One great thing about this time of year is that, in anticipation of everyone’s favorite Irish-for-amateurs holiday, a number of labels bring wonderful new trad music to light. Highlighted here are two just-released fiddle/guitar albums from two skilled, professional duos.
Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill have been playing together off and on since the 1980s, when Hayes moved from County Clare to Chicago. Their first album of duets in eight years, Welcome Here Again, is a quietly inspiring beauty that chiefly spotlights the Irish all-fiddle champion’s sensitive, sweet style. Cahill’s guitar work adds rhythm and harp-like embellishment to 18 soulful, traditional tunes. Almost as impressive as the flawless playing is the fact that the album is almost entirely handmade by the musicians; the music was all arranged, produced, and engineered by Hayes and Cahill.
The West of Ireland is home to numerous excellent fiddle players, and Maeve Donnelly is one of the most engaging. Her new release, Fire on the Banks, is an upbeat celebration of Celtic tunes from Nova Scotia, England and her musical partner, Tony McManus’ native Scotland, as well as from Ireland. The duo just completed a short North American tour in support of the release, and their live performances—full of inside jokes and playful jibes—let listeners in on the fun they have making their music. Each of these musicians has a handful of solo releases to his/her credit as well—all good—but the musical friendship between their styles is greater than the sum of its parts.
Fire on the Banks was produced by the musicians, recorded by Paul Gurney at his studio in Longford, Ireland, and mixed by the musicians with Dave Keary at Red Door Productions in Limerick.
Must Play: Hayes/Cahill’s “The Dear Irish Boy”
Must Play: Donnelly/McManus’ “The Loughs of Cavan/Finbar Dwyer’s/Sheehan’s”