The Mountain Lark & The Morning Star (track 1)
The Humours Of Castlefinn & Kitty Gone a’ Milking (track 14)
Folk Roots Review by Geoff Wallis
Catching up with The Chieftains’ Paddy Moloney recently, our topic of conversation turned to the current state of traditional music in Ireland and, more particularly, to the resurgence of the uilleann pipes. While noting the growing numbers of young adepts, Paddy pinpointed Dubliner Ronan Browne as one of the prime exponents of the instrument and now comes the chance to hear the current state of Ronan’s art.
Some may know Ronan via his work on pipes, flute and whistles with Cran or his recent solo album The Wynd You Know while others may be familiar with an album he released in 1988, The South West Wind, which focussed upon traditional music from County Clare. His partner on that occasion was the