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JOHNNY CONNOLLY "Drioball na F inleoige" Cl Iar-Chonnachta CICD127
JOHNNY CONNOLLY & BRIAN McGRATH "Dreaming Up the Tunes"
Cl Iar-Chonnachta CICD133

Johnny Connolly's debut album An tOile n Aerach received fulsome plaudits in the pages of this magazine, which rated it one of the musical highlights of its year of release, 1991. This pair of welcome new offerings from Cl Iar-Chonnachta are ample indication that the phenomenon which caused so much excitement back then was no flash in the pan, and that, indeed, what we're dealing with here is ... well, a living tradition.

Dreaming Up the Tunes is as fine an example as you'd hope to meet of a son following in an illustrious father's footsteps. But to deal with the dad first: Johnny senior - known as Sean-Johnny ("Old Johnny") to distinguish him from his talented offspring - has presented us here with another virtuoso display of eclecticism and swing on the melodeon and accordion. The tunes come from all over the place - Johnny obviously has a soft spot for Kerry music, and slides and polkas are well represented here, played with a naturalness and surety of touch rare among non-Kerry musicians, unobtrusive accompaniment from the ubiquitous Steve Cooney perhaps helping the case.

As might be expected, music from Johnny's homeplace in Cois Fharraige is also well to the fore, song airs from Connemara providing the basis for dance tunes in a couple of cases, as in his slip-jig version of P idn O Raifeartaigh, which brings to mind Willie Clancy's setting of the same tune. The great County Clare piper comes to mind frequently when listening to Sean-Johnny, not merely because the latter plays several tunes more usually associated with pipers, but also because, like Willie, he has a fine propensity for taking tunes from disparate sources and turning them into something quite new; distinctive but thoroughly authentic in feel. (Before the matter of Connemara songs is forgotten, it should be remarked that, when Johnny takes a break from playing to give us an unaccompanied rendition of the sean-ns song Johnny Seoighe, it is one of the highlights of the record, showing that he has the dchas in full measure. Seemingly it's only on the disc at the insistence of Steve Cooney - a job well done there, Steve.)

In addition to all the above, we have a bumper crop of tunes composed by living musicians, first but not least Poirt Inis Bearach in, a pair of pretty jigs composed by Johnny Og and named after the birthplace of his father, who gives them a fine moderato treatment here (they also crop up on young Johnny's record). Then there's two reels by the great Liz Carroll, and learnt by Johnny in Barbados (where else!) from Co. Meath fiddler Nirn N Ghr daigh, who joins him in the playing of them; and the Cois Fharraige reels, composed by Sean-Johnny himself. Musicians around the length and breadth of this narrow world, though, will drool most at the prospect of new tunes by Charlie Lennon, whose presence makes itself well felt on the record - he accompanies in his inimitable style on eight of the tracks, and doubles on fiddle on five of them.

The new tunes, jigs entitled The Friendly Robin and The Dawn Chorus, are intended to evoke the atmosphere of a really good session (presumably, judging from the titles, the latter end of it in particular) and certainly succeed in so doing. They, and the record as a whole, are heartily commended to the listener.

That Charlie Lennon is the foremost living composer of tunes in the traditional idiom is an opinion widely shared. He is also much respected for the encouragement that he gives to other musicians, and both these elements play a role in the striking new release by Johnny Og and Brian McGrath, Dreaming Up the Tunes.

Four of the tunes in question are newly dreamt up by Lennon, including a most intriguing pair entitled Christmas in Spiddle and Twelve to the Bar, which have no generic designation other than '12/8 tunes', but which exercise all the mesmeric fascination of a good slip-jig or hornpipe. Charlie has also contributed a most moving and eloquent dedication to the record, which is well worth the reading. Several of the numbers on the record are the progeny of Johnny Og himself, or of his banjo wizard collaborationist from Co. Fermanagh, and there are also compositions by Frankie Gavin, M irtn O Connor and Tony Sullivan to be found.

Like his father, young Johnny delights in variation and adaptation, and does (for example) an excellent jig version of the well-known Connemara song Bean Ph idn. Whatever the source of the original tunes, all are played with great gusto (though never at excessive speed), and the box and banjo keep each other company with microsecond-precise timing, producing an overall sound that positively throbs with vitality. Both this record and Sean-Johnny's capture the exuberance and swing of a good session in a way that is too often lacking in studio-made records. Both Johnnys are, it seems, regularly to be found at Tigh Hughes, an Spid,al - obviously the spot to visit, always assuming that you can get in through the massed hordes of Connollyites!

Christy MacHale

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This album was reviewed in Issue 27 of The Living Tradition magazine.