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Michael Darby o Fatharta “Bosca Bideach” Distributed by Clo Lar-Chonnachta

Before this release, Micheal Darby O Flatharta was pretty much unknown outside the west of Ireland. He comes from the same Connemara melodeon tradition that spawned Johnny Connolly, P.J. Hernon and even Mairtin O'Connor. The Bosca Bideach or wee box of the title is the one-row melodeon in D, out of which comes an astonishing range of tunes and tones. Micheal Darby can be contacted at Aille, Inverin, County Galway, Ireland. His email address is micdarby@gofree.indigo.ie

The dance music of Connemara is cheerful, bouncy, and full of rhythm. While the style is perhaps less wild than Clare or Donegal music, it's also more approachable for dancers and listeners alike. The fourteen tracks here are all fine examples. Most of them are played at a speed for dancing, and the lack of fast and furious fingering gives an impression of relaxed simplicity. Behind this casual, laid-back sound is an unerring rhythm and a technical mastery of the button box which is rarely heard. Micheal Darby's music makes you think that he could keep playing like this all night, and he probably could: Connemara dancers can be very demanding!

In amongst the reels and jigs, Micheal Darby slips in a couple of sets of hornpipes and a tasty pair of barndances. The hornpipe Johnny Cope is the closest thing to a showpiece on this CD: here as elsewhere, he uses two treble voices an octave apart to give a very distinctive sound. Other tracks have different combinations of reeds, but this is the most typical. The sweetness of the high octave against the rumble of the lower notes gives such a full sound, I thought at first that these tracks must be overdubbed.

Bosca Bideach is a real solo recording, with Micheal Darby to the fore on every track. Mostly he's accompanied by the deft fingers of other Connemara musicians on piano, bouzouki and guitar, but there are a couple of box-only tracks and two guest appearances on flute and fiddle. There's no mistaking the star of the show, though. In the hands of this young man, the wee box is clearly the equal of its larger cousins.

Micheal Darby's own waltz An August Wedding is the only slow tune in 52 minutes. Coming just before the end, this attractive composition is like the last waltz at a ceili. It's even followed by a final set of up-tempo come-all-ye reels for those dancers who still won't go home. I think if I was dancing to this music, I wouldn't want to go home either.

Alex Monaghan

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