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CARL HESSION "Water's Edge" Gael Linn CEFCD177
BRIAN HUGHES "Whistle Stop" Gael Linn CEFCD178

The latest two releases from Gael Linn couldn't be much more different. Carl Hession's album is a compilation of previously released material plus some new or re-arranged tracks. Carl is a pianist, composer and arranger, and has used over thirty other musicians to perform his music on this CD. Much of it is a folk-classical combination, and most of it works.

The opening track is taken from Carl's 1995 album, and is one of the highlights of this CD. It has been a favourite on radio stations in Ireland and Scotland, and combines the bright box-playing of Mairtin O'Connor with a sensitive string section on a Hession composition. Other highlights include "The Galway Suite", an arrangement of three very well-known Galway songs for chamber ensemble which works surprisingly well, and the lovely "Chestnut Lane" suite from that 1995 album which shows Carl's piano playing at its best. Another definite success is the "Trilogy" combination of three traditional tunes.

Unsuccessful tracks include 2,4,10 and 12, for various reasons, but then I'm not a great fan of folk-based classical music. On the whole, this collection works well, and tips the scales at just under the hour.

If you're going to buy a Gael-Linn album this year, though, I suggest you go for Brian Hughes. "Whistle Stop" is a lovely piece of work from a player whose technique I envy. You probably haven't heard of Brian Hughes before, but you'll hear plenty of him on this sparsely accompanied and firmly traditional CD. Brian starts with a scintillating set of reels (scintillating is like sparkling but faster), and continues with a lovely set of lesser-known jigs. There follows a set of nicely paced hornpipes, and then things start to get interesting!

Brian is joined by some of Ireland's finest session musicians, many of whom met him for the first time in the studio. Apparently, several tracks were the result of spontaneous experimentation: there's certainly plenty of spontaneity in the result, and the whistle is complemented by some very deft backing.

Low points are few and far between on "Whistle Stop". The slides seem to be a bit of a struggle, and "La Valse des Petites Filles" falls well short of the Bain/Cunningham version, but on the other hand Burns' "Lea Rig" is given a very nice treatment indeed.

Two or three of Brian's own compositions are also featured, and sit very well beside the best of old and new tunes alike. All are brought to life by superb technique and a fine feel for the music. We'll be seeing more of Brian Hughes, and the sooner the better.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 28 of The Living Tradition magazine.