CD Reviews: Aogán Lynch, Michelle O'Brien & Gavin Ralston

Aogán Lynch, Michelle O’Brien & Gavin RalstonThe past fifteen years have generated an amazing amount of talented young musicians on all instruments and the musicians on this album, Michelle O’Brien, Aogán Lynch and Gavin Ralston,...

Aogán Lynch, Michelle O’Brien & Gavin Ralston

The past fifteen years have generated an amazing amount of talented young musicians on all instruments and the musicians on this album, Michelle O’Brien, Aogán Lynch and Gavin Ralston, are among the best of these and are already well known and respected musicians among the traditional music community. This is an impressive debut album from them and from the very first note, the tone is set for a sparkling thirteen tracks of the best of traditional music, with one song also included.

All three musicians come from backgrounds steeped in traditional music. Michelle O’Brien plays fiddle and grew up in County Clare surrounded by such giants of the traditional music world as Tommy Peoples and Frank Custy. Her fiddle playing leaves no one in any doubt that the major influence on her music has been the distinctive fiddle styles of Tommy and his daughterSiobhán and this can be heard to great effect on the set of reels she plays on track four. Aogán Lynch on concertina and Gavin Ralston on guitar also have a long lineage behind their music with their mothers Caitlín and Jos being members of the renowned Begley clan from Baile na bPoc in West Kerry. Small wonder, then, that these three young musicians play their instruments with a maturity beyond their years, resulting in music of the highest quality and a most enjoyable CD.

This album, which doesn’t appear to have a title other than the names of the musicians, has thirteen tracks in all featuring an extensive repertoire of tunes from as wide a variety of sources as one is likely to find. Gems such as Pádraig O’Keeffe’s versions of ‘Kiss the Maid behind the Barrel’ and the ‘Doon Reel’ sit comfortably alongside tunes learned from Frank Custy, Tommy Peoples, Deirdre Moynihan, the group Altan and many more. Newly composed tunes play a prominent part on this recording and they are expertly woven with traditional tunes by the magical playing of this gifted trio. These include a lovely composition from Michelle O’Brien, two jigs from the brilliant Chicago fiddle player Liz Carroll, a reel from the late great John Morris Rankin from Cape Breton Island, one of Ed Reavy’s highlands and a beautiful reel from the piper Brendan Ring. The Scottish fiddle tradition is well represented with two tunes, ‘Gladstone’s’ and ‘The Hurricane’, both composed by Scott Skinner, the strathspey king, as well as a rousing reel from one of Scotland’s younger composers, John McCusker.

The interesting mix of tunes on this album reflects the way in which tunes from other closely related traditions have made their way into the repertoire of most young musicians nowadays. There are those who would decry this ‘contamination’ of our national music, but if they stopped to think for long enough they would realise that this is not a new phenomenon but one which has been with us for some time. Tunes and songs have always journeyed easily from places like Scotland and England to Ireland and vice versa and a search of the major eighteenth-century Scottish collections reveals that many of the tunes which have been Irish standards such as the ‘Tarbolton’, ‘Lord McDonalds’ and ‘Lucy Campbells’ to mention but a few, are actually Scottish in origin.

Of note on this album is the fact that six of the thirteen tracks are reels while a further two tracks feature a medley ending with reels. Again this is indicative of another trend in Irish traditional music, namely, that in sessions, reels are the most played dance tune rhythm. But then, this is not a session but a CD! As well as the reels, jigs, and newly composed tunes the listener will also hear a beautiful rendition of the song air ‘My Bonnie Blue Eyed Lassie’ played on concertina, a strathspey and slide in one set and a waltz composed by Tommy Peoples.

Two tracks however stand out from all the rest for me. The first of these is track nine, featuring a haunting version of the song ‘An Binsín Luachra’ sung by Aogán’s mother, Caitlín Ní Bheaglaoich, and beautifully arranged with concertina and viola. The second is track ten which brings together three great musical traditions through the compositions of three great musicians: Cape Breton’s John Morris Rankin, Scotland’s John McCusker and Ireland’s Brendan Ring.

Throughout the album the music is played at a lovely pace and in an age when many young, technically brilliant musicians are playing so fast that the feel and the soul of the music is lost, this is to be welcomed. Gavin Ralston’s intuitive and distinctive approach to the accompaniment of Irish traditional music has established his name as one of the best young accompanists around today and the accompaniment on this CD is accomplished, versatile and very complementary to all the varied types of music on the album.

The beautiful cover was designed by Édaín O’Donnell and would definitely catch the eye of a prospective buyer. However, I feel that the liner notes could have been a little bit more informative. We are given no biographical information at all on the three musicians and the information provided on the tunes is scanty and somewhat inconsistent, with a high number of tunes unnamed. Hopefully this will not deter any buyers who are unfamiliar with the music of Michelle O’Brien, Aogán Lynch and Gavin Ralston as they will miss out on a very special musical experience and a CD worth countless listenings!

Published on 1 July 2003

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