Various Artists: The Rough Guide to Irish Music

Jason MacNeil

A compilation of fine jigs/reels and traditional Irish music making its 70 minutes fly by. And no, they don't even need the Chieftains to drive the point home!"

Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Irish Music

Label: Rough Guides
US Release Date: 2005-03-15
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Where to begin when it comes to Irish music? Well, you could dance, you could drink or you could sing or do any combination of the three. The idea is that you see how fun, joyous and traditional this music has been over the years as various historical incidents have been told and retold throughout the centuries. Fans of the genre will look at this compilation as perhaps a jumping off point, while others will curse at how a certain band or talented artist was omitted. It's a no win situation at times since you can't include everyone on these albums. However, this record features some of the finest the country has to offer for 70 toe-tapping and reflective minutes. As the subtitle says, it veers from Dublin to Donegal, and when you have been virtually breastfed on the stuff being from Atlantic Canada, it never grows old.

The first track isn't what you would expect with Flook performing "G.D.'s: Hooper's Loop/Pressed For Time" which sounds as if it's a subtle dance beat underneath the typical Irish arrangement of bodhran, tin whistle, guitar and fiddle. It has a lot in common with something the Corrs or Ashley MacIsaac might attempt. Fortunately the "loop" portion exits early on. From there it goes into the softer but just as pleasing "An T-Ull" by Dervish. Again, fans of Canada's East Coast music scene would love the tune sing by Cathy Jones which brings to mind Mary Jane Lamond. Another similar yet great effort appears a few songs later as Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola nails the sparse and precious "Bean Phaidin/Paidin's Wife".

The crux of the album is comprised of jigs and reels mixed with the softer, ethereal takes. As for fiddle lovers, check out the slow building but pristine "The Night Cap/The Frost Is All Over" with a piano keeping everything in check. Another jewel is the Pogues-lite sway of "The Morning After" by The Prodigals. Not as havoc-wreaking as MacGowan and company, the song would be a good complement with "Fairytale Of New York" and probably have you arm in arm with your drinking buddy at the cusp of a wicked hangover the next morning.

The flow of the album is another asset as a three-song reel or jig, albeit softer and almost criminally melodic, begins courtesy of Paddy Keenan and Tommy O'Sullivan doing "Antara/The Twirly Haired Girl/The Mountain Road". The first historical-oriented tune is the traditionally arranged "Slieve Gallion Braes" that Mary McPartlan takes and guides tenderly, being the star of the song with some harmonies helping out. There are a few of the singer-songwriter tunes featured, but none seem to be better than the traditional story told by Paul Brady's "Mary And The Soldier". The only tracks which might be a tad sub par are a couple in the middle of the album, including "An Seanduine" that seems to languish from the get-go despite the instrumentation and melody it carries.

The album even adds some polkas on the aptly titled "Polkas (Callaghan's/The Glen Cottage/Is Trua Gan Peata An Mhaoir Agam)" that is quite fluid as it changes gears from the first segment into the second. Here North Cregg show their musical chops from start to finish.

Fortunately the closing quarter of songs starts off on another toe-tapping, infectious little melody dubbed, er, "The Cuil Aodha Slide/Dan Patsy's Slide/The Toormore Slide" by Paul Moran and Fergal Scahill. Fiddle and bodhran on their persons, the duo breathe life into the song thanks to neither overshadowing the other. The soft, angelic quality of Helen Roche's "As I Roved Out" is extremely soothing and a great breather between jigs/reels/songs to dance your arse off. This is also exemplified on the mid-tempo to up-tempo instrumental by the legendary Altan on "The Humours Of Castlefin/Nia's Dance/An Duidin" which you just don't want to end — not beating you over the head with its pace but showing its fine musicianship and synergy.

The album might call itself a rough guide, but the quality of material is as polished and glowing as you could hope for.


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