Lori Gordon

Bletherings From a Music Obsessed Mind

Danny Kyle Favorites, week 2

The final week of the Danny Kyle Open Stage (as well as Celtic Connections itself) has passed and there were a few more stunning gems performing their hearts out. I recommend checking them all out – I think they all have fantastic careers ahead of them!

Fiona Driver – fantastic fiddler from Orkney who is also a very prolific composer.

Enez Trio [Tristan Le Govic] – Centered around Tristan’s harp playing, they have a full, rich sound.

Seonaid Aitkin – Amazing fiddler who spends most of her time as a classical violinist.

Rachel Sermanni – Really delightful singer/songwriter who performed with a couple of friends.

Parsec – These lads have mad skills! All hail from the University of Limerick.

Kilairum – This group came to my attention early last year. Their music is a blend of trad & jazz.

Lurach – Great trad group that performs Gaelic song & music.

Kirsty and Katie Lawrence – Incredible trad musicians from the Isle of Man. I found their stage presence refreshing and funny.

All of their performances can be found over on Celtic Music Radio in their “Listen Again” section.

January 31, 2010 Posted by | Celtic, Folk, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter, Traditional | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Albums of 2009

2009 was a fantastic year for music, especially of the folk and traditional variety. As I assembled my Top 10 albums of the year, I realized that the majority of the artists on the list were new to me this year. Some are new artists with debut recordings, others are seasoned professionals adding to their catalogs. Regardless, the one thing all of the albums on this list have in common is that they are incredibly brilliant and every single one of them made my mouth drop open. They excited me, moved me, and made me hit the repeat button numerous times.

As is usually the case with such lists, there were more albums than space and, as I came to the last spot, I had to choose between three equally deserving entries. The two albums that very narrowly missed making it into this year’s Top 10 are Annbjørg Lien/Bjørn Ole Rasch – Come Home and Fiddlers’ Bid – All Dressed in Yellow. Which brings me to the one that did make it:

#10  Julie Fowlis – Uam.

Julie’s third album is just as lovely as her earlier works, though this one has a more traditional sound, which really serves to accentuate Julie’s vocals. Uam also features a great duet with Eddi Reader.

Favorite Tracks:  Rugadh Mi ‘n Teis Meadhan Na Mara, Wind And Rain

#9  Yvonne Lyon – Ashes & Gold

This is an album of delightful extremes, from light-hearted & carefree to poignantly dark & intense. I find her songwriting more intimate, more personal, and more mature than on previous releases. Her voice carries an amazing amount of emotion that goes straight to the heart.

Favorite Tracks:  The Reckoning, Hollow Sound

#8  Donald Grant – The Way Home

A spectacular album that fuses a variety of world music styles with Donald’s gorgeous fiddling. It’s a brilliant melting pot of sounds and an excellent showcase of his versatility as a composer.

Favorite Tracks:  Rollerblade Reels, An Gille Bàn

#7  Maggie MacInnes – A Fàgail Mhiughalaigh

Maggie’s voice is incredibly beautiful and she has taken a really fresh approach to this album. Behind the Gaelic lyrics, keyboards & percussion meet pipes, clarsach & fiddles, to fantastic effect.

Favorite Tracks:  Leis An Lurgainn, ‘N Robh Thu ‘Sa Bheinn?

#6  Jamie McClennan – In Transit

This album has continued to impress me the more I listen to it. It is definitely a fiddle album, but Jamie has a really fun, eclectic, funky style that makes it a true delight to listen to. It features some dazzling tune writing, to boot.

Favorite Tracks:  Little Red, Horizontal Living

#5  Martine Lund Hoel – Hidden Shore

There is a wild, exotic energy that runs through this entire album. It’s passionate and utterly intoxicating. It’s very easy to envision the extreme ruggedness of northern Norway when listening to the album.

Favorite Tracks:  Varganatt, Disquiet Hour

#4  Catherine Fraser/Duncan Smith – Rhymes & Reasons

This album features really enchanting takes on traditional tunes. Elements of Cape Breton and American fiddling are woven throughout Catherine’s Scottish style. They are also not afraid to step outside the box and throw in a few surprises.

Favorite Tracks:  Rothiemurchus Rant set, Raoghull Agus Cairistine

#3  Olov Johansson/Catriona McKay – Foogy

This album is the epitome of innovation. It’s vibrant, exciting, and truly phenomenal. Olov, on nyckelharpa, and Catriona, on Scottish harp, come together in an amazing explosion of sound.

Favorite Tracks:  The Foogy Set, 1st Class to Glasgow

#2  Rallion – One For Sorrow

The thing I love most about this group is that they play their hearts out on every track. The double fiddle lineup adds a wonderful complexity to their rich, charismatic sound. This is a splendid album of warm, gorgeous vocals and driving, exquisite tunes. Fiona Cuthill is, hands down, my favorite contemporary tune writer and Marieke McBean is my favorite traditional folk singer.

