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JOHN CARTY - I Will If I Can

JOHN CARTY - I Will If I Can
Racket Records RR005

Since his banjo album The Cat That Ate The Candle with Brian McGrath, John Carty's reputation has been rising rapidly. John really came to the fore through his fiddle playing, but it's back to the banjo for this recording, and the tenor guitar too. Brian, Ringo McDonagh and Alec Finn do the honours on backing instruments, with occasional sorties into the melody, but it's John's 1920s tenor banjo that has pride of place on I Will If I Can. This is banjo in the old style, Flannagan and Gaffney, possibly Keenan and McKenna: rhythmic and solid, sticking close to the tune and staying down near the low end of the fingerboard, and it's lovely stuff. The Steampacket, Munster Buttermilk, Kimmel's, Cooley's, and plenty more old favourites including that well-named jig The Old Favourite.

Five of the thirteen tracks here feature John and Alec on tenor guitars, with a sound close to Dick Gaughan's Coppers & Brass recording, relaxed and flowing through some demanding pieces. The hornpipe Queen of the West, the reels Sporting Nell and Matt Peoples', and a couple of Carolan compositions amongst others, all get the double guitar treatment. Only on City of Savannah do things go awry: this tune could really have used the punch and power of the banjo. In general, the alternation of guitar and banjo provides pleasant light and shade throughout the 50 minutes of I Will If I Can, and the lads ring the changes on accompaniment, with Brian also trying his hand at tenor guitar but sadly not touching the banjo on this album.

As banjo CDs go, this one is less frantic and more melodic than most. Triplets are used sparingly, variations are restrained, and the pace rarely rises above a canter. But it has style aplenty, that showband swagger captured by At The Racket and De Dannan's Ballroom album. Listen to James Morrison's, the final set of Irish-American polkas: pure class, even if the sleeve notes are slightly out, with John adding fiddle to his bouncy banjo for a fittingly flamboyant finish to I Will If I Can. He can, and he does.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 66 of The Living Tradition magazine.