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CHRIS NEWMAN & MÁIRE NÍ CHATHASAIGH - FireWire

CHRIS NEWMAN & MÁIRE NÍ CHATHASAIGH - FireWire
Old Bridge Music OBMCD17

Harp and guitar, a well-known duo, on their sixth album together Máire and Chris give us eleven instrumentals and two songs.  Pé in Éirinn Í and Bruach na Carraige Báine are both old Gaelic songs, but Máire's voice is wrapped in arrangements closer to Africa or America than Antrim.  This World Music feel is carried into several of the instrumentals too: Big Sciota is an unashamed old-time Ohio tune, with guest Cathy Fink providing some tasty licks on 5-string banjo.  Ginny's Waltz has all the hallmarks of hillbilly hoe-downs, a lovely gentle melody with mandolin chords à la Bill Monroe.  The Lost Summer is pure fiesta music, Nollaig Casey on fiddle and Roy Whykes on drums behind a swingy Latin number from Chris.  The opening Pheasant Feathers and the closing Reel for a Water Diviner could both be virtuoso kora tunes off an album of French West African music.  I don't generally go for this mix'n'match approach to traditional music: it's no longer innovative, and it flattens out the interesting contours of musical cultures, but for FireWire I'll make an exception because Chris and Máire do it so well.  Plus, of course, it's great fun!

The other half of this recording stays pretty much within the Western harp and guitar genres.  The Triplet Hornpipe is a Skinner test piece, which allows Máire to sparkle.  Molly St George is a 17th-century air played as a harp and fiddle duet.  Chris wrote Bright Falls the Air in the style of Scots and Irish ballads since time immemorial.  An Buachallín Bán gets a tremendous instrumental treatment here, a full five minutes of ringing harmonies and shuddering bass notes on solo harp.  Throw in a couple of jigs and a few Munster slides, and we're through.  Nollaig and Roy chip in several times before the finish, and Chris is quintuple-tracked at least, so there's no shortage of breadth or depth.  But never mind the width: listen to the quality.

Alex Monaghan

 

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This album was reviewed in Issue 74 of The Living Tradition magazine.