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TONY MACMAHON, NOEL HILL & IARLA O LIONAIRD
"Music Of Dreams" Gael-Linn CEFCD 164

Tony MacMahon, Noel Hill and Iarla O Lionaird have been involved for many years with various aspects of Traditional Music, performing, presenting on both radio and television and with recording work. This live recording is of a concert held sometime in October '93 in Dublin. Also making their presence felt at this concert were eight set dancers and a lively, enthusiastically vocal audience.

Noel Hill plays concertina and Tony MacMahon two row melodeon, both instruments variants on the same theme of reeds and bellows played with finger and arm co-ordination. Here the multi reeded voice of the melodeon with its extended bass range, over the concertina, acts as a solid frame round which the smaller, faster and more piercingly voiced instrument can build, adding lift and extra pace. The difference between the instruments and players are highlighted on the solo performances. Noel Hill's choice, a set of reels "The Rainy Day","The Merry Blacksmith" and "The Silver Spear" and a solo reel "The Hearty Bucks of Oranmore", displays the sharp articulation and sureness of tone obtainable from the concertina. Tony MacMahon's playing on the air "Gol na mBan san Ar" and slow jig "Cnocan an Teampaill" demonstrates his control of the larger bellows on the melodeon, to vary expression, attack and volume. "The Maids of Castlebar","Lillies in the Field", "Tom Keane's Reel", "Joe Cooley's Jig", "The Fair Haired Boy" and many more are all joint efforts and played to the accompaniment of cries and shouts of encouragement from the audience. When the dancers are called for, and take to the floor, their rhythms and counter rhythms drive audience and musicians on in greater excitement.

There are three songs from Iarla O Lionaird, all sung Sean-Nos or "old style" and accompanied by John Gibson on piano using settings by Peadar O Riada.

"old style" of singing involves the virtual deconstruction of the song to its component parts. Each phrase is then sung with varying degrees of decoration, including grace notes and rising and falling levels of volume, at a slowish, deliberate rate punctuated by rests and the drawing out of the final notes. Variations and adaptions of this style can be heard from many traditional singers as well as some in the "folk revival", along the lines of June Tabor and Dick Gaughan. The singing of Iarla O Lionaird, whose aim is to be closer to the original Sean-Nos, is certainly purer and less diluted in its form but also rather rigid and formal, even polite. When combined with the piano, the overall sound moves a step or two towards the classical recital world of black ties, dinner jackets and clasped hands held at navel height. That said, his third song and the last track on this recording, "Aisling Gheal" (A Vision Bright), is an able testament to Iarla O Lionaird's high level of skill and accomplishment.

If this review appears to be in two parts, it is because the recording also appears that way. The songs are an interesting insight to this form of the tradition but the playing of the instruments, the jigs and reels, the clatter of feet and the involvement of the audience are what brings this live recording to life.

Peter Fairbairn

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This album was reviewed in Issue 5 of The Living Tradition magazine.