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ALEC FINN "Blue Shamrock" Cross Border Media CBMC 011

I'm typing this with the album playing in the background - it's that kind of album. You couldn't wish for better background music, or a more soothing touch.

Alec Finn's firm but gentle bouzouki has been a mainstay of De Dannan for many years, and not surprisingly, it is the gentleness and soulfulness which comes out in his first "solo" album. What did surprise me was that there was rather more guitar than bouzouki on the album, but I certainly have no complaints about that. The running time of under forty minutes may seem a little short, but it would perhaps be hard to sustain the slow, slightly bluesy mood for much longer: the most up-tempo tune on "Blue Shamrock" is the lilting march "The Mountains of Pomeroy", given a very similar treatment on De Dannan's "Jacket of Batteries" album where it was by far the most relaxed track!

"Blue Shamrock" is a carefully crafted piece of work: nothing jars, everything flows beautifully. There are ten tracks here, and not a bad one among them. The album is entirely instrumental, but some tunes such as "Down by the Sally Gardens" and "The Dark Island" will be more familiar as songs. The airs will be familiar to many, too: "Eamonn of Knock", "John O'Dwyer of the Glen", and the like. I suppose the down side of the smooth, gentle arrangements here is that there is nothing really striking about this album, nothing that stands out: it could be compared to Irish whiskey, which has none of the assertiveness of a Scottish malt.

This is another of those Irish "solo" albums where the quality of the backing musicians is quite amazing. There are eight musicians credited on the album, including well-known names, such as whistle players Mary Bergin and Sean Ryan. Alec Finn's playing comes through strongly, but the other instruments complement him perfectly, especially the cello of Clare O'Donaghue. The overall effect is excellent, if a little understated.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 7 of The Living Tradition magazine.