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NOLLAIG CASEY "The Music Of What Happened" Old Bridge Music OBMCD15

Despite being one of Ireland's most eminent musicians, fiddle player Nollaig (sister of renowned harper Maíre Ní Chathasaigh) has only just got round to recording a solo album. Then again, this is hardly surprising I suppose, when you consider the staggering number of artists she's worked with over her 20-year-so-far career (many projects, notably Coolfin and Planxty's 1987 Live In Dublin set, have involved Dónal Lunny, while there's also the matter of her striking presence as featured soloist on Riverdance).

Nollaig's playing style is powerful and distinctive, with a winning combination of ready virtuosity and lyrical expressiveness at her command, these qualities harnessed in tandem equally effectively on slow airs and vigorous dance tunes. Nollaig's individual profile on record has hitherto been primarily in association with her main musical collaborator Arty McGlynn (just two duo albums, made for the Roundtower and Tara labels respectively, quite some time ago), and Arty turns out to be the main guiding hand behind The Music Of What Happened (that evocative title, by the way, comes from a telling phrase in Marie Heaney's retelling of the ancient Irish Fenian cycle). He's jointly produced the album with Nollaig, and adds his signature filigree guitar virtually throughout. Other musicians (Sharon Shannon, Maíread Casey, Rod McVey and Liam Bradley) help out, but Nollaig's personality is rightfully dominant. A handful of the tunes are Nollaig's own compositions, most of the remainder coming from the tradition and closing with a "gently storming" rendition of the hypnotic Music For A Found Harmonium (which Arty can probably claim to have introduced into the tradition in his time with Patrick Street!). It's sometimes forgotten that as well as being an exceptional fiddle player, Nollaig is a fine singer, and her vocals grace just four of the album's thirteen tracks, ranging well from the beautifully intense A Spaílpín a Riúin and the delicate Bonnie Blue-Eyed Lassie to the joyfully enunciated A Bhúrcaigh Bhuí ó'n gCéim to the light-hearted Kitty My Sweetheart. Altogether, this is a refreshing, sparkling set, with a delightful spring in its step; its 45 minutes just fly by.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.