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MARY CUSTY & EOIN O'NEIL - The Ways Of The World CMCD065

If these recordings are at all indicative of the quality of music on offer in the village of Doolin in County Clare Ireland, where Mary and Eoin hail from, then I need to get there fast. That Mary and Eoin are extremely skilled on the fiddle and bouzouki, respectively, is apparent from the moment you start to listen. Mix their evident skills with those of people, such as Davy Spillane, Sharon Shannon, Kevin Griffen and Miko Russel the result is every bit as good as you would expect.

"With a lot of help from their Friends" is the debut album from Mary and Eoin, which oozes with class - playing and arrangements. Mary's fiddle playing is the outstanding feature as she plays with an evident passion and feel for the music. This is not to decry Eoin's bouzouki playing, which is every bit as classy, but is usually employed as backup to the fiddle lead.

Two driving reels kick off "With a lot of help" followed by a jig set in which Terry Bighams concertina initially takes the lead before being joined by Mary in a twin attack. The march and barn dances which are next are played with spirit and vigour highlighting Marys fiddle technique. Sharon Shannon helps out on the "Eileen Ni Riordains" set which could easily have come from sharon's own solo album, on which Mary and Eoin featured.

After the "Across the Divide" set with Ian Lamb, providing restrained guitar accompaniment, comes the "Kevin Griffin" set where the bouzouki moves to the fore as Kevin himself lends a hand - a foot tapping set.

Miko Russels' whistle takes the lead on the jigs "The Yellow Wattle" and "The Pipers Chair" with Mary and Eoin blending effortlessly around it.

The penultimate set rescues a tune I had long since written off after countless renditions by Moira Stewart, Kenneth McKellar and Co., "The Road to the Isles" is played with gusto and a liveliness which revitalised the tune for me. Two easy waltzes round off the recording.

So far so good. A recording well worth your money.

Expectations are therefore high for their second C.D. "Ways of the World". Immediately it is clear that this album is not just more of the same. The opening track "Frosty Morning" sees the introduction of the saxophone, electric guitar, and drums. Mary's fiddle is still the driving force, but tempered with a jazzy feel. The album returns to more familiar ground with the title track and Kevin Griffin on guitar. Michael Bonamy on saxophone makes another appearance in the "Winnie Hayes" set providing an intricate backing. Then Tommy Hayes guests on the "Dermot Byrnes" set playing the African drums to great effect.

Unfortunately the next four sets are the weakest on the two albums. They almost seem to merge into one, although well enough played the usual spark seems to be missing.

I retune into the C.D. when the "Ethopian Bar Sleaze" starts - a track so out of character for both C.D.s I cannot decide if I like as it sounds so "sleazy" or because it is so different from everything else. The penultimate set of straight reels sees Mary, Eoin and Kevin bang on form. The "Uke Pick Waltz" is hauntingly familiar, with a solo on the piano from Mary.

To conclude - one cracking C.D. "With a Lot of Help from their Friends" and another C.D. "The Ways of the World" with a good start, a so-so middle and a good ending.

Chris MacKenzie

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