Birkin Tree
A Cheap Present
Dunya Records (

An Italian octet playing traditional Irish music is not something you come across everyday, but equally, no stranger than an American group doing the same.

Imagine 35 years ago. The young Chieftains emerge onto the scene, bringing new sounds and new tunes to a far-flung public. Uilleann pipes, wooden flutes, and unusual percussion performing jigs, reels, airs and more with the skill of classical musicians and the life of traditional players. The opening measures of A Cheap Present are like déjà vu. That certain sound of flute, fiddles, harp, whistle are unmistakable. Until the guitar comes in; and then the fiddle branches out with a certain swing. In spite of comparisons with The Chieftains, Birkin Tree really does set out to create it's own style.

There are touches of other performers in the arrangements, though the pastiche they create is distinctively their own. Birkin Tree have assembled nine sets of tunes and songs with great skill. The album flows nicely, not only from track to track, but also within each set. There are strong selections of slow to fast reels, jigs to hornpipes, songs into tunes. The arrangements allow each of the lead musicians to blossom when working as soloists or in combination with the others. And all that is against a strong rhythmic background. Good placement of keyboards and sax only serves to enhance the sound, extending horizons.

Most of the material is either traditional or composed in traditional vein. The inclusion of tunes written by band members shows how strong their feel for the music is. Some of these pieces may even pass into the repertoires of other players. By the end of the album, all those comparisions inspired by those opening bars have gone. Birkin Tree stand on their own. - Jamie O'Brien

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