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ALAN KELLY "Mosaic" Tara Music TARACD 4010

Alan Kelly is an Irish box-player, but unusually he plays the piano box. This is definitely his second album, and confirms him as the most talented and innovative Irish piano accordionist around. Alan Kelly rocks - you can tell that straight away, mainly from the sunglasses - but his rocking almost always enhances the tradition. He's supported on this recording by fellow rockers Arty McGlynn, Nollaig Casey, Rod McVey, Sean Smyth and others. At 39 minutes Mosaic may be lacking in quantity, but there's more than enough quality to make up for that.

The eleven tracks here are mainly tradition Irish music, seasoned with salsa, samba, a Scottish strathspey and several contemporary compositions. From the opening notes of "Eva's Reel" the accordion wizardry is awesome, as hardly a finger goes astray in a stunning display of skill. If Alan Kelly's marks for technical merit are high, those for artistic impression are even higher: the pairing of his own jaunty "Grier's Slip Jig" with a modal version of "The Kid on the Mountain" is an instant success, and Arty McGlynn's Balkan samba which follows is one of the best new tunes I've heard.

Track 4 is a bit of a low point. Irish musicians never quite seem to get enough snap into a strathspey, and "The Glendaruel Highlanders" suffers slightly from slushy synthesiser effects. However, things soon pick up with a great Kelly slow air and a fistful of fine traditional dance tunes. A slow march by McGlynn provides a change of pace, and then another handful of reels are given the Kelly beauty treatment before the album climaxes in a truly miraculous transformation of the Finnish waltz Forest Flowers: eat your hearts out Cathal, Aly and Phil!

It's nice to hear a new instrumental release from Tara Music, who have been rather quiet of late. It's even nicer to hear a release of such high quality and originality. Nicest of all, though, is hearing traditional music handled with such flair and taste. Alan Kelly's playing brings out the magic in the tunes without compromising their identity. Mosaic is an album for everyone who enjoys good music: it's pleasant in the background, perfect in the foreground, and dynamic enough for the underground. Get one now.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 43 of The Living Tradition magazine.