Favorite Tracks:  Waiting For Dawn, Cold Haily Windy Night, Fez

#1  Lauren MacColl – Strewn With Ribbons

There are few other fiddlers, if any, that can interpret slow airs as masterfully as Lauren. She somehow manages to crawl deep into the heart of the tune and make it her own. The results are devastatingly beautiful and emotional. After almost a year, this album still has the power to take my breath away. I would have no qualms about adding it to a “Top 10 of the Decade” list. It’s that good.

Favorite Tracks:  Lament For Mr. Thomas Grant, of Glen Elgin, Oigfhear A Chuil Duinn (Young Man of the Brown Hair), The Prophet

November 29, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Donald Grant – “The Way Home”

Having traveled throughout the world, Donald Grant has taken all of those musical influences and blended them into a simmering fusion of world music on The Way Home. Around every corner is something different – flamenco, slow air, Mexican bolero, jazz – and through it all is Donald’s divine fiddling. Joining him on this adventure is a stellar cast of musicians, among them:  Catriona McKay, Seamus Egan, Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, and James MacIntosh.

Aside from performance and production, Donald’s tune writing talents are incredibly diverse and mature. The majority of the pieces on The Way Home are self-penned. The most poignant is the Gaelic-language lullaby “Tha Thu Daonnan Nam Smuain (You are always in my thoughts),” co-written with his father and sung by Karen Matheson. It is breathtakingly gorgeous and Karen’s vocals carry it deep into the heart. This gorgeousness is also found on “Chrissie’s”, a touching slow air written for his aunt. It begins gently with harp and fiddle before swelling into a crescendo of full strings. It then finishes as gently as it began.

Donald’s talents aren’t confined to slow pieces. “Reel Valencia” features rapid-fire fiddling over a flamenco rhythm, while “NZ 2004” is a funky, jazz-infused tune that commemorates a trip to New Zealand with friends. One of my favorites is “Rollerblade Reels,” a rollicking set that includes 2 puirt a beul (mouth music) tunes.

The two non-original pieces are worth mentioning here. The first is the stunning Highland slow air “An Gille Bàn (The Fair Haired Lad)”, also known as “An T-Iarla Diurach (The Earl of Jura)”. Donald’s rendition is exquisitely haunting and, for me personally, the highlight of the album. It is an amazing showcase of his virtuosity. The second piece is the Mexican bolero “Noche de Ronda,” a sultry torch song made more so by the smoldering vocals of Sally Doherty.

An old Gaelic proverb says, “The man who roamed furthest from home heard the sweetest music when he returned home.”  Donald Grant’s The Way Home is, indeed, the sweetest music.

To visit Donald’s official website, click here.

To visit Donald’s MySpace page, click here.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Folk, Jazz, Traditional | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jamie McClennan – “In Transit”

jamie mcclennan

After several years as a core member of Emily Smith’s band, New Zealand-born fiddler Jamie McClennan has finally come forward and released his own solo album, In Transit. It takes a certain audacity for an instrumentalist to release a debut album of all original tunes and it definitely pays off here, as that confidence can be heard throughout this recording. In Transit is a refreshing amalgamation of material that highlights Jamie’s skill as a musician, as well as a composer.

The tunes on In Transit reflect Jamie’s diverse musical influences. The album opens with “Emily’s Wee Tune/In Transit,” the latter of which is a rollicking bluegrass-tinged tune, before moving into “Fun With Colin,” which would be at home in any traditional session. There are several slow melodies on the recording that have a real sweetness and sensitivity about them. “Crichope Linn/The Painted Lady” and “Road to Bennan” are truly gorgeous.

I have a fondness for tunes that know their way around the bottom end of the fiddle and I was pleased to find a few tunes here that fit this bill. The added bonus is that these tunes are funky, contemporary and fun! Leading the way is “Little Red,” followed closely by the “Demon Ducks of Doom” and “Rainbow Sheep” sets.

Jamie McClennan’s In Transit is an outstanding album with an incredible amount of musicianship and maturity. I certainly hope he continues to branch out and produce solo work.

To visit Jamie’s official website, click here.

To visit Jamie’s MySpace page, click here.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Folk, Traditional | , , , , | Leave a comment

Martine Lund Hoel – “Hidden Shore”

MartineLundHoel-HiddenShore

If I had to describe the debut release Hidden Shore by Martine Lund Hoel in one word, it would be intoxicating. Martine is a hardanger fiddler from Norway, but this is definitely not Norwegian folk music. Hidden Shore features a seductively lush aural landscape that one can get delightfully lost in.

Martine’s fiddling is exquisite as she explores the full range of her instrument. Additionally, she is backed by a full band, which adds rich layers to each piece. “Vildans” and “Varganatt” absolutely brim with unbridled passion. Equally breath-taking are the serenely pastoral “Sadly Missed” and the album’s one song, “Go n-éirí an bóthar leat,” done in a breathy soprano that quickly gets under the skin in a good way.

Hidden Shore is a stunning album that has left me wanting much more.

To hear Martine’s music, visit her MySpace page.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, New Age | , , , | Leave a comment

Lauren MacColl – “Strewn With Ribbons”

lauren strewn

Scottish fiddler Lauren MacColl’s sophomore release, Strewn With Ribbons, is an eleven-track collection of original compositions and traditional tunes from the Highland Collections. Lauren is soundly supported by band members Barry Reid on guitar and Mhairi Hall on piano, with guest appearances by Donald Shaw on accordion and harmonium, Su-a Lee on cello, and Chris Stout on viola.

The album opens with “Oigfhear A Chuil Duinn (Young Man of the Brown Hair),” which is the surprise track of the album. It begins with Lauren’s characteristic crystalline playing, but as it moves into the driving “Poolachrie,” the style becomes grittier and more impassioned, to fantastic effect.

Lauren delivers brilliantly energetic performances on the strathspeys, reels and jigs found here, especially on “The Prophet,” “Happy Hours,” and “Highland Wedding,” but the true gems of this album are the slow airs. There are few Highland fiddlers who do them better. Not only is her playing exquisitely poignant, but the arrangements give Strewn With Ribbons a depth and maturity that are simply stunning.

The sonorous tones of Su-a Lee’s cello on “‘S Trom Trom A Tha Mi (Sad, Sad Am I)” provide a perfect counterpoint to the melancholy of Lauren’s fiddle, while the achingly beautiful “Lament for Mr. Thomas Grant, of Glen Elgin” features a tender interplay between fiddle and viola. The album closes with the mournful “Hugh Allan,” performed solely by Lauren. The stark emotion of the piece lingers long after the music ends.

Strewn With Ribbons is a gorgeous journey from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and get a copy.

To learn more about Lauren and hear her music, visit her website or MySpace page.

folking sm

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Traditional | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Máirín Fahy – “Máirín”

Mairin Fahy

Over the past few months, I’ve heard several Irish fiddle albums that made me feel as though I was at a recital; the playing was technically precise but there was really no joie de vivre in the music. So when I came across Máirín Fahy’s album, I didn’t have high hopes. However, the picture of her purple electric fiddle intrigued me enough to give it a listen. What I found was a thoroughly engaging recording full of passion and flair.

Máirín is a collection of mostly upbeat traditional and original material that showcases Fahy’s fiddling skills. “Midnight in Galway” and “The Celtic Prancer” are the most contemporary, featuring electric guitar riffs that, in the former, seem out of place, but definitely more at home in the latter. “Tip of the Iceberg“, written by fellow Riverdance member Brendan Power, is a rousing Americana-styled tune, with Power’s blues harmonica jamming alongside Fahy’s fiddle. The highlights of this album are Fahy’s rendition of “Flower of Magherally” and the beautiful air “Mission Bay“, co-written with brother Gerald. The only disappointments are the other vocal tracks, “Every Circumstance” and “Irish Maid“. Fahy has a very fine voice but these songs just didn’t work for me.

Overall, this is a lively and fun album and is definitely worth checking out. You can find out more about Máirín Fahy at her website.

May 21, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic, Traditional | , , , , | Leave a comment

Alex Reidinger – “The Pleasures of Hope”

Alex ReidingerThe Pleasures of Hope, by American multi-instrumentalist Alex Reidinger, is a collection of traditional Irish tunes that calls to mind gently rolling hills and pub sessions. Alex is quite proficient on the fiddle, harp and concertina, and this recording features her talents on all three instruments. Though there is some layering of her instruments together, for example fiddle & harp, on a track, each track still retains a primary instrument as the focal point

The album starts off with the concertina-driven Hanly’s Tweed, a great foot-tapping set. The subsequent concertina tracks, as well as most of the fiddle tracks, are reminiscent of some Irish sessions I’ve been to; fun and enjoyable but nothing that really stands out. A couple of the fiddle tracks at the end of the recording, notably The Bird in the Bush and Cro’ Na nGabhnar, have edge and spunk to them and bring the recording to a nice close. The surprise here is the harp tracks. They have a contemporary flair and these are definitely the stand-out tracks. My favorites, which are also my overall favorite tracks of the recording, are Crabs in the Skillet and Paddy Fahy’s/Lad O’Beirne’s.

Alex is still quite young and The Pleasures of Hope provides a taste of things to come. I think she is going to have a great career ahead of her.

March 31, 2009 Posted by | Album Reviews, Celtic | , , , , | Leave a comment