Sunday, April 19, 2009

Máirín Fahy - "Máirín"

Over the past few months, I've heard several Irish fiddle albums that made me feel as though I was at a recital; the playing was technically precise but there was really no joie de vivre in the music. So when I came across Máirín Fahy's album, I didn't have high hopes. However, the picture of her purple electric fiddle intrigued me enough to give it a listen. What I found was a thoroughly engaging recording full of passion and flair.

"Máirín" is a collection of mostly upbeat traditional and original material that showcases Fahy's fiddling skills. "Midnight in Galway" and "The Celtic Prancer" are the most contemporary, featuring electric guitar riffs that, in the former, seem out of place, but definitely more at home in the latter. "Tip of the Iceberg", written by fellow Riverdance member Brendan Power, is a rousing Americana-styled tune, with Power's blues harmonica jamming alongside Fahy's fiddle. The highlights of this album are Fahy's rendition of "Flower of Magherally" and the beautiful air "Mission Bay", co-written with brother Gerald. The only disappointments are the other vocal tracks, "Every Circumstance" and "Irish Maid". Fahy has a very fine voice but these songs just didn't work for me.

Overall, this is a lively and fun album and is definitely worth checking out. You can find out more about Máirín Fahy at her website.

Alison Brown - "Stolen Moments"

I recently picked up a couple of older recordings and have been enjoying them throughout the weekend. One of those is "Stolen Moments" by Alison Brown, which was released in 2005. The thing that fascinated me the most about this album is the variety of music styles, not just from track to track, but also within each track. The style seems to be dictated by whomever is playing the lead at any given moment. Fiddler Stuart Duncan provides a strong trad & bluegrass sound, whereas pianist John R. Burr provides a very distinct jazz sound. When in the lead, Alison Brown's banjo weaves back and forth between bluegrass and jazz.

This album features 4 vocal tracks, each done by different vocalists. Three of those tracks, featuring the Indigo Girls on "Homeward Bound", Beth Nielsen Chapman on "Angel" (the old Jimi Hendrix song), and Mary Chapin Carpenter on "Prayer Wheel", are pleasant but just okay. Had Emmylou Harris done the vocals on "Angel", I think it would have been a very different story. The stellar track here is "One Morning in May" featuring the vocals and fiddling of Andrea Zonn. Incidently, it's the only track that doesn't feature the banjo.

Of the instrumental tracks, there are 3 really stand-out tracks: the heavily bluegrass flavored "The Magnificent Seven", which Brown co-wrote with guitarist John Doyle; "Carrowkeel", which features the beautifully haunting whistle of Seamus Egan; and the fabulously-named "(I'm Naked and I'm) Going to Glasgow", which begins with the jig "The Grey Goose" before spinning into 3 reels. This last tune gives the musicians the most room to stretch their legs and really showcase their talents.

Though I generally prefer more traditional bluegrass over the somewhat ridiculously named "jazzgrass", on the whole, I enjoyed "Stolen Moments." To hear more of Alison's music, check out her MySpace page.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Kim Edgar - "Wee Dote"

Wee Dote is the second EP released by Kim Edgar, issued a couple of years before her full-length butterflies and broken glass album. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the musical journey she has taken over the years.

The lyrics on Wee Dote are dead brilliant. Whether autobiographical or not, there is a feeling of intimate honesty that draws the listener into each song. They tell stories of love and uncertainty and disappointment and longing. “Thaw,” the song that won her a spot in the Burnsong Songhouse project, is a beautiful love song, but the shining stars are the emotionally grittier songs “Shelf,” “Wee Dote,” and “Tucked In My Pocket”.

Musically, it’s quite different from her third recording. Whereas on butterflies the music is an integral part of each story, that is not the case on Wee Dote. Here, the music almost seems to be its own entity; sometimes it supports the vocals, but other times it clashes, threatening to overwhelm them. Kim also sings in an American accent, which, combined with the jazz stylings, give the tracks a glossiness that is not entirely comfortable. However, her voice still retains its crystalline beauty and the genius of the lyrics easily negates such distractions.

Overall, I’m quite impressed with Wee Dote. If you’re a fan of smart, gritty lyrics, definitely give this a listen.

Visit Kim on MySpace or her official website.