In what has become a yearly tradition, we here at LI give out around this time as to what are the top albums for the Christmas gift giver.
The ones with real trad taste. The gift giver who wants to give something fab---something trad. Does it shock you to find out we have recommendations? Now, it is up to you to find them. Easy. There are a couple that will require contacting the unequalled European distributor, Copperplate and Alan O’Leary directly. Also, think CDbaby. iTunes. Claddagh in Ireland, right down the street from our studios! So be it. These are worth the effort. You can also go directly to the artists’ websites and order there.
First, let’s do the top three Irish Christmas albums of all time. They are bo-Ho-Ho-hola (by Bohola), A Kiltartan Road Christmas by Cathy Cowan and the Chieftains’, Bells of Dublin. Each for a different reason, and each so special. Bohola’s is such a great mix of stories and the music, wonderful. Cathy Cowan’s album has Cathy Cowan. Need we say more? The Chieftains’, Bells of Dublin is rightly revered and loved around the world. So, there’s your Christmasy Christmas picks. Easy.
But what about non-Christmas, trad tasties?
There are so many. Thousands. Where to start? The way we are doing it this year is just leaning back, closing our eyes, and imagining some of the best of the best over the years. Also keep in mind that we want to give you what is currently available, and can actually be found. It could well be argued that the best instrumental album of all time was Moving Cloud’s first, self-titled creation. It was on Green Linnet, and as the true trad fan knows, that cd catalogue is now owned by Compass. The digital rights to the Linnet catalogue are owned by another company and can be found online. However, the album itself is extremely hard to find. Check with Compass. So, now on to others more readily available.
First, and always, is Beal Tuinne. This album of a couple years ago remains the greatest Irish album we have ever heard. There is really nothing more to be said about it. It can be found at Copperplate Distribution, as well as Rampant Lion in Chicago---we know those two have it. Not everyone does. Simply go online and Google Copperplate Distribution or Rampant Lion, and you will be there instantly. We would also recommend anything in the Copperplate catalogue. If you are a trad lover, and you know you are, you cannot go wrong.
Joe Derrane was reviewed here last month with his new album, Grove Lane. It is brilliant. It is Joe Derrane. The master. Still tall in the saddle after all these years. Easily available everywhere, as it is on Compass.
Five vocal albums come immediately to mind. Choose any of these. The independently produced Faces, by Deirdre Scanlon, a seven-time, All-Ireland vocal winner. Stunning. Or, through Copperplate, find Eilis Kennedy’s Time to Sail, a multiple award-winner. There are many who would argue that she is Ireland’s greatest singer.
Speaking of Ireland’s greatest singer, don’t forget Cathie Ryan’s, The Farthest Wave. If you don’t have it, get a grip on yourself. Get it. Cathie is alpha and omega of the great Irish vocalists. Matt Keane is the greatest singer of the Keane family and his album, Out in the Fields, is genius. Maranna McCloskey. At Last is the name of the album. A goddess from Derry. A stunning talent and a great gal. This gifted alto never sets a foot wrong. We have not been in contact with her for some time, but the talent remains. This is a tremendous album.
Two additional have come to mind. Kevin Henry’s album, One’s Own Place, should be findable through your local Irish music merchant. It is, in many ways, the ultimate Irish album, as is Kevin Henry the ultimate Irish talent. A musical icon. Another wonderment is Humdinger by Paul Brock and Enda Scahill, accompanied by Ryan Molloy on piano. If Joe Derrane is not the greatest living box player, Paul Brock or David Munnelly is. Enda Scahill is the best Irish banjo player. By the way, you may have noticed we sneaked David Munnelly’s name in. His group’s album, Tight Squeeze, is a joy. Brock, Derrane, Munnelly. You love button box? FAB. Spaeaking of Munnelly reminds us of his ex-singer, Shauna Mullin. She is out with her solo album, Wishing Tree. Brill. Great variety of tunes and an even greater alto!
OK, we lied. Let’s try and give you a couple titles that WILL be harder to find, but oh, so worth the effort. We still believe that the best Irish trad vocal/instrumental album by a group is Reeltime, by the group of the same name. Released in the early-mid 90’s, this group from Galway redefined trad music and spawned legions of copycats.
From Solas to Comas, they all know. And, Reeltime remains a touchstone of trad. The album was released on Green Linnet. Around the same time, the Shanachie label produced a brilliant bit of business from DeDannan called Hibernian Rhapsody. Starring Tommy Fleming on vocals, and the original DeDannan, it is still a masterpiece. DeDannan has become something of a musical laughingstock in trad music, as its internecine warfare has produced The New DeDannan and The Old DeDannan. Musical egos and conflicting pocketbooks do not obscure what was once the greatest group in trad, and this was arguably their greatest album. Shame on them all for being so silly nowadays.
See the problem? These just drift in and out of our mind as we are writing this to you. If we had done this list an hour from now, there would be totally different names on it. The point is that we absolutely, 100% guarantee that each of the albums listed would be a delight to receive and a pride to give. 100%.
Now quit sitting there reading this and get to work. Support these artists and show your friends what incredible taste you have. Merry Christmas!