new Shanachie release features a wonderful collection of musicians and tunes
but all of it features the clear, liquid, accordion playing of James Keane,
four-time All-Ireland button accordion champion and co-founder of the
legendary Castle C‚ili Band. His playing is clean but never clipped; relaxed
and exciting at the same time. And his sound has a large share the happiness
that is shared by so many button box players.
No matter who he plays with on this album, the accordion blends
beautifully. Individual musician's voices are never lost; they blend
together to sound like Planxty or Bothy Band (both groups that many of these
musician played with).
This album is constructed of band tracks rather than solo tracks with
accompaniment. The various combinations of friends on each track--average
per track is 3-4 musicians of the 9 involved in the album--make for a great
variety of textures and sound. The selection of music, ranging from Sligo
polkas to O'Carolan, also adds much to the enjoyability of the album.
Na Connery's, a sean-nós song about the banishment of the Connery
family by the English to Australia, is set for accordion and piano. Sean-n¢s
sets music to words and syllables, rather than the opposite, and the feeling
of the old singers is translated almost eerily to the button accordion.
An original slow reel, "Morning Mist," features the most elegant
accordion playing I have ever heard. It is also a lovely tune, composed
while reminiscing about the first view of Ireland flying into Shannon
airport. Set with fiddle, flute, pipes and whistle as well as cello,
mandocello and keyboards, it has the measured feel of older Scottish music
(but is indubitably Irish at the same time).
"Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" features Liam
O'Flynn's almost orchestral piping accompanied only by mandocello and
keyboards, this is paired with a stately version of Sean Reid's (reel) with
accordion and pipes.
Kevin Conneff opens one set with a lilted version of "The Hunter's Purse"
accompanied only by bodhrán. The set then moves into "The Flowing Bowl" with
accordion, flute and bodhrán, and adds mandocellos for "Tilly Finn's."
Another original tune, "Lavalla," Keane's father's home, was inspired by
images from visits there and has a slow, swinging, leaning, insistent rhythm
that reminds me somehow of a New Orleans parade.
A moody rendition of "Miss McDermott's" (a/k/a "Princess Royal") closes
the album. It reminds me of the type of encore that Altan usually plays, one
designed calm the crowd as well as to remind the audience of the musicians'
With friends like these, James Keane could easily form the next Irish
"super group". I hope he does. Their playing is so much more
relaxed and masterful than the current generation of "kick-ass"
Irish bands (much as I love the music of Altan and Solas, to name but two).
In this album, though, there's some more, something that seems more
connected to the tradition and to the Irish, something older and more
chthonic. This is not to say that it is a thoroughly traditional album: the
accompaniments on many tracks, and even the instruments, are much more
modern. These two reactions, which may sound at odds with each other,
aren't. They exist because of the singularly natural way that James Keane
and his friends play Irish music that simply has not stopped evolving.
Interestingly, the drum (and I don't mean bodhrán) backups on some track are
definitely non-Irish traditional, but remind of fairly mainstream Scottish
I will admit that there are two brief places where I found the
accompaniment to be a little thick or overdone. Unfortunately, one of them
is the introduction to the first track, which fortunately seems to have
nothing to do with the rest of the track. Too bad it wandered in there,
The often complex textures are rendered very cleanly and warmly by the
recording (produced by Garry O'Briain). The album includes excellent notes
by James Keane about each tune. Needless to say, even with my minor
complaint, this album gets an A+.