CD Reviews: Charlie Lennon & Johnny Óg Connolly
Dusk till Dawn
Charlie Lennon & Johnny Óg Connolly
Dusk till Dawn features Charlie Lennon on fiddle, viola and piano, and Johnny Óg Connolly on accordion, with guest appearance by Gary Ó Briain on mandocello and guitar. As we are told in the sleeve notes, this album ‘took shape in the form of an evening’s entertainment’, from which, presumably, the recording got its title. In keeping with the thematic concept inferred here, the fourteen tracks are grouped and presented in three parts: Ag Téamh Suas (Warming Up); Ómós (Dedications); and Ní Lá Go Maidin É (In Full Swing).
Charlie Lennon has established a high reputation as a fiddle player with a particular interest in the music of the Sligo-style masters, Michael Coleman (1891–1945) and James Morrison (1893–1947). He is also widely known as an accompanist on the piano, as well as for his compositions, which include a number of orchestral works, and particularly some great tunes that have found their way into the active living tradition. Johnny Óg Connolly learned much about the music from his father, Johnny Connolly, the well-known Connemara melodeon player. From this source and indeed others, as well as from listening to the fiddle music of the Sligo masters, Johnny Óg developed his own style of accordion playing.
This album is primarily a fiddle and accordion duet recording, with piano accompaniment on most tracks, and mandocello/guitar on some. Also, there are solo performances. Fiddle and accordion duets, featuring many well-known musicians, occupy a significant place in the Irish tradition. This instrumental combination can pose difficulties and problems for the players – for example, the accordion has the stronger and louder sound, while the fiddle is softer but more expressive. The challenge for the performers is to allow space and scope for each other, while at the same time expressing their own ideas. A duet is not just a parallel performance by two individuals – this is a part of it, but it is the musical interaction and interplay that creates memorable duet playing, as we have on this recording. With regard to the use of the piano to accompany traditional music, there are differing opinions as to its suitability and acceptability. Personally, I like such accompaniment, particularly in the hands of a master, like Charlie Lennon.
Part one – Ag Téamh Suas (Warming Up) – has four tracks, and starts with ‘Bag of Spuds/Miss Monaghan’, the first of six selections of reels on the album. This is followed by two jigs, ‘Morning Sunday/ Coleman’s’, the former written by Charlie Lennon. When I first listened to the album, this was one of my favourite tracks, and remains so. The pace is relaxed and steady, and there is space for each instrument. On the change into the second jig, Gary Ó Briain’s mandocello adds very effectively to the texture of the music. ‘Planxty Conneely’, from one of Charlie’s earlier orchestral works, ‘Island Wedding’, is given a more ‘traditional’ treatment here.
In part two – Ómós (Dedications) – there are five tracks with the tunes dedicated to various people. ‘The Dairy Maid/ Miss Johnson/Roaring Mary’, in memory of Michael Coleman, are played in a solo performance by Charlie, and with piano accompaniment by himself. The lovely versions of these reels demonstrate very clearly his particular style of playing. This is followed by Johnny Óg in a solo, unaccompanied performance of ‘Preludio’, taken from Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin by Johann Sebastian Bach. That this piece is included on a traditional album is certainly unusual, but even more remarkable is the fact that it is played on the accordion – he does an admirable job.
Part three – Ní Lá Go Maidin É (In Full Swing) – features five tracks of well-known favourites, including ‘Lord Gordon’s Reel’, and the six part jig, ‘The Old Grey Goose’. Three lively reels, ‘The Irish Girl/ The Musical Priest/Sheehan’s Reel’, played in a vigorous and energetic style, provide a fitting conclusion to this fine album, and indeed to the ‘evening’s entertainment’.
With regard to what may be termed the ‘non-performance’ aspects of this album project, I did notice a number of errors and inaccuracies in the sleeve notes. And I feel that some additional information on the tunes would be welcome, perhaps with the author of such notes being credited. Also, it seemed to me that there was some inconsistency in the way that the fiddle and accordion were panned left and right in the stereo mix, as a result of which the instruments appeared to ‘move’ and change their relative positions between various tracks.
This album features great playing from the two ‘principals’, Charlie Lennon and Johnny Óg Connolly. The role of Gary Ó Briain should not be underestimated – his playing always compliments the music but never intrudes, and at the same time becomes an integral part of the sound. This recording showcases the considerable talents of all three musicians, and helps to enhance further the well-established personal reputation of each of them. The album pays due homage to the masters of the past, but also looks to ensure the future of the tradition particularly through the inclusion of great new tunes. It is a welcome addition to the existing body of recorded traditional music, particularly to the fiddle and accordion genre of our tradition.
Published on 1 July 2003