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DECLAN FOLEY & JUNIOR DALEY "Skin and Bow" Sound Records SUNCD23

The bodhran is such a popular folk instrument and so readily available it's not surprising to see a number of albums featuring this most infuriating of drums. Anyone who has casually attempted to play the thing will soon realise that it actually takes skill and a good deal of almost psychic sensitivity to make it seem so easy, and there's many a session been ruined by the lack of these two key qualities. Bodhran players you will now have guessed are a much maligned species, yet like great golfers or painters, they best cover all the angles with the least strokes. Junior Daley performs a veritable masterclass on the humble goat skin, the lightest of technique with a powerful feeling for the dynamics of tunes and the sets they are part of. Plenty of variety of tone and rhythm, above all a great sense of where the spaces and silences in the playing should be. Not surprising then that this album has consistently stayed in Celtic Notes Dublin Top Ten for the past three months.

Without melodies of course the bodhran would be a mere drum. Declan Foley fires on all six cylinders in the fine Sligo style, great lift in the tunes and astounding turns within the 17 sets. It's a fine tribute to Junior that Declan's fiddle is always on top. Underpinning the whole shebang is Shane McGowan on guitar, another masterwork in the possibilities of accompaniment (a long way from the standard three chord boom chick thrash).

To get this good you need talent and time in abundance. Both shine through here. Familiarity of the musicians with each other and the repertoire is the key to the success of this album. If you acquired a bodhran for Christmas, keep away from sessions until you can play as competently and sensitively as Junior, if you reach his skill level, you'll never be out of one again. If you find a fiddler as good as Declan Foley, you might just be in heaven.

Sean Laffey

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This album was reviewed in Issue 22 of The Living Tradition magazine.