Willie Clancy: The Gold Ring: Uilleann Piping from Co. Clare
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Willie Clancy
The Gold Ring: Uilleann Piping from Co. Clare
RTÉ (www.rte.ie)

These two discs released by RTÉ expand the previously released tapes made for Irish radio of one of the greatest pipers ever. This two disc set blends some of these tapes with other unreleased tracks from a widely known yet perhaps under-recorded master of Irish music. Influenced by two travelling players, Garrett Barry and Johnny Doran, this County Clare native epitomizes its often mournful, often celebratory, plaintive style that the combination of chanter, drones, and regulators can make in skilled hands.

Disc one features the varied styles Clancy mastered. Thirty-four tracks mix radio session recordings with private tapes made in the field as well as in the studio. Disc two serves in archivist-compiler (and piper with The Bothy Band) Peter Browne’s phrase as a “musical biography,” from 1947 to the early 1970s, of thirty-one examples of how Clancy’s playing evolved on its own, as well as his integration of Doran’s example. Browne’s thorough liner notes enhance these remastered and restored tapes.

These selections, for fans of later players such as The Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney, Moving Hearts’ Davy Spillane, Paddy Keenan, and Planxty’s Liam O’Flynn, will attract listeners to the formative decades when Irish traditional music began to leap from the pub and local session to wider acclaim. Many of these tracks sound familiar only because students of Clancy’s took them and recorded them in later decades. Hearing them in their abbreviated, unadorned setting enhances the original encounters listeners would have had with this music, emotional and raw, from this standard Irish instrument, the bagpipe’s lap-held cousin.

The premature death of Clancy in 1973 robbed Irish music of this link between its itinerant, wandering practitioners and today’s studio-skilled students. Clancy asserts his delicate touch, mimicking bleats, cackling beasts sometimes and fiddles, voices, and the wind at others. He in this tribute to his legacy demonstrates how one of the most complicated of instruments turns into one of the most direct expressions of how smooth melody can come from a few pounds of wood, bellows, and leather bag. - John L. Murphy

Listen to the double jig "The Rolling Waves"

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