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Christmas is approaching, and next month we’ll have a huge lineup of albums we have recommended over the past year as stocking stuffers for the trad fan in your life. Best of the Best type thing. And actually, a precursor to the vaunted 2011 Livies in which we hand out awards for the year’s best. The LiveIreland Awards are really sought after, as they represent the site here. You do realize that you are on the world’s most popular Celtic music site, don’t you? By about a factor of 30. No kidding. But, those awards will be announced in January, following the Christmas gift recommendations which are coming up next month.
But, oh, do we have three tasty treats for you this month! We used to go to great lengths to tell you how to get these albums when we recommended them, but you now know how. Google, CD Baby, Claddagh Records in Dublin, Rampant Lion in Villa Park, Illinois. Rampant Lion is iconic among American aficionados of trad. Also astride the world is Copperplate Distribution in London. We have come to think that if it doesn’t exist at Rampant Lion or Copperplate, it doesn’t exist. Unlike some of the digital purchases, Claddagh, Rampant and Copperplate are staffed by incredibly knowledgeable staff members who give you the personal touch. The best.
First up this month, we dedicate this review to our LiveIreland pal, “eiresonia”. We love the girl, and she is a huge supporter of the site and this column. She will love this album. As a matter of fact, if she contacts me, I will get one sent to her. What is it? It features a gal familiar to LiveIreland fans, Niamh Ni Charra. Also present is the ubiquitous Gavin Ralston on guitar and Ibon Koteron. There are some notable guest stars as well, including Donogh Hennessy on guitar and Trevor Hutchinson on bass. We think the title of the album ia Euskeira-The Basque Irish Connection. Or, it could be O Euskadi go hEirinn. If you see the album cover and the attendant liner notes, you’ll see why we aren’t sure about this. No matter. This album is magic. Eiresonia will be familiar with the Basque region in Spain and our worldwide listeners will be familiar with the Irish area of Ireland. Niamh is a brilliant concertina and fiddle player. Ralston is well-known on guitar. We’ve never heard of this Koteron fellow, but he is a heck of a musician. As Niamh has been traveling the world, she has obviously fallen in love with the music of the Basque region. In January of 2009 the Music Network awarded her the opportunity to invite a foreign musician and collaborate with him or her on a project which would be of interest to the Irish public. Thus, the Basque-Irish Connection. Niamh and Ibon researched and arranged the songs while melding the two musical cultures. They have toured the album in Europe fairly extensively. This music is extraordinarily well done. Ibon plays the Albokas, the gaita, the txistus, and sings. We could have done a lot more research here and told you what those instruments are. However, our leader and site fuehrer, David Latimer, is hounding for deadline. Whatever these things are that he plays, they are wonderful, and we love the sound! You don’t have to know the particulars of an instrument to know when you are hearing a master play it. So be it. Besides, it is not as if we’re going to have to become expert in these instruments. When is the next time we’re going to be asked to review something with a Basque-Irish connection unless eiersonia records it? Here’s the bottom line. Eiresonia will love this album, and so will you .These are three highly accomplished musicians blending a unique sound. They are at the height of the creativity and this is magic. I know we already said that, but it deserves repeating.
We were recently at a house party at the famous Kathy Brown’s in Chicago with Slide in concert. Slide just keeps getting better and better. Sitting in with the lads this time on concertina was Andy Morrow. We now believe that there are may well be no better concertina player in Ireland. Oh, there is Noel Hill, Jacqueline McCarthy, the aforementioned Niamh Ni Charra, and lots of others. We were stunned. Bowled over. Gobsmacked. Disoriented. Swooning. Dear heavens, this man can play the concertina! Here’s the best part: he has an album out with Tony O’Connell on fiddle and Arty McGlynn—yes, THAT Arty McGlynn on guitar. Thousands upon thousands of you adore concertina music, as do we. This guy is not to be believed. Just track this down. Do what you have to do, and get it. Morrow is a leading contender for Musician of the Year. Holy moley!! Apparently, this is the month for the albums with no titles, or the-impossible-to-figure-out-what- the-hell-they-are-titles. It looks to us as if Andy and Tony stretched their imaginations to the limit and came up with the creatively titled, “Tony O’Connell & Andy Morrow with Arty McGlynn.” The lads are not much when it comes to titling their cd, but they are everything when it comes to playing their instruments. This is a rare gem that deserves a far wider audience. This is our favorite part of the job-when we can hip you to a great album or musician who you may have missed. Don’t miss this. It just can’t be done better.
Speaking of “can’t be done better”, there is no label in Scotland better than Greentrax. Most people would also tell you that there was no better Scottish fiddler than Hector MacAndrew. Our good pal Manus McGuire of the Brock-McGuire Group, himself considered to be one of the great fiddle players in traditional music, once told us that nobody plays airs or waltzes better than the Scots. He was right. And no Scot played them better than Hector MacAndrew. If you know Scottish music, he obviously needs no introduction. There is a brilliant biography of him in the liner notes covering his life, 1903-1980. We have no idea how they did it. These old masters are so brilliant. Guys like Seamus Ennis on pipes and Bobby Casey on fiddle join the legendary pantheon of gods, such as Hector MacAndrew. To hear this album is to hear perfection. Look, Greentrax is in the business of making money. If you’re not going to support a company that gives you a retrospective on Hector MacAndrew, what ARE you going to spend you money on? Clearly, Greetrax does this from love of this music and of these musicians. Let’s face it. No one at Greentrax is going to buy a new Jaguar based on the profits from a MacAndrew retrospective. That’s not the point .What the point is – well, it is offering the best. Greentrax can take obvious pride in releasing this album, and if you have a drop of Scottish pride in you, you’ll love hearing it. It is like watching Rembrandt or Picasso paint. Like watching Roy Keane strike. It is the best-and some like Manus McGuire-might tell you it is the best ever.
Now, buy these albums, support these artists, and start saving for your Christmas gifts. We’ll see you in a few weeks with the entire Santa rundown.
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