A "dream team" Irish trio plays traditional jigs, reels and airs with passion and originality. Led by button accordion master Joe Derrane, 2004 National Heritage winner. Locked tight as a drum with Joe are Séamus Connolly, the golden-toned fiddler who's won the All-Irish Championship ten times, and guitarist/mandolinist John McGann, a National Flat-Picking Champion. "So it's no surprise that this is an album which elevates the senses. It brims with good humour and abandon. Three master musicians have chimed in to create a modern masterpiece," praises Aidan Crossey of Paythereckoning.com. The recording is so pure and spacious, the instrumental timbres are so rich and dynamic that the trio sounds almost orchestral.
1. The Curragh Races/The Skylark/The Reconciliation -Listen to Sample
2. Billy Rush's Jig/Brosnahan's Frolic/The Miner's Jig
3. The Devil and the Dirk/The Trip to Windsor/Brumley Brae
4. Remembering Curly/The Twins/Mordaunt's Fancy
5. John Kelly's Concertina Reel/Kiss the Bride/Martin Ainsboro's
6. Whiddon's/The Nightlight/Hannah McGann's
7. The Humors of Lisheen / McMahon's Jig/The Merry Old Woman
8. Miss McLeod's Hornpipe/Petticoat Promenade -Listen to Sample
9. Patsy Touhey's Reel/The Gooseberry Bush/Reilly's -Listen to Full Song
10. Chief O'Neill's Favorite/The First Of June
11. Sporting Paddy/Sheila Coyle's/The Hare's Paw
12. The Killaloe Boat/Gan Ainm/Gan Ainm
13. The Man From Newry/The Last Of The Twins
14. The Dash to Portabello/McFarley's Reel/Geegan's Reel
Following Mapleshade's release of accordionist Derrane's comeback album - Ireland's Harvest, which featured Frankie Gavin and Brian McGrath - Mapleshade have succeeded in coaxing the National Heritage award winner back into the studio. In the process they've assembled yet another "dream team", with Connolly on fiddle and McGann on guitar. No mistakes, this is a superb album, every bit as compelling as his comeback. Despite (or perhaps because of!) his advanced years, Derrane hasn't lost the magic touch that teases impossibly inventive ornaments from his box; at the same time he manages to be incisively precise and crisp in his playing. Connolly, of course, is equally renowned for his inventivess and McGann is a much sought-after accompanist, whose chords and runs anchor the tune, but never dominate his fellow musicians. So it's no surprise that this is an album, which elevates the senses. It brims with good humour and abandon. Three master musicians have chimed in to create a modern masterpiece. -Aidan Crossey
"The Boston Edge," in contrast, shows what can happen when three musicians who have been gigging from time to time during the past five years put their heads as well as their talents together in the recording studio. It's obvious that the music has been mapped out with meticulous care but also with enough flexibility to allow inventive flourishes.
Those qualities combine viscerally right from the album's opening track, "The Curragh Races/The Skylark/The Reconciliation." This medley of reels breaks out of the gate like Secretariat: strong, spirited, sure-footed. The synaptic sparks and symmetry between Derrane and Connolly are extraordinary, each feeding off the other's virtuosity and energy, each performing with, not at, the other.
Some accompanists in Irish traditional music can lapse into metronomic rigidity or tepid vamping, and for critics with a blinkered appreciation of rhythm, an unnoticed accompanist is a good accompanist. John McGann has refused to wear this silly musical straitjacket. He brings plenty of chops and imagination to the CD, laying down a rhythm that can be percussive and driving or finely brushstroked behind Derrane and Connolly. From time to time McGann tucks in his own nimbly picked passages of melody, and in "Whiddon's/The Nightlight/Hannah McGann's" hornpipes, the last two of which he wrote, McGann showcases his exceptional soloing skill on mandolin.
Backed by McGann on guitar, Derrane offers a jaunty hornpipe-clog pairing, "Miss McLeod's/Petticoat Promenade," as his crisply played solo. The clog is the button accordionist's own tune and vividly conjures up a scene of Irish girls in rustling skirts out for a night of dancing at one of the five ballrooms dotting Dudley Street in Roxbury, Mass., during the 1940s and '50s.
Accompanied by McGann on guitar, fiddler Séamus Connolly takes a different tack on his solo, "Remembering Curly/The Twins/Mordaunt's Fancy." The initial slow air, his own composition, is a moving threnody in which Connolly explores, not exploits, honestly felt emotion. It eventually segues into a hornpipe that he plays with more joyful verve, and the medley finishes with a capering jig that reveals another side of the master fiddler's touch.
Above all, true teamwork gives this album its finely honed edge. "The De'il and the Dirk/The Trip to Windsor/Brumley Brae" reels, "The Humors of Lisheen/McMahon's/The Merry Old Woman" jigs, and "The Dash to Portobello/McFarley's/Geegan's" reels represent three-part instrumental playing of the highest order.
There's also some breathtakingly tight dueting by Derrane and Connolly throughout "Patsy Touhey's/The Gooseberry Bush/Reilly's," with McGann entering on mandolin just for the third reel. A slice of Django-ish guitar swing by McGann provides a tantalizing intro to "The Man From Newry/The Last of the Twins" hornpipes, where Derrane and Connolly interlock impressively in their ornamentation. The fun of playing together similarly comes across in another pair of hornpipes, "Chief O'Neill's Favorite/The First of June."
Not a single moment of weak or mediocre music can be heard on this 14-track recording. "The Boston Edge" is full of tasty tunes, focused arrangements, unclichéd thinking, transparent communication, and resplendent playing. These three musicians are a bona fide trio, not an armchair-impulse gathering. They thrive in each other's company, and I can't imagine any listener not thriving in theirs. In the parlance of their beloved Red Sox, this album is a World Series clincher. -Earle Hitchner
[excerpt of full review published on November 24, 2004, in the IRISH ECHO newspaper, New York City. Copyright © Earle Hitchner. All rights reserved.]