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:

Calum Alex Macmillan releases second solo album

Calum Alex Macmillan

The latest in a venerable family line of Gaelic singers and bards, Calum Alex Macmillan ranks squarely at the forefront of his culture’s contemporary renaissance. With his second solo album Till (a long-awaited successor to 2005’s highly-praised Taladh Nan Cuantan), the Isle of Lewis native and ex-Dàimh vocalist resoundingly reaffirms that status, in material retracing his deepest traditional roots, while simultaneously embracing the present.

Till means ‘return’ in Gaelic, denoting the frequent visits back to his family home in Point, a tradition-rich peninsula off Lewis’s east coast, during which Macmillan – currently based in Inverness – gradually gathered songs and tunes for the album. His primary source was numerous kitchen-table sessions with his father, Harris Tweed weaver John “Seonaidh Beag” Macmillan, himself a celebrated singer, and co-founder of pioneering Gaelic group The Lochies.

“Besides sharing his own songs,” Calum Alex explains, “Dad played me loads of his reel-to-reel tapes from years ago, of other folk singing, old BBC programmes and suchlike. I also discovered that my great-auntie, in the next village, had tapes that her late auntie had made, of singers she knew in the area. I have a lot of singers going back on both sides of my family, and there were a good many others, really quite widely-known singers, living nearby when I was growing up, who sang songs by local bards – some of them written by my ancestors. The ones on the album have so many interconnections for me: with my childhood, my family’s history, with that particular place and that community.”

The album title also resonates aptly in English, with its dual sense of cultivation – tilling the land – and of looking forward (until), reflecting both Macmillan’s heartfelt fealty to centuries-old tradition, and his skill at bringing it to timeless yet modern-day life. Produced by Donald Shaw – of Capercaillie/Celtic Connections fame – Till’s sensitively spacious, freshly imaginative arrangements feature such fellow contemporary folk luminaries as Julie Fowlis, Greg Lawson (GRIT), Ross Martin (Dàimh), James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), James D. Mackenzie (Breabach) and Manus Lunny (Capercaillie).

As alluded to above, Macmillan has been singing nigh-on since he could talk, developing his talents and repertoire at both local ceilidhs and the annual Mòd network of competitive Gaelic festivals. Winner of the coveted National Mòd Gold Medal at only 18 – he triumphed again in the Traditional contest two years later. His parallel prowess on the bagpipes (as featured in Till’s two instrumental sets), resonates clearly through his vocal phrasing and ornamentation, while a potent expressive blend of gravitas and passion, buoyancy and weight, also reveals the uniquely elemental influence of Gaelic psalm-singing, a tradition still widespread during his childhood. Following Taladh Nan Cuantan’s release, Macmillan’s six years with award-winning Highland band Dàimh further honed this exquisitely distinctive artistry, not least in his masterly handling of accompaniment – artistry that now, on Till, attains marvellously mature, transcendently eloquent fruition.

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Artist’s website: www.calumalexmacmillan.co.uk   

MAIREAD NI MHAONAIGH – Imeall (Moon1)

I first met the beautiful Irish chanteuse Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh in 1978 when she performed at St Mary’s Church Hall in Hastings (rather uncharitably re-christened ‘the bomb factory’…you work it out…by the local residents of the town) whilst working with the fledgling acoustic group Altan. Since then of course the band have gone from strength to strength and this recording is Mairead’s first solo project in all that time. The old question of whether the album has stretched her musically speaking is “No…not really” but then again, who wouldn’t want to make the most of an opportunity to surround themselves with the cream of the Irish ‘folk’ glitterati including, amongst others Manus Lunny (bouzouki, programming and vocals etc), Michael McGoldrick (Uilleann pipes and Flute) and Tim Edey on guitars. Lunny also comes into his own as producer deftly placing just the correct amount of nuanced accompaniment where it’s required. Although I suppose the album will appear rather pedestrian for some tastes (but not those who have followed Mhaonaigh’s career to date) there are spirited renditions of the Gaelic song “Gardai ‘n Ri” with its riff and percussion driven sound and the fiddle led instrumental set-piece “Highlands/The Red Crow” for those wishing a quick jig around the table in Pat Cohen’s pub from ‘The Quiet Man’. All-in-all, this is a very nice CD to chill-out to. PETE FYFE

MAIREAD NI MHAONAIGH – Imeall (Moon1)

I first met the beautiful Irish chanteuse Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh in 1978 when she performed at St Mary’s Church Hall in Hastings (rather uncharitably re-christened ‘the bomb factory’…you work it out…by the local residents of the town) whilst working with the fledgling acoustic group Altan. Since then of course the band have gone from strength to strength and this recording is Mairead’s first solo project in all that time. The old question of whether the album has stretched her musically speaking is “No…not really” but then again, who wouldn’t want to make the most of an opportunity to surround themselves with the cream of the Irish ‘folk’ glitterati including, amongst others; Manus Lunny (bouzouki, programming and vocals etc), Michael McGoldrick (Uilleann pipes and Flute) and Tim Edey on guitars. Lunny also comes into his own as producer deftly placing just the correct amount of nuanced accompaniment where it’s required. Although I suppose the album will appear rather pedestrian for some tastes (but not those who have followed Mhaonaigh’s career to date) there are spirited renditions of the Gaelic song “Gardai ‘n Ri” with its riff and percussion driven sound and the fiddle led instrumental set-piece “Highlands/The Red Crow” for those wishing a quick jig around the table in Pat Cohen’s pub from ‘The Quiet Man’. All-in-all, this is a very nice CD to chill-out to.

PETE FYFE