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RONAN BROWNE "The Wynd You Know " Claddagh Records CC64CD

This is a big old-fashioned piping album, full of big old-fashioned tunes. Guest musicians provide understated accompaniment on four tracks, but the other ten are just Ronan on pipes and flutes. Half of this recording is given over to slow airs, some of the most beautiful and demanding tunes for the pipes. The other half is dance music, well-known and less common tunes, including several unusual versions.

The slow airs alone are worth the price of this CD many times over. The Bright Lady is a mini masterpiece movingly played in the style of Willie Clancy: it was a favourite of Leo Rowsome, and this recording shows why. John Doherty's magical air Paddy's Rambles Through the Park is eerily beautiful on pipes and fiddle, with a ghostly harmonium on the edge of hearing. Ronan's rendition of If I Were a Blackbird is disappointing, but his virtuoso treatment of the song The Green Fields of America is a worthy tribute to Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis. Finally, The Lament for the Wild Geese is a six-minute demonstration of the expressiveness and versatility of the uilleann pipes. This is Ronan Browne at his best, using chanter and regulators to great effect, not too constrained by tempo or melody, revealing the hidden notes and tones within the tune.

Ronan's playing is not technically perfect. That's not the point. At times he appears to be wringing the tunes from a reluctant instrument, but you would hear equally strained passages in the music of Ennis or Clancy. What this recording lacks in polish is more than balanced by the raw unspoilt sound of a venerable tradition. There is a danger that the mistakes and poor taste of previous generations can be perpetuated by recordings such as this, but I think we have enough technically brilliant pipers and contemporary influences to make this return to older styles a welcome addition rather than a backward step.

Alex Monaghan

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