EAMON FRIEL – Atlantic Light (Thran Records THR 1013)

Atlantic LightAtlantic Light is Eamon Friel’s eighth and final album. The Londonderry broadcaster, performer and songwriter died unexpectedly at a remarkably youthful sixty-nine over the weekend. He was immensely popular in and around Belfast and will be sorely missed.

The album fits smoothly into Eamon’s oeuvre. It’s gentle and understated with support from his regular band, some of whom, notably guitarist and arranger Eddie O’Donnell, have been with him forever. There is a thread of nostalgia running through much of Eamon’s work and Atlantic Light is no exception. The opening track, ‘The Old Songs’ harks back fifty years to the music that bound people together in their formative years. ‘Takeaway’ talks about holiday work in a Chinese in Clapham and we’re going back five decades once again. It’s a happy song: any chorus that starts “chicken and sweetcorn soup” is alright in my book. ‘Benediction’ is another song from his school days in Derry. Eamon has a quiet, sometimes whispery voice, that suits this song and the title track very well.

He can crank it up sometimes. ‘Under The Sun’ has the full bass, drums and lead guitar treatment and I’ve often wished in the past that he’d push a bit more. ‘Street Of Song’ moves back in time of Tin Pan Alley – a period that Eamon clearly has great affection for. Frank Robinson’s saxophone and Liam Bradley’s brushed drums give it the perfect period feel. ‘The Hammer’ is an attack on uncaring capitalism which is sung remarkably calmly – I can think of one or two singers who would double the speed and scream these words but Eamon’s regretful tone work just as well. The closing ‘Cnoc An Chónaí’ is another song of nostalgia sung for the musicians of the north London Irish pub scene decorated with Paul Cutliffe’s uilleann pipes. Even the old songs get old sometimes.

And so Eamon Friel formally closes his account with an album that will please his fans but I suspect that there are some demos and out-takes waiting to be unearthed.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.pattynanmedia.com/452/599.htm

DIANE NÍ CHANAINN – Idir Muir Agus Sliabh (Cló Iar-Chonnacht CICD 207)

Idir Muir Agus SliabhAs the cover makes clear Idir Muir Agus Sliabh is a collection of Irish traditional songs – there is a Scottish interloper but we’ll let that pass. Three songs are in English, the rest in Irish and Diane Ní Chanainn has eschewed the Celtic ambient style for something more earthy and real. Reknowned as a Sean-nós singer, she is here supported by a cast of musicians that money alone couldn’t buy. At the core is Manus Lunny, who also produced the album, Liam Bradley and James Blennerhasset. Then we have contributions from Donald Shaw, Neil Martin, Charlie McKerron and pipes, whistles and flute from Martin Crossin and Michael McGoldrick.

There’s everything from a lively drinking song, ‘Nil sé ‘na Lá’ to the lovely romantic ‘An Draighneán Donn’ and the regretful ‘Geaftaí Bhaíle Buí’ but even here the band combine to give what could be a wistful song an unexpected drive. Two of the songs in English are ‘Lough Erne’s Shore’ and ‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’, both of which I heard for the first time last year. The latter is a variation on the Reynardine story, rather more complex than the common versions and also a marching band tune. The third is the immigrant ‘Broom O’ The Cowdenknowes’ which I’m always happy to listen to.

Idir Muir Agus Sliabh is a splendid, multi-faceted collection of songs which Diane, Manus and the supporting musicians have crafted into an album which is at once traditional and also geared to contemporary tastes. Don’t worry about the language problem; there isn’t one. The meaning and emotion of the words are delivered by the performance and the arrangements are superb, particularly Martin and Michael’s decorations.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: https://www.cic.ie/

Diane Ní Chanainn live:

Gráinne Holland releases her first album of original songs

Gráinne Holland

Corcra is Gráinne’s first album of her own original songs. It was produced by renowned musician Brian Finnegan, recorded by Seán Óg Graham and features the best of Irish and Scottish musicians including Aidan O’Rourke, Liam Bradley, Brendan Mullholland and Cormac Mac Carthy. When it comes to the songs, the stunning opener is ‘Mise Agus Tusa’, meaning me and you, a beautiful song written for her husband Frainc, Harry’s, a song about her father which she wrote shortly after his death in 2007 and ‘Lonn Dubh an Gheimhridh’ which describes the sadness that we often experience in winter when the days grow shorter, the trees lose their leaves and everything seems to sleep. Gráinne wrote this song about just that feeling. On a lighter note we have ‘Miracle’, written after the birth of her first son and ‘Béal Feirste’, a tribute to her home town of Belfast.

Born and raised in Belfast, Gráinne’s love of Irish music and song began at an early age. A product of the Gaelic language revival in the North of Ireland, she was brought up with both Gaelic and English and attended the first Gaelic-medium school in Belfast. It was here that her love of traditional song was fostered.

Gráinne released her debut album of traditional songs with contemporary arrangements; Teanga na nGael in 2011 to great critical acclaim. She followed it up with a second studio album Gaelré in 2015 which was published under the Gael Linn label. Gráinne has toured and performed at many major festivals both at home and abroad. She is also a successful producer and presenter in Irish language media.

“Gráinne’s voice soars and swoops and glides like a swallow in the sublime Irish summer sky” Damien Dempsey

Artist’s website: www.grainneholland.com

‘Lonn Dubh an Gheimhridh’ – official video:

Amy Duncan announces her sixth solo album

Amy Duncan

Antidote is the adventurous 6th album by singer/songwriter Amy Duncan. There are elements of pop folk, with harp and sparse acoustic guitar in an open tuning. Saxophone, drums, bass and odd time signatures in places add a slight jazz feel, with warm synths, layered vocals and field recordings from the city adding an overall contemporary sound.

The songs are diverse, from the dark and strange ‘The Severed Head’, to the hopeful and positive ‘Steady The Bow’. Amy’s signature pure, honest vocals connect through the songs in what is a truly special record.

“I recorded most of the album at home with no one else around, and felt a freedom of expression which reminded me of how I worked with my first two albums Pilgrimage (2006) and Story Of A Girl (2007). I had the time and the privacy to work and develop ideas until they felt right to me. It was great to know that Calum Malcolm would be mixing and mastering it, and bringing all the sounds to life, so I was free to create whatever I wanted. I had a lot of fun walking around Edinburgh making field recordings of sounds from all over the city. You can hear these sounds weaving in and out of the songs.

There is a vibrancy and sense of hope in Antidote. I was searching for a cure, a way of being, that could move beyond the depressive cycle. The songs are linked together by the theme of overcoming adversity in health and life. Knowing the past cannot be changed, it is ultimately about moving forward, with the intention to choose to live life in a positive way. “

Antidote is available to pre-order through Pledge Music where there is also the opportunity to find some original artwork, lucky bags, greetings cards and other merchandise not available elsewhere.

Amy’s previous releases include the albums Cycles Of Life (2013 Linn Records) and Undercurrents (2016) both of which were produced by Calum Malcolm and funded by Creative Scotland.

Antidote features Sue Mckenzie (saxophone), Fiona Rutherford (harp), Lawrie Macmillan (bass), Amy Duncan (keyboards / guitars / double bass) and Liam Bradley (drums).

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Artist’s website: amyduncan.co.uk

BEOGA – Before We Change Our Mind (own label BEOGA 06)

Before We Change Our MindBefore We Change Our Mind is the fifth studio album from Antrim-based band, Beoga. Their line-up was completed in 2005 after their debut album by fiddler/vocalist Niamh Dunne who bought a new dimension to a band that was dominated by accordion and keyboards plus Eamon Murray’s dynamic bodhran playing which is still an essential ingredient in their sound. What they might change their minds about remains unclear.

The majority of Beoga’s music is written by box-players Seán Óg Graham and Damian McKee. Although there are four medley sets both Graham and McKee have a liking for single compositions that move maybe half a step away from the Irish tradition. Graham’s ‘Eochaid’, ‘Aurora’ and ‘Valhalla’ and McKee’s ‘Jump The Broom’ all exhibit the roots of the tradition but unostentatiously do something new with it. The last of these is a particularly lovely piece.

The songs come from outside the band. The lively ‘The Bonny Ship, The Diamond’ is the second new version of this old song that I’ve encountered so far this year – it could be the start of a trend. Tommy Makem’s ‘Farewell To Carlingford’ is treated to guitar – Graham, again – and Liam Bradley’s piano with the bodhran and McKee’s accordion showing great restraint in the background. ‘Like A Dime’ comes from Eamon O’Leary’s album, Old Clump, and ‘Wexford Town’ is a much older song from the Irish traveller musician, Pecker Dunne, probably best known for ‘Sullivan’s John’.

Before We Change Our Mind is a light-hearted album, sometimes wistful, sometimes exuberant and a perfect release for early summer.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 

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Artists’ website: http://www.beogamusic.com/

‘Eochaid’ – official video:

AMY DUNCAN Undercurrents (Filly Records CD001)

AMY DUNCAN UndercurrentsUndercurrents is Amy Duncan’s fifth album. It’s a smooth and accomplished work produced by Calum Malcolm featuring harpist Fiona Rutherford and Sijie Chen, Jane Atkins and Donald Gillan borrowed from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Providing the foundations are Lawrie MacMillan and Liam Bradley on bass and drums.

The first track, ‘The Good Life’ is rich with harp and strings and in sharp contrast the second ‘Fragile From The Storm’ opens with a simple electric guitar figure joined by harp and bass before the song builds to its climax. There’s a nicely Asian feel about the accompaniment to ‘Different Dimension’, possibly my favourite track on the album, and the strings play some clever tricks at the end. In fact, Amy keeps the ideas moving – just as you think you know exactly what’s happening she introduces something new; hand percussion here, piano there, to draw the attention, and musical passages hinting and jazz roots such as the ending of ‘My Silver Net’.

Lyrically, there is much searching for certainty in the midst of doubt, in the depths of the ocean or a metaphorical fog although Amy asserts that ‘The Truth Never Changes’. I have to confess, though, that I’m not sure what, or possibly who, the subject of ‘Constant Without Me’, first encountered face down in a river, might be.

Amy is funding the promotion and pressing of Undercurrents on CD and vinyl through the crowd-funding site Pledge and supporters will receive immediate downloads of the album’s first singles, ‘The Good Life’ and ‘Different Dimensions’. There are lots of special offers to investigate, too.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.amyduncan.co.uk

Crowd-funding website: Pledge Music

‘Different Dimensions’ – not an exciting video but a fine song: