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VARIOUS ARTISTS "The Lark in the Clear Air" Ossian Productions OSSCD 13

Here's a whole album devoted to some Cinderella instruments of traditional music - whistle, harmonica, spoons, flutes and jaw harp. In keeping with the size of the instruments, most of the tracks are short and sweet. In solos and ensemble pieces, this CD presents a very traditional sound which has disappeared from most studio-produced albums. The material is from the well-known side of the Irish repertoire, with a good mixture of forms and tempos given a very straight treatment.

The sound of the jaw harp is the most striking aspect of this recording. It is rare indeed to hear this instrument played well, and here we have excellent duets and trios showing off its capabilities. The interplay of harmonics on these tracks is fascinating.

Flute, whistle and harmonica tracks are also interesting, but the playing of these instruments has enjoyed considerable attention since this recording was made - the Ossian CD is a re-release of a Topic album from 1974, and pre-dates the likes of Matt Molloy, Sean Smyth and Brendan Power. The same does not apply to the spoons of Paddy Neylan, played here to great effect but rarely heard on modern recordings. Perhaps this re-release will spark new interest in these simple but distinctive instruments.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 13 of The Living Tradition magazine.