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JAMES KELLY & ZAN McLEOD "The Ring Sessions" Phaeton RecordsSPINCD999

This is a nice album. James Kelly is a highly respected fiddler from Dublin, son of the great West Clare fiddler John Kelly. Zan McLeod claims Scots-Irish descent, but was raised in the Appalachians. The two of them mesh well here, and there are a couple of guest musicians too.

James and Zan provide fifty minutes of straight-ahead traditional music, no frills but lots of variety and catchy arrangements. Only one third of the album is reels: jigs, polkas, hornpipes and some slower tunes make up the rest. The sound quality is excellent, as is the musicianship.

You couldn't wish for better fiddling in the Irish style. There are no rough edges here, and James Kelly can turn his hand to a strathspey or two as well as the jigs and reels. Track 2 has a real Cape Breton feel to it, and the slow air "Lament for Terence MacDonough" is stunning. James also writes a tune or two - about a dozen on this CD, most of them cracking reels and jigs such as "Sitting on the Throne" and "The Mad Jig Set".

Zan McLeod's picking is well known to Touchstone fans, and his style underlines his Scots-Irish-ness. It's a sort of cross between Gaughan and McGlynn - more Arty on "Julia Delaney", and more Dick on the guitar solo Track 7. The Scots influence on the album is also evident in the choice of tunes - two strathspeys, "Loch Leven Castle" as a hornpipe, and quite a few Cape Breton connections.

All in all, a very nice album. Some tracks really grabbed me, others grew on me. The only one I didn't like was "Fanny Power", a bit hackneyed and out of place, although both James and Zan do their best to make it sound fresh. Eleven out of twelve ain't bad, though. Definitely in the 1995 Top Ten.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 15 of The Living Tradition magazine.