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GAY McKEOWN - "Irish Piping Tradition" - CDGMK001

"And never was piping so sad, And never was piping so gay" reads the quote from Yeats' lyric poem, "Host of the Air", aptly inserted on the sleeve of Gay McKeown's solo album "Irish Piping Tradition". From this simple quote, you really have Gay McKeown's talents in a nutshell, for the assortment of tunes on this album are all delivered with certainty in expression and arrangement.

One snatch of the first few bars of "Lord Gordon's Reel" tell you that Gay McKeown starts as he means to go on. The steady pace is calming yet exciting at the same time, and the generous ornamentation is clean and controlled. The set of slip jigs which follow "The First Slip", are of the same batch of traditional piping tunes, learned from pipers Leo Rowsome and Tommy Keane; the Matt Molloys of the piping world. And not only Gay McKeown, influenced by Rowsome from an early age, has been inspired by such piping greats. His sons, Conor and Sean McKeown also feature on the album, who could both easily amaze any listener, piper or non-piper, with their maturity and talent. The "Peter Street Reel" is buzzing with energy in this triple pipes whammy.

Partiality to the good old Irish reels can't be a bad thing, as Gay McKeown demonstrates by his choice. When "Farewell to Erin" and "The Glen Road to Carrick" came blasting out my CD player, I was more than delighted, especially with the addition of Paul O'Shaughnessy, formerly of Altan, on fiddle. The clarity of all the ornamentation on this track is stunning - those raw D crans, and grace notes and rolls and everything.

Subtle accompaniment on this album is provided by Mary Corcoran on keyboards, Tom McDonagh on bouzouki, and Paul Doyle on guitar. It all complements McKeown's piping well, enhancing the overall performance.

But that doesn't mean Gay McKeown is unable to create such a wholesome sound when playing solo, for in the stirring slow air "Lord Mayo", the pipes are ringing with confidence, with smooth, easy flows on notes and octaves, and especially the interesting bass notes on the regulators.

Gay McKeown certainly knows his stuff, judging not only from his piping skill, but also his knowledge of tunes, the origins, and also the personal memories associated with them; all provided on the sleeve notes.

I think the Irish piping tradition has been gifted and replenished with this album release.

Frances Morton

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This album was reviewed in Issue 26 of The Living Tradition magazine.