Traditional Irish Music
My earliest memories of Robin Morton date back to the first days of the Boys of the Lough. After leaving the band, he seemed to vanish until he reappeared as the mastermind behind Temple Records. It cannot be chance that one person is involved with two such venerable institutions and this album goes some way to show why. He has an ear for good music.
During the 1960s, Morton helped organize a folk club in Belfast. This resulted in meeting fiddler Tommy Gunn, who in turn not only helped form the Boys, but also introduced him to a number of traditional musicians at sessions held in the Gunn household. Among those playing at the time were Sean McAloon, a piper from Co. Fermanagh, John Rea from Antrim with his hammered dulcimer, flutist Packie Duigan from Co. Roscommon, and Seamus Horan, a Leitrim fiddler.
Inspired by the music he heard, Morton set about releasing a number of albums featuring these musicians and in the 70s, three recordings became available. This CD is a compilation of 25 tracks from those albums.
I'm not sure where McAloon stands in the hierarchy of uilleann pipers, but from his playing here, you are aware of echoes of musicians who will make their mark later - the Bothy Band, Planxty and others surely must have listened to his music and learnt much. On the occasional tracks where he pairs up with John Rea, the best in both instruments is apparent. Any harshness in the pipes is mellowed by the clipped dulcimer strings, whose trailing resonance is absorbed in turn into the pipes' drone - a grand match.
Rea's dulcimer playing is delightful in its percussive dance. Pipe and fiddle tunes generally lend themselves well to the dulcimer, though there are points where melodies get a little lost. This is especially so on the somewhat plodding set piece, "The Three Sea Captains," as he improvises on the tune, probably because of the limitations of diatonic tuning, resulting in many missing half-notes. But the flow of his playing glides over the accidentals. The dulcimer is regarded by many nowadays as an instrument non grata in traditional circles, but Rea's bubbling style is more than worthy of a place on this album.
Horan's fiddling possesses a delightful drive, in some ways reminiscent of the Sligo style. He is well matched in duets by the melodic fluidity of Duignan, whose breathy approach revitalizes even the most hackneyed of tunes. Robin Morton (bodhran) and Sean Wynne (whistle) occasionally add accompaniments.
This album in some ways is a snapshot of music as played four decades ago. Many of the tunes have passed into the standard repertoire and are presented here almost as definitive versions - the five-part jig, "Geese in the Bog," has rarely been played better; "Alexandria's Hornpipe," perfect on pipes; and Sean Ryan's Hornpipe as though it were composed for Horan. There are some old chestnuts, such as the "Rights of Man," which once probably sounded fresh, but are now closer to historical records.
I would rather have seen the separate release of the three original recordings, though Morton has done a superb job in track selection and continuity. And more detailed, up-to-date notes regarding the tunes would have been appreciated. But these are small complaints. Releasing the material more than compensates for these shortcomings. - Jamie O'Brien
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