years on from her debut and she is now ensconced in the north-west of Ireland from which much of her repertoire is drawn. North Connaught is her home and the source of her inspiration. Steph principally plays flute – more delicate and fluid than whistle or pipes – which makes this a very pretty record. She also plays soprano sax on two tracks and sings on one but doesn’t dwell on it.

Most of the material is traditional but among the credits you’ll find the names of Charlie Lennon, Martin Wynne and, venturing away from Ireland, Chris Stout. Steph is punctilious about noting the sources of her tunes so we learn that ‘The Housemaid’ is a version of ‘The Humours Of Glendart’ via Chris Sheridan and I suppose that we’ll one day read that a particular tune comes from the playing of Steph Geremia. I suppose, too, that that’s been going on for a few hundred years.

Steph has a fine supporting band, notably percussionist Jim Higgins and Aaron Jones on bouzouki and guitar but she remains on top of everyone and I suspect that co-producer Donal O’Connor has a lot to do with that. Even when Ben Gunnery’s fiddle or Michael Rooney’s harp is an integral part of a track it’s very restrained. If you’re a session player you’ll probably find several tunes that you’ll want to learn and if not, well, it’s a very pleasant album for a summer’s day.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Come Up To The Room I Want Ye/Ebb Tide’ – live:

CHRISTY MOORE – On The Road (Sony Music/Frontline)

On The RoadNeither a greatest hits collection nor a conventional concert album, On The Road sits somewhere between the two. Here are two dozen of Christy best and most popular songs recorded at seventeen venues in Ireland and the UK over the past three years.

The double-CD set opens with a mighty ‘Ordinary Man’ recorded at the Glasgow Barrowlands with an audience determined to sing it their way. As Christy notes, he felt it best to follow them. Christy’s audiences always know all the words. The band appearing pretty much throughout the album is Declan Sinnott on guitars, percussionist and producer Jim Higgins and Cathal Hayden with contributions from Máirtín O Connor, Seamie O’Dowd, Vickie Keating and Christy’s eldest son, Andy.

Initially the sequencing alternates moods so the second cut is ‘Ride On’ followed by the World Cup saga ‘Joxer Goes To Stuttgart. Is it an Irish thing: the ability to move from ribald comedy from sentimentality? ‘Black Is The Colour’ is followed by an updated ‘Don’t Forget Your Shovel’ filled with political comment and Irish in-jokes and ‘Delirium Tremens’ follows ‘The Voyage’. The fact that these are recent live recordings adds a twist to familiar songs with Christy working the audiences like the master he is. Just don’t expect anything to sound like it does on the studio album – he actually cracks up on ‘Weekend In Amsterdam’. The first set closes with a song that is rarely out of the set: ‘Viva La Quinte Brigada’ and even if you don’t know it you’ll be singing along before the end

The second half starts out in a less rowdy fashion; more what you’d expect from a Christy Moore gig. He opens with his brother’s ‘City Of Chicago’ followed by Ewan MacColl’s ‘Go Move Shift’ and a gorgeous take on ‘Nancy Spain’. Of course, the restraint doesn’t last forever as ‘Lingo Politico’ proves and ‘St. Brendan’s Voyage’ isn’t terribly reverential.

It is possible that you haven’t heard Christy Moore live and these days you’ll probably have to go to Dublin to do so but On The Road will do well enough until you get there. Hear this album and you’ll be booking your tickets.

Dai Jeffries

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Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

Artist’s website: https://www.christymoore.com/

‘Ordinary Man’ – live: