Margeson on the Music July 2015
Irish mythology fans know that Connla is a character in the mythological Ulster Cycle, and the son of Ulster champion, Cu Chulainn. It is also the name of what may well now be the hottest new group out of Northern Ireland. This Armagh and Derry-based quintet features uilleann pipes, vocals, whistles, harp, bodhran, and guitars. They just released a new EP, self- titled, Connla. The CD cover is deceptively simple for the wonderful tunes and songs contained within. This is a brand new group bursting forth on the scene. They are filled with youthful energy, combined with a veteran’s sense of arrangement, style, and depth. As you are reading this, they are at work on a full CD. You can download this EP at the group’s website, connlamusic.com. It will soon be widely available, if not already, on the usual Amazon, iTunes and other outlets. We could not recommend this group to you highly enough. Big future–written boldly. Nothing is more common in Irish and all forms of music than almost constant changeover in groups. We hope Connla avoids that risk and stays just as they are right now. What a wonderful opportunity to get behind young talent. It won’t be long before you will see them featured at the big festivals worldwide. They deftly combine admittedly youthful vocal with seasoned instrumental approaches. Make no mistake, this is the Northern Ireland style, perfectly exemplified. This is just the initial review of a major discovery. There can be no doubt that when they release their new, full CD, their music will get a much longer and in-depth treatment. Consider this your early-warning system. There is something serious on the horizon, and that creative storm is Connla.
Next up is a wonderful bit of business called Breaking Trad. This highly talented trio features Ireland’s best guitar player, Mike Galvin from Killarney. He is joined by Donal Murphy on button box and Niall Murphy on fiddle. There is also a guest vocal appearance by Lisa Canny. This is music with a great lift, and an approach that is both subtle and powerful at the same time. The album, unfortunately, in no way shows off the terrific guitar playing of Galvin. Nevertheless, his chordal and arranging skills are evident in support of the button box and fiddle. Lisa Canny is not a permanent part of the group. This is a trio of excellence for trad music lovers. There are 13 selections on the CD combined with an album cover that does not do the contents justice. Do not be put off by the album’s cover or title. Breaking Trad is the name of both the group and the album, and the problem is, they’re not “breaking trad”. They are loving it, and playing it beautifully. If the marketing strategy may need a reset, the music most definitely does not. This is another contender for Instrumental Album of the Year. As far as the tunes go, this is straight ahead wonderful.
We are always hesitant to say that this musician or that singer is our favorite in Irish music. Let’s just say that there is no harpist we love more than Maire Ni Chathasaig. In the new album The Heartstring Quartet, Session Two, she is joined by her brilliant partner and guitarist/mandolinist, Chris Newman, sister Nollaig Casey, on fiddle and brother in law, Artie McGlynn on guitar. If you are a fan of trad at all, you already know about Maire and the rest of the members of this group. As well as being close friends and family, they form one of those magical, musical all-star line-ups that we love to hear. There are lovely waltzes here, reels, and a special Americana-Irish bit of instrumental perfection, The Cherokee Shuffle. My radio partner, Imelda Bhroga, especially loves the High Summer Waltz. Imelda knows her waltzes, and will ask you for a turn on the dance floor immediately if this is played. Like everything else Chris and Maire have ever done, this is a gem. A treasure.
Finally this month, comes The Fire, featuring Rebecca Lomnicky and David Brewer. Rebecca plays fiddle beautifully, and David is one of those guys who plays just about everything, from Highland bagpipes, through bodhran to guitar and whistle. This is brilliant music. The production and sound engineering on The Fire is first-class throughout. Highland pipes can sound harsh and too aggressive if not engineered and arranged perfectly. Here they are engineered and arranged perfectly. David is a wonderful musician and the way the pipes are presented here shows him off to his full advantage. This is a musical duo that delivers. If this doesn’t get your blood up and your foot tapping, call the doctor. You may already be dead. We love this music. Good on the both of ya’!
Do join the aforementioned Imelda and me on the world’s biggest-audience Irish music program, the creatively titled, Bill & Imelda Show right here on Dublin’s, LiveIreland.com. We are on all over the world for two hours on Sundays, beginning at 18:00 GMT. Come into the chatroom during the show! We also can be tuned in by bluegrass, Cajun, Americana and Irish music lovers every Monday night at 10:00 p.m., Chicago time on WDCB, 90.9fm in Chicago and wdcb.org. on the net. We know it is late, but that just makes us pick ever-better music!! Tune in!