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CARL HESSION "Old Time New Time" Gael Linn CEFCD173

Now here's an unusual one, a solo album by "one of Ireland's finest accompanists, composers and arrangers". Carl Hession is a name usually seen at the end of a list of guest artistes: his keyboard skills have contributed to a host of Irish tradition recordings, and he plays piano with Moving Cloud as well as backing the likes of Joe Derrane on his recent Irish trip and forthcoming third album. This time, Carl is headlining, and everyone else is on the guest list - and I mean EVERYONE else! Most of De Dannan, most of Patrick Street, most of Moving Cloud, some of Altan, a full string section, various singers, and of course Steve Cooney - they're all here.

With all these guests to accommodate, Carl's playing gets a bit lost at times. However, his other skills definitely come across: he has arranged the whole album and composed about half of it. The range of material here is prodigious, with traditional tracks sitting comfortably alongside classical and contemporary pieces. The tone changes smoothly from ceili band to something approaching Planxty to O'Riada and back again, with a lovely little late-Renaissance-style minuet thrown in to show off the delicate side of Steve Cooney.

Like most good accompanists, Carl Hession generally stays in the background. When he does come forward, as in the suite "Chestnut Lane", his playing has a depth of feeling which hits you hard between the ears. He can conjure images from a whole world of music, and this recording spans all aspects of Ireland and beyond. Lie down in a darkened room and see where the music takes you.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 13 of The Living Tradition magazine.