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Review by George Fowler (gfowler@HYPERNET.COM)
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Traditional Irish Music
James Kelly (fiddle) with: Paddy Keenan (uilleann pipes), Zan McLeod (guitars, bouzouki and mandolin), Mark Stone (keyboards and bodhrán), and Daithi Connaughton (flute). 13 tracks; 72:57. Capelhouse Records.
Order info: Jay Hardy (
Capelhouse Records, 213 Jones Road, Somerville, Maine 04348.
Maine is hardly known as the hotbed of the Irish traditional music recording industry, but you'll go a long way to find as technically brilliant a product as this album, plus some stunning playing from fiddler James Kelly. This effort took place over the course of many trips for James from Florida to Maine to engineer Jay Hardy's studio, NEW Solutions, in rural Somerville.

From the rousing opening cut of reels (Lads of Laois/Gan Ainm/The Heathery Cruach), what struck me first about the album was the amazing clarity of the fiddle. There's an immediacy to the recording that makes one feel that the performance is live. As a fiddler I listen to plenty of Irish fiddle recordings, but this one really stands out as a superb recording effort. I know that both James and Jay were very particular about achieving "perfect" sound on this recording & I think they've succeeded.

There are extensive liner notes by Kelly which lend a wealth of background to the tunes presented: James' sources, the memories of the great musicians he with whom he associates the settings, not the least of whom was his father John. The Kelly's house on Capel Street in Dublin was the site of many a great session from the likes of Tommy Potts, Dennis Murphy, Bobby Casey, Joe Ryan and on and on. It's these musicians from whom these tunes spring.

The selections are a fine blend of reels, jigs, hornpipes, slip jigs, some fairly well-known and others quite obscure, plus two extended airs, "Limerick's Lamentation" and "The Dear Irish Boy" which are full of emotion and great sorrow as they are developed and delivered on James' fiddle. Kelly is joined by guitarist Zan McLeod who performed with him on last year's recording "The Ring Sessions", Mark Stone on keyboards & bodhrán, Daithi Connaughton on flute and by piper Paddy Keenan on two unforgettable sets of jigs and reels.

Kelly's playing is deliberate and respectful, deceptively straightforward, but with fabulous intricacy and ornamentation and technical brilliance which is all the more appreciated by the spare arrangements which don't obscure the central performance. There's some overdubbing as James lends lower octaves to some tunes and some illusion of duets on others but the technical aspects of the production never overbalance the core effort of simply great musicianship.

Rating: A. An album well worth seeking out.

George Fowler is a Celtic DJ at WERU-FM, Blue Hill, Maine.
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