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THE McNAMARA FAMILY "Leitrim's Hidden Treasure" Drumlin Records LHTCD1

Well, the McNamaras have really blown it! Already a chart-topper in Ireland, this CD is likely to turn Leitrim's musical tradition into the worst-kept secret since the Arabs decided to keep the art of distilling alcohol to themselves! In just over 70 minutes, Leitrim's instrumental riches are ruthlessly exposed by a group of investigative musicians completely devoid of insensitivity.

Seriously, this recording is indeed a treasure. Made more as a labour of love than a commercial venture, it comprises seventeen tracks of music associated with Leitrim for various reasons, much of it rarely or never before recorded. The musicianship is generally of the finest quality, and what it occasionally lacks in technical precision it more than makes up for in spirit and soul. The sleeve-notes, if you can call them that, are extremely impressive: a 20-page booklet with maps, photos, notation, and extensive background information on all the tunes. The "note" on track 1 runs to almost 500 words!

So, who are the McNamaras? There are six of them playing on this CD, from 2 generations (although generation gaps are hard to quantify in Leitrim): two uilleann pipers, two flute-players, a fiddler and a concertiniste (the only female), and they are joined by dulcimer player Barry Carroll and a couple of friends on piano and guitar. The family has been in the thick of the Leitrim tradition for generations, picking up tunes from the flute and fiddle players for whom the county is justly famous such as John Blessing, Charlie Lennon and John Lee. In fact, if you want a good idea of the kind of music we're talking about here, the closest previous recording is probably the lovely album by Seamus McGuire and John Lee ("The Missing Reel", CEFCD146).

I could go on about the unique rapport which comes from family groups, the virtuosity of the solo tracks, the amazing pipe duets where both players and instruments are totally in tune with each other (no mean feat), the depth of emotion in the slower pieces or the freshness of little-known dance tunes such as "Cut the Sod" and an unusual version of "The Humours of Ballingarry" ... but I won't. Judge for yourselves, because this is an album you should definitely acquire.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 30 of The Living Tradition magazine.