The Fiddle

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Michael Coleman
The fiddle came into prominence in Ireland during the sixteenth century and the instrument has dominated Irish dance music ever since. Every county in Ireland boasts its own style of bowing and fingering, as well as considerable cross-pollination with each other and with Scottish players. In earlier times, before the onslaught of mass media, it was easier to hear a musician's teachers and travels, but regional differences are often clearly audible even today. County Sligo's Michael Coleman is considered to be one of the best fiddlers since the beginning of the recorded era. He flourished during the twenties, and whether the point under discussion is technique, innovation or sheer beauty of tone, Coleman is a hard act to follow. "The Legacy Of Michael Coleman" (Shanachie) is a well-chosen anthology.

Among prominent modern fiddlers, Martin Faye and Sean Keane both play with The Chieftains. Keane's solo outing, "Jig It In Style" (Claddagh) is a chance to hear him in another setting, with such side-men as guitarist Paul Brady and piper Liam O Floinn sitting in. "Contentment Is Wealth" (Green Linnet), with his Chieftains bandmate Mat Molloy, is another polished beauty. James Keane, Sean's younger brother, is also a splendid player, and "Roll Away The Reel World" (Green Linnet), with the two brothers playing together, has both grace and power.

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Tommy Peoples
Kevin Burke, played with the seminal 60's group, The Bothy Band, and is now a member of Patrick Street. He is a master of the first order, and has recorded widely with various ensembles. Among the best of his output are "Open House" (Green Linnet), "If The Cap Fits" (Green Linnet), and a marvelous collaboration with the accordionist Jackie Daly, "Eavesdropper" (Green Linnet). He has also recorded some fine sets with former Bothy Band mate Michael Ó Domhnaill on guitar called "Portland" (Green Linnet) and "Promenade" (Green Linnet). Of course, his work with the Bothy Band and Patrick Street also demand to be heard. His Bothy Band predecessor, Tommy Peoples, is also a fiddler of the first magnitude, and his collaborations with Paul Brady, "The High Part Of The Road" (Shanachie) and "The Iron Man" (Shanachie) are great places to hear him in action.

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Eileen Ivers
Bronx-born Eileen Ivers is a virtuoso and innovator who gained international stature while playing with "Riverdance". Her free-wheeling cultural juxtapositions make purists queasy, but they are a lot of fun. The "Best Of" compilation, "So Far" (Green Linnet), and "Wild Blue" (Green Linnet), are both splendid. "Fresh Takes" (Green Linnet), with Bill Whelan of "Riverdance" fame has its moments, but there is too much gratuitous synth for trad fans. "Crossing The Bridge" (Sony) offers a big label budget, far-flung influences (including hip-hop), and an international cast.

Liz Knowles is another "Riverdance" fiddler, and she was also heard on the soundtrack to the film "Michael Collins". Her recent solo recording, "The Celtic Fiddle Of Liz Knowles" (Lyrichord) is fine playing and sunny listening. Dublin-born James Kelly's duet with the American guitarist Zan McLeod, "The Ring Sessions" (Faetain - distributed by Rounder)) fairly crackles with energy and passion. Seamus McGuire's unusual sound is partly due to his preferring the darker-toned viola over the more conventional violin. "The Wishing Tree" (Green Linnet) showcases his blend of early music with the Sligo styles he grew up with. The recordings of Liz Carroll, a Chicago native who took a couple of All-Ireland prizes, such as "A Friend Indeed" (Shanachie) and "Ed Reavy" (Rounder) are crucial listening. She also has recorded with Mick Moloney and Cherish The Ladies. Martin Hayes' stunning, hypnotic albums for Green Linnet are key, as is Frankie Gavin's work with and without De Danann.

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Article by Christina Roden
© 2000 RootsWorld
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