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NORTH CREGG "... And they Danced all Night" Magnetic Music MMRCD1026

Another debut CD from another young Irish band, but this one is very distinctive. I mentioned North Cregg in my last round-up article (LT29), and said I'd like to hear more of them: well, here's another 46 minutes' worth and it's no disappointment.

So what's distinctive about it? Firstly, the tunes. North Cregg draw much of their material from the Sliabh Luachra area which is famous for polkas, and there are some fine examples on this CD. Track two is particularly notable: four traditional polkas driven by the punchy button box of Christy Leahy. In fact, track two would be even more striking if it weren't preceded by a stunning version of the jig "Thunderhead" which rivals Hamish Moore's classic interpretation.

Jigs and polkas outnumber the reel sets four to three, another rarity, and the reels are not the usual fare either. Two of the sets are mainly Ed Reavy tunes with Ronnie Cooper's "Millbrae" ending the second in fine Shetland style, and the third set is a tribute to box-players Billy McComiskey, Joe Derrane and Mairtin O'Connor who previously recorded these offbeat reels.

Christy's box is certainly the dominant influence in North Cregg's dance sets, but there are four other lads in the band too. Martin Leahy does sterling work on percussion, the right amount at the right times, and the Stateside piano and Cooneyesque guitar of Ciaran Coughlan and John Neville provide a bouncy backbeat. Sadly, Caoimhin Vallely's fiddle doesn't come through too often despite brother Niall co-producing the album, but when it does it sparkles as does Paul Meehan's guest banjo.

The songs are equally distinctive, four from the pen of John Neville and the "Roseville Fair" title track from the US tradition. John's first three numbers are on the well-worn themes of alcoholic fathers, good friends and falling in love, and he writes in an Irish New Country style which doesn't fit too well with the other tracks. I know everybody's doing it, but I'm not sold on the "old tunes, new songs" formula. "The Wobbling Man" is a poignant soul-baring success, and all three are tastefully arranged, but I much prefer "Roseville Fair" and John's traditional-idiom "Pressganged Paddy" which ends the CD a bit prematurely: I could have managed another minute or so of the final track, and even another instrumental set after that. I'll have to catch them live, or wait for the second album.

Alex Monaghan

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