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MIKIE SMYTH The Wild Keys

MIKIE SMYTH
The Wild Keys
Own Label MS001

Young Irish piper from Dublin, so we're in for fireworks, right? Not so: surprisingly, this debut album keeps to a reasonable pace and concentrates on the nuances of tunes which are often neglected by younger players. There are pyrotechnics scattered here and there, but the riches on The Wild Keys are more to be found in the slow airs and evocative tunes such as The Limerick Lament and The Fox Chase, both classics of the uilleann piping tradition but rarely recorded these days. Mikie Smyth seems to have listened well to Ennis, Rowsome, and current Dublin piping icons such as Mick O'Brien. He's also realised that the uilleann pipes are more than a bag with a chanter attached, and has put serious work into mastering the regulators: we are treated to several tracks with regulator harmonies as gloriously full as any recent performer. Mikie's version of The Wild Geese, based on Noel Hill's recording, shows his prodigious skill. The march O'Sullivan The Great is another superb example of rhythmic regulator accompaniment.

Mikie has also included some great tracks on low whistle and flute. Denis Murphy's Air and the beautifully articulated slow version of Maids of Mount Cisco are first class, and The Gold Ring works well on the whistle: I'm hoping for a piping version on his second album. The pair of reels Micho Russell's and Sean Reid's show off his whistle playing at a more usual tempo, and he switches convincingly to the flute for Come West Along The Road. Mikie Smith isn't afraid to revisit old chestnuts, as both Harvest Home and The Mason's Apron get an airing here, with a few fresh twists thrown in. There are one or two places on The Wild Keys where the melody seems to be overly simplified, or maybe a couple of grace notes have gone astray. Either way, it's a small price to pay for the rich rounded sound of chanter, drones and regulators. The final two tracks are a perfect snapshot of Mikie's piping: the slow air The Fairy Boy and the jig An Sean Duine, both delivered with lush regulator chords, topped off by the ten-minute showpiece The Fox Chase played in distinctive style.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 68 of The Living Tradition magazine.