Group dy­namic

SÉA­MUS BE­G­LEY & STEPHEN COONEY Meitheal ★★★★★ In­de­pen­dent Re­lease

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC REVIEWS - SIOB­HÁN LONG

The re­lease of this sem­i­nal al­bum 23 years ago changed the tra­di­tional mu­sic land­scape dramatically – and with the kind of chutzpah not pre­vi­ously as­so­ci­ated with our mu­sic.

The full-force gale that characterised the coali­tion of west Kerry box player and singer Séa­mus Be­g­ley and Aus­tralian gui­tarist, didgeri­doo player and re­nais­sance man Stephen Cooney tore through the rule book, with a re­sult­ing record­ing that lodged the pre­vi­ously dis­dained gui­tar at the rhyth­mic heart of the tra­di­tion.

Cooney mar­ried a driv­ing per­cus­sive sen­si­bil­ity (beloved of set dancers) with an equally fine-tuned abil­ity to fin­ger­pick his way into the beat­ing heart of tra­di­tional airs and songs, re­veal­ing their most in­ti­mate fea­tures with a ten­der­ness that we sim­ply hadn’t heard be­fore.

And so it came to pass that the plain­tive, deeply af­fect­ing core of Bru­ach na Car­raige Báine was ren­dered ut­terly afresh through Be­g­ley’s sweet voice and phras­ing, and Cooney’s tip­toe­ing chords that ca­ressed with­out ever over­pow­er­ing the lyri­cal essence of the song.

Cooney’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary in­tro­duc­tion of the didgeri­doo was equally spirit-shock­ing: in­tro­duc­ing it to John Bros­nan’s added a third di­men­sion to an al­ready richly tex­tured tune. The en­ergy that per­me­ated this record­ing cap­tured the essence of the duo’s renowned live per­for­mances as well, and that re­mains undi­min­ished all th­ese years later.

Just cock an ear to open­ing set, The Strath­nairn and defy your pelvic gir­dle not to pur­sue a 180-de­gree ro­ta­tion in uni­son with its polka, bor­rowed from the play­ing of Sli­abh Luachra’s Johnny O’Leary.

This re-re­lease co­in­cides with a rip-roar­ing re­u­nion from a pair of mu­si­cians who had not played to­gether for far too long, and has tacked on a bonus track, Coinnle an Linbh Íosa (with words by the late Caoimhín Ó Cin­néide), so that com­pletists get some­thing spe­cial to add to their col­lec­tions.

Back in 1992, Meitheal rapidly as­sumed the sig­nif­i­cance of a desert is­land disc: an in­dis­pens­able ad­di­tion to any mu­sic lover’s canon, re­gard­less of genre. It packs as much of a mus­cu­lar punch to­day – and with its rere­lease, makes its ac­quain­tance with a whole new gen­er­a­tion.

Sec­ond winds don’t come much stronger than this.

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