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VARIOUS ARTISTS "Milestone at the Garden" Rounder CD1123

I had a phone call from the Editor, "Can you review an album of Irish fiddle music?", "Me? I'm an English fiddle player, I don't do Irish!" But, the CD still dropped onto the door mat, and I have to admit that it's made quite a dent in my carefully nurtured prejudices!

The lack of class structures and the strength of the Irish communities of the USA meant that traditional musicians were able to take early advantage of sound recording technology. Not only did this mean that the diaspora had access to the playing of virtuoso musicians, but the discs found their way back to Ireland where they were extraordinarily influential. This CD mainly reflects the New World influence, but it also includes several tracks recorded in Dublin between 1937 and 1959.

Anyone with an interest in Irish traditional music should buy this album, but most probably won't! It does contain some treasures. Interestingly, it's not the single Michael Coleman track, where he, rather carelessly, tries to loose his accompanist, which impresses, but, the performances of players whose names are rather less familiar. It's difficult to select favourites. I was taught (in a very different tradition) that the fiddle was capable of providing all that dancers needed, and I found many of the accompaniments intrusive (and some clearly incompetent!), so I tend to favour those tracks without the (almost) omnipresent piano. I can't ignore the playing of Denis Murphy, and I loved Sean Ryan's "Port Gael-Linn" - a great idea! Name a tune after your recording company, I must remember it! The track which really made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up was Paddy Canny's "Rogha Ghearoid De Barra" and "Bruacha Loch Gabhna". I also enjoyed Kathleen Harrington's single track, and it gave me a title for a tune, "The Showman's Fancy" which isn't entirely unknown to traditional players in the South West of England. Danny O'Donnell's West Donegal Scottish selection also included a familiar tune. To me it was "Hunt the Squirrel", and I was intrigued to see that he called it "The Bundoran Highland" and our Scottish cousins call it "Lord Moira's Welcome to Scotland"!

Technically, many of the fiddle players photographed in the excellent accompanying booklet employ the old fashioned drop-wrist style, and many also, despite the influence of the equally tempered pianos, seem to hear the notes in the old natural scales. It's probably not for the listener who expects prepackaged, commoditised traditional music, but, if you have the ears, and the interest, this album, and its accompanying twenty-four page booklet are well worth the cost of a few pints.

Chris Bartram

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This album was reviewed in Issue 17 of The Living Tradition magazine.