Mike McGoldrick - Wired
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cd cover Mike McGoldrick
Compass (www.compassrecords.com)

Irish musician Mike McGoldrick is one of the great wooden flute players. He has been progressively stretching the boundaries of Irish music for years. Beginning with The Champions of the North, a 1989 duet album with fiddler Dezi Donnelly, and continuing on 1996's Morning Rory and 2000's Fused, McGoldrick has melded traditional tunes with world beats, disco, horn sections, and jazz improvisation. This formula has yielded mixed results in the past, yielding an equal proportion of "wow" to "ouch" moments. On Wired, McGoldrick has refined his hip-trad formula and the results are, at times, breathtaking.

As on Fused, production duties are handled by Capercaillie's lead man, Donald Shaw. But the differences between the two albums are apparent by Wired's second track. Say goodbye to the turntables and voice samples of Fused and give a warm welcome to an increased focus on the presence of acoustic guitar and bouzouki. Programming is still occasionally in the mix, but it has been supplanted by the transfixing tabla playing of Parvinder Bharat. A horn section crops up on many of the tracks, but its implementation is more tasteful this time around, especially on the opener, "Wired to the Moon."

On the whole, McGoldrick and Shaw's musical ideas on Wired are refined. There are scattered minor problems, like the weak mandolin solo on "Corchran's Mill," and the slightly tedious horn segment on "The Edinburgh Rock," but these do not impact the album's overall enjoyment level.

The playing is flawless. McGoldrick's technique on the flute, pipes, and whistle knows no bounds; witness the tight interplay on "Sophie's" between McGoldrick's flute and an Eastern vocal sample. Other standout moments include the 7/8 tune "Famous Last Words," that showcases McGoldrick's now-famous rhythmic breath effects. The best track on the album, "The Desert Road," is one of the most traditional. It begins with a slow air and segues seamlessly into a jig, underpinned by Manus Lunny's bouzouki and Ed Boyd's guitar. McGoldrick's pipes soon join the fray, and the medley concludes with jig and a groove-based reel. His driving touch on the first jig, "Helvic Head," is the result of a rare and special talent.

Wired is stirring and while not exactly revolutionary, it is an immense refinement of neo-trad that will be hard to top. - Dan Gurney

CD available from cdroots

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