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There are two great things about listening to as much Irish music as we do. Well, three. The first is that when you get about 500 cd’s a year sent to you, you get to listen to a lot of Irish music, and a lot of that is from groups and soloists you have come to trust for delivering the goods. The real deal. Second is the bit when you find a really fab, super new talent who just knocks you down. The third is when someone sends a great, great album you had missed. This month we have an example of each!
There is no better barometer in Europe for what is happening in traditional music than Alan O’Leary of Copperplate. His company is the epicenter of the best of the best. The regular reader knows his name well from this column, as you should. Go to his site. Just Google, Copperplate Distribution. Amazing artists there. Chris Droney. The Mulcahy Family. Teada. Eilis Kennedy. Shaun Davey. Rita Connolly. As we said, the best of the best. Years ago we called Copperplate, The Gold Standard. Still is.
One of the best artists in the Copperplate stable is a stunning concertina player by the name of Micheal O’Raghallaigh (O’Reilly). A year or two ago---exact time memories are getting increasingly impossible---we reviewed Micheal’s second album. It is entitled, Inside Out. An apt title for an album that takes the amazing little concertina to the edge of the universe of musical possibilities. Brilliant. Thoroughly a traditional musician, Micheal is 39-40 years old. Good. Many, many years ahead of him to make more music. So, Alan and I were recently Skyping about Noel Hill, he of the famed concertina from Connemara. Many, many musicians might well claim Noel Hill as the best concertina player in Irish music, and he IS brill. We would rank Micheal O Raghallaigh right there with him. Hill’s playing is redolent of the uillean pipes, to the point where we often think he is trying to pull off the perfect synthesis between the two, and make two instruments one. Fabulous. Micheal, on the other hand, plays more of the concertina as the concertina. Take your pick. Can’t go wrong. We are yakking away about all this, because Copperplate sent us Micheal’s first album, The Nervous Man. Incredible. Right at the heart of the music. Perfect technique meets real taste and grasp of the music. Perfect. Get thee to the Copperplate site and get thee this album. In this economy, you may not be able to go to Disney World this year, but for the cost of a cd, you can close your eyes and be transported to Ireland. The real Ireland. The real deal. The Nervous Man. Do it. You’ll discover two life forces at work in the music. Micheal O Raghallaigh and Copperplate. You’re welcome! Rating: Four Harps
Now, we come to the new artist. Grainne Murphy. Living in New York, lots of college degrees from places like Duke, and smart as a whip. But never mind all that. This gal can play the fiddle. Big time. Wow! The debut album is called, Grainne Murphy, Short Stories. Pretty clever, as when you think about it, each set of tunes is like a series of short stories, aren’t they? The current Male Musician of the Year is Kieran Munnelly, as the reader knows. In a weird way, it was he who actually discovered Grainne for us. Fair play to him. She is a stellar musician. And, so young!! Her musical story is pretty common. She gets exposed to the music at the right age and in the right context, and falls head over heels in love with it, as a musician and individual. Obsessed? Probably. The great ones remain so over their entire lives. We think Grainne Murphy is a great one. There is a patience and confidence in her playing not often heard from musicians until they are much further along in years. How old is Grainne? We don’t know. Didn’t have the nerve to ask. Well, we have learned something over the years!! We think early 30’s. Not important. Good heavens, this woman can play! She has a long list of able side musicians with her on the album. This is the best new fiddle artist we have heard in years. Such a rhythmic style! Great ornamentation and fancy bits, but never getting in the way of her work. You know what we mean. As usual, we are listening as we write the review. Right now, we are in The New Mown Meadow/The Maids of Mount Kisco. Finally, when all is said and done, there is very little to say and do. Just Google her name. Then get to the site and buy the album from her. Artists like she and O’Raghallaigh command your respect, and have a right to expect your support. You love their music and they have made it available to you. The moral thing, the right thing is to buy it. You’ll love it, but you have to get it, first. So, get it. Grainne Murphy is set for a long, long run, and if we have this right---and we DO---she will be at the top a very, very long time. We sense New Artist of the Year here. Rating: Four Harps
Teada has a brand, spanking new album out. You know Teada. They burst on the scene a few years ago. Well, to be perfectly honest, they didn’t exactly “burst”. There is always, always a new group or singer in Irish music who is the current buzz. You know. The new big kid on the block. About five years ago, that was Teada. Problem was, they weren’t the new big kid on the block. As often happens with “buzz” in any art form it was wrong. Too much too soon. Nice lads, and competent musicians. Their first album could hardly be called a “masterpiece”. VERY young. Pretty good. Their new album, Ceol & Cuimhne IS a masterpiece. What happened? We can tell you. Unlike so many, many groups in any art form, Teada continued to work hard and improve. But, they did more than improve. They became very, very special. We saw them in concert at Irish Fest in Milwaukee where they first caught our ear. Then, last year, we saw them in Chicago with Karan Casey in an incredible Christmas concert. There is no better band in the business. Heck, there may be no better band. Period. This album is wonderful. Period. Bouzouki, button box, flute, bodhran and fiddle all blazing away in a waterfall of wonderful music. Just fabulous. And, fair play to five guys who obviously take their music very, very seriously, and respect it. Boy, do they---and this album---deserve your support. It is on Compass, so will be easy to find. Compass is backing a winner here. Sometimes you hear an album and think, “well, how could this be better?” Answer. It couldn’t be. Roll on, guys, you are at the top now. Well played. Sorry, have to run. The lads are playing Poitin March. Have to put it on the iPod and do some yard work. Energy!! Wooooo!!!!! Rating: Four Harps and a ton of admiration
Don’t forget to listen to co-host Mary Ann Keifer and my program, Ireland Tonight on WDCB, 90.9fm on Monday nights from 8-9 Chicago time, or online at www.wdcb.org We play a lot of Grainne, Micheal and Teada---as well as only the best in the real Irish music.
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