Folk

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Tony Hillier

Go-to flute/whis­tle man Mike McGoldrick and acous­tic gui­tarist John Doyle link new al­bums from op­po­site flanks of the Celtic spec­trum. Whereas Bri­tish but­ton ac­cor­dion­ist, com­poser and pro­ducer Luke Daniels takes an ex­per­i­men­tal ap­proach with Mak­ing Waves, the self-ti­tled de­but re­lease from Usher’s Is­land — vet­eran multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist and singer Andy Irvine’s lat­est Ir­ish su­per­group — is fairly con­ven­tional. While Daniels fol­lows the foot­prints of the Cana­dian-Scot­tish sound sculpt­ing vi­sion­ary Mar­tyn Ben­nett, who mar­ried jigs, reels and airs with archival sound bites and elec­tronic el­e­ments, Usher’s Is­land fol­lows the path­way paved by pre­vi­ous Irvine projects such as Planxty and Pa­trick Street.

Recorded in a ru­ral cot­tage, Usher’s Is­land is as well de­liv­ered as Ir­ish tra­di­tional folk mu­sic can be, even if it’s a tad lack­ing in invention. Not that Doyle’s re­cast­ing of Ir­ish pub sta­ple The Wild Rover isn’t in­fin­itely more mel­liflu­ous and so­phis­ti­cated than the ver­sions ren­dered with drunken gusto on St Pa­trick’s Day. Two ex­cel­lent Doyle orig­i­nals draw on fas­ci­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tives. Heart in Hand cen­tres on a Gal­way man cap­tured in the late 1600s by Al­ge­rian pi­rates; Cairndaisy con­cerns an Ir­ish im­mi­grant fight­ing for the US dur­ing 1898 Span­ish-Amer­i­can War. Irvine also dips into the mil­i­tary ar­chives for Felix the Sol­dier, a song from the mid-18th-cen­tury French-In­dian Usher’s Is­land Usher’s Is­land Ver­ti­cal/Planet War. The rel­a­tively in­sipid As Good as It Gets al­ludes to Irvine’s un­ful­filled ro­man­tic as­pi­ra­tions dur­ing the 1960s. Bean Phaidin ben­e­fits from Donal Lunny’s bot­tom reg­is­ter singing and the ap­pend­ing of slip jigs. A con­verted Mun­ster pipes tune ( The Half Cen­tury Set), in which Paddy Glackin’s fid­dle and McGoldrick’s flute com­bine sym­bi­ot­i­cally, sets the bar high for the med­leys that fol­low.

Daniels’s modus operandi, which in­volved pro­cess­ing, lay­er­ing and loop­ing hun­dreds of au­dio sam­ples be­fore get­ting his guest play­ers to in­de­pen­dently record their acous­tic parts live, means Mak­ing Waves lacks the in­ti­macy and flu­ency of Usher’s Is­land. The first half, in par­tic­u­lar, fea­tures a cor­nu­copia of strange sounds that com­pete with acous­tic in­stru­ments for as­cen­dancy.

In The Larks and The Jolly Tin­ker, the over­all ef­fect is dis­com­bob­u­lat­ing, with Daniels’s tra­di­tion­ally in­spired melodies tak­ing too long to emerge. In Retro Reel, but­ton accordion strug­gles to cope with ex­tra­ne­ous clat­ter, bleeps and burps. When the pro­ducer adopts a more ju­di­cious ap­proach, as on McCrone Jigs and Wester Kit­tochside, Daniels’s accordion — as well as his vin­tage Polyphon mu­sic box — and Ai­dan O’Rourke’s danc­ing fid­dle sparkle in har­ness with Doyle’s gui­tar and bouzouki.

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