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2. Instrumental Album of the Year---Firewire
The winner is Firewire by Chris Newman and Maire Ni Cathasaigh. Newman on guitar and Ni Chathasaigh on harp have carved a unique path to the top. The duo has been together for years. Their technical virtuosity on their instruments is topped only by their exquisite artistic taste and approach. She is indisputably the greatest harp player in the tradition. Ever. His guitar work is so superb, both in solo and accompaniment, the listener is usually stopped dead in his or her tracks. Firewire is their best album, ever. When it comes to these two, that is saying something, indeed. Like all this year's winners, these two are a gift to all of us. They are the best in the world at this. Period. End of statement. End of story.
3. Male Vocalist of the Year---Tim Dennehy
Old Boots and Flying Sandals was Tim Dennehy's sixth album, we believe. It is his best. It is also clearly the best of the year against some stiff competition. Dennehy has a beauty, wisdom and gravitas about his voice seldom, if ever, equalled. The best singers open their hearts as well as their throats. This is really, really hard for a lot of artists to do. Most of us have a natural reticence about letting anyone see us all the way down. Not the greats like Dennehy. You have to have the voice to begin with. Then, you have to have a love and an understanding of the music. Then, you need the soul. It is all here. Dennehy joins a select group of Irish male singers who ARE the tradition, yet are absolutely of the day. Very, very special. Tim Dennehy delivered something so wonderful in this album that we are still listening to it regularly, months after its release. It is magic.
4. Female Vocalist of the Year---Eddi Reader
There are many who now say Eddi Reader is the best singer in the music. We love those arguments, as they are always friendly and go perfectly with pub pints. It certainly can be argued. And, if anyone knows anything about the music, Eddi Reader has to be one of the first names mentioned on any music lover's list. She is now an international treasure. Her album, Peacetime was released on Compass in 2007. It was our personal favorite album of the year. We still play it almost daily. This Scot can sing! Her voice is a wonder. It can be wild, gentle, soft, or rockin', as she originally started in rock and roll. Starting with last year's The Songs of Robert Burns and now with Peacetime, she has set a new gold standard of what the best can offer. We saw her perform live in 2007, and she did not lose a note. She is as perfect in concert as she is on a recording. Perfect. Eccentric, brilliant, warm and a voice from God. Eddi Reader is now at the top. There is precious little turf at the top of that mountain. The select few are up there with her. Let's put it this way. There is none better. A unanimous choice for this Award. Good on 'ya, girl!!
5. Concert of the Year—Munnelly---IAHC
Well, ANY concert by The David Munnelly Band would qualify as The Concert of the Year. This year, they get it for their Friday night concert at IrishFest in Milwaukee and an unbelievable show at The Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago. Take a listen to the cut accompanying this Award. That is Munnelly, Live. Best show in the business, no question. This group is also now the best vocal / instrumental ensemble in the tradition. If they are within 100 miles of you and you don't make the effort to see them, you are very, very foolish. NO ONE is doing what they do live. Or on record. Munnelly is headquartered out of Belmullet, Mayo. All the wild passion of that North Atlantic coast is on display in each tune. And, now they have added Shauna Mullin as their vocalist. (See Newcomer of the Year). Munnelly is the best, and the great thing about LiveIreland is we can prove it. Just click the link on the Award here. The tune is entitled, Connemara. Just listen. Then tell us. Who is the best? Yup. Munnelly. The whole, total deal.
6. Newcomer of the Year---Shauna Mullin
You probably have not heard Donegal's Shauna Mullin, yet. You will. She is the voice of the future of Irish traditional music. She is now the singer with the extraordinarily popular, David Munnelly Band. We saw her in concert in 2007, and have never been so stunned in a performance setting. Extraordinary. A Gift. She is an alto. Think a young and vibrant Dolores Keane, but an even warmer, more open, intuitive voice. As usual with LiveIreland, you hear it here first. We received this live performance of Ned on the Hill for you. We know of no first album being looked forward to by so many people. How many singers do you see get a standing ovation in a live performance after their first song? There are only a few really, truly great trad singers---think Cathie Ryan, Eddi Reader, Eilis Kennedy, Muirerann Nic Amhlaoibh and Mairi Campbell. Now add Shauna Mullin. Before her journey is over, she may be the best of all time. Correct. She is that great. She is that special. Get on board early---it will be a glorious trip.
7. Male Musician of the Year— Chris Droney
Chris Droney is from Clare. There are those who say he IS Clare! Chris has been creating magic on his concertina for about six or seven decades now. This year's album, Down From Bell Harbour goes to show what a lifetime by a master musician can provide. This album is as warm and wonderful as the man himself. As with all the greats, it is not just the notes. It is so much more than mere technique. Never mind the nine All-Ireland titles this legend won. That's right. Nine. It is the master's hand and heart. No instrument in Irish music displays these talents more readily or dangerously than the concertina. It is not a complex instrument, like the uillean pipes. Its simplicity is its challenge. The concertina has that beautiful sound that is so accessible. Lots of people play the instrument. Just a very, very few own the instrument. When you hear masters like Chris Droney at their art, you can smile and know that it can't be done better. This is the best. A life in the music can't be put on any album. But, Down From Bell Harbour comes real close. Bell Harbour itself should be very proud of he who lives among them. A master at his work. Thank you, Mr. Droney. Very, very much.
8. Vocal/Instrumental Album of the Year---North Cregg—Roseland Barndance
We have always adored North Cregg. This Cork-based quintet topped all again this year with The Roseland Barndance. The trad lover well knows The Cregg---and the addition of brilliant new singer, Claire-Anne Lynch just makes the whole deal all the better. Cork groups are known for their slides, but North Cregg does it all. Much of the music also has a real sense of humor, as well as stunning musicianship and arrangements. This band is all in its prime now, and we are all the beneficiaries of it. There are few, if any, bands that can be more relied on to produce wonderful magic on every selection. The North Cregg is at their top form with this album. Long may they reign!! In many ways, this is the most eagerly anticipated Livie Award each year, here on LiveIreland. There could be no better recipient. Up Cregg! Up Cork!!!
9. Female Musician of the Year---Mairi Campbell
Two Livies this year! Mairi Campbell scores big with not only The Composition of the Year, Jean Yelland, but also with her absolutely perfect fiddle playing on the Greentrax album, Greengold demanding all the recognition we can give! Her musicianship is of the absolutely highest caliber. Most importantly, she has not succumbed to the current, abominable fad of playing everything at 325 miles per hour. She has worked out the perfect approach, in that her playing shares the same eloquence as her singing--they are both exquisite. You can always tell an amateur magician, in that they always do their illusions fast fast fast. It is as they are afraid to take their time, for fear you will discover too much and see through them. So it is with musicians. Mairi Campbell is a fiddler who does not fear the perfect phrase, the beautifully turned note, or taking her time. She lets you hear the music---the music is more important to her than your opinion that she must be good because she can play at the speed of light. Her fiddle and voice have joined together so beautifully on this album, Greengold will surely last a long, long time. An accomplished professional with perfect taste, she is a wonder---as is her partner, Dave Francis on guitar with his perfect accompaniment. An easy choice for Female Musician of the Year. No argument.
10. Compendium Album of the Year---Barra McNeils
Well, start with the fact that this may be the most totally entertaining act in the business. Excellent msucianship---they have really, really creative arrangements and harmonies, even a little dancing---great fun. This is what you can get from a terrific, wonderful family act that has been together over 20 years. The Barra McNeil's 20 th Anniversary album showcases the best of a great ensemble. They have 20 years at the top of their game---how many others? The Chieftains---uh, we begin to run out of names. We have seen them perform several times and have never been anything less than thrilled. Every show gets their all---but here, we concentrate on the music. So creative, yet true to the traditionat the same time. This is a must-have album. Don't argue. Where else can you get 20 years of excellence in one attractively-packaged double album? Hmm? Here's to another 20 from the Barras. Wow!
11. Vocal Cut of the Year---Billy O'Shea---Michael Black Michael Black
We almost didn't give this Award to Billy O'Shea from Michael Black's terrific solo debut album on Compass Records, appropriately entitled, Michael Black. Honestly, the cut had worn us out. My public radio partner had insisted on playing it, like three weeks in a row, and about six weeks out of seven. We had listened to it again and again. We had raved about it in our written columns, and had played it privately for a number of people. We were pooped. Enough! Then it dawned on us. Why were we playing it so much? Easy. It is the Vocal Cut of the Year, that's why. We are listening to it as we write this, and loving it all over again. A true Dublin song.The Black sisters may not be relevant in the tradition any more, but the Black Brothers are, and none more than Michael. A great album. A fabulous song. A really terrific singer.
12. Instrumental Cut of the Year
Beoga's, Mischief was one of our favorite albums of the tear, and was a major contender for Vocal/Instrumental Album of the Year. One of the tunes that made us fans forever is a particular bit of brill called, Jazzy Wilbur. Brilliantly arranged and played, it shows this multi-talented group at its best. Real energy---plus a refreshing and much needed thing in trad music, a sense of humor. The first time we heard, Jazzy Wilbur, we laughed out loud. Very, very special. We are fans of Beoga—big time. Jazzy Wilbur is just one reason---and there are several mopre, including a great singer, Niamh Dunne (also fab on fiddle) thias group is going to be around and really successful a long, long time. Wondrous pieces of music like Jazzy Wilbur are a big part of the reason why. There could have been about six other tunes of theirs that would have won this Award—all perfect—and, all different. We had to pick one. We listened to Jazzy Wilbur the most. Reason enough!!
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