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LUKE DANIELS "Tarantella" Acoustica CDACD023

Since becoming BBC Radio 2's Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 1992, the name of Luke Daniels has been cropping up with increasing regularity, and indeed increasing praise, so as a fellow "squeeze box merchant" who hadn't had the chance to hear Luke play, it was with a deal of pleasure that I approached "Tarantella", and fairly high expectations were if anything exceeded and it has consequently become pretty familiar. For those of you who don't know of Luke Daniels, he comes from England and plays the two row melodeon (or accordion, depending on your terminology) and also the bodhran (the instrument he started on, seemingly), and is also displaying a fairly eclectic and accomplished hand as a composer. His main instrument is a B/C button accordion by Saltarelle, with unison tunes reeds, and it's the mellow and yet crisp quality of this instrument that struck me immediately and remains one of the most attractive elements of the recording. And as for fleet-fingered virtuosity, he can take his place alongside the likes of Andy Cutting, Martin O'Connor, Sharon Shannon, Aidan Coffey, Jackie Daly and a host of other (mainly Irish) two row players.

Although I suspect the likes of O'Connor have had their influences on him, there's a feeling straight away that Luke Daniels adds his own individual touches to the brew, not least of which is to surround himself with some extremely high class performers, well-known in their own right and yet on this occasion complementing the main attraction. And whilst I would highlight the contributions of Ian Carr (guitar), Frank Kilkelly (guitar), Chris Newman (guitar) and Simon Mayor (all manner of things), that should not in any way diminish the contributions of Phil Fentimen (double bass/guitar), Teresa Heanue (fiddle), Brian Willcocks (piano) and Bob Winquist (viola).

The CD opens in Irish vein with some nifty reels, all composed by Daniels, and Irish influence can elsewhere be heard in a couple of jigs by Tommy Peoples, a further set of reels ("Reels for Nadine"), and also the slow air "The Wounded Hussar", a beautiful tune of I would imagine English origin, played here on solo melodeon by Daniels. There's also a delightful version of the hornpipe "The Golden Eagle", but taken at the tempo of a slow march, thus transforming it into a rather wistful period piece, which is extremely effective. The two reels "Baby, Isle of Ewe" (dear me!) and "The Snoring Barber" show the more contemporary and almost zany side of the modern melodeon repertoire, and other influences abound - French musette in "Musette a Teresa" by Daniels himself, the classical line in "Badinerie" by J.S. Bach and light classical in "Tarantella Sonate" by Paganini, and there's quite a touch of Playford at the start of Daniels own "The King of Prussia", and everywhere a deal of rhythmic capering, a sureness of touch, and an audible joi de vivre that makes me think that this is only the start for Mr. Luke Daniels.

Full marks also to producer/engineer Simon Mayor for a thoroughly satisfying and professional product, and if in the past the sound of the melodeon has not been your particular cup of tea then at least give this a listen if you can because of all the recent Irish and English recordings featuring the instrument this seems to me to be perhaps the most accessible. If on the other hand you're a melodeon fan then you'll be making plans to get hold of a copy if you haven't got one already. And, believe me, you won't be disappointed.

Freeland Barbour

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