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BOYS OF THE LOUGH "The West of Ireland" Lough Records LOUGH007CD

Since their "Day Dawn" album, the Boys have swapped guitarists (Chris Newman for Malcolm Stitt) and replaced Kerry piper Christy O'Leary with Kerry box-player Brendan Begley. They've also enlisted Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell and Dublin piper Mick O'Brien to help out on this recording, plus a couple of backing musicians, giving them plenty of depth and variety in arrangements.

Apart from the line-up changes, the 51 minutes on this CD are pretty much what you'd expect from one of the most experienced groups around: fine songs and great tunes from Ireland, Scotland and beyond, played with sparkling virtuosity and deceptive ease. The songs have a gentle hypnotic power, and the sets of reels and jigs just trip off the fingers.

Cathal McConnell delivers four well-known songs in the Ulster style, with lovely strong nasals such as "the shimp sailed down the river" and "bright shining velvent" (sic). Newcomer Brendan Begley contributes "Beauty Deas an Oileain", a haunting song which shows off Brendan's expressive playing and singing.

On the instrumental side, it's the slower sets which really shine. "Sharon Eubanks' Waltz" is a classic, and the air and slow reels which follow it are superb. Mick O'Brien's piping enhances everything it touches, and the one time we hear the Northumbrian pipes only serves to whet the appetite: more, please!

The Boys of the Lough still have a winning formula. Behind all the guest musicians, arrangements and studio effects, there's an unrivalled depth of feeling. For me, the final track says it all: three world-class musicians playing traditional tunes, no frills, just great music.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 33 of The Living Tradition magazine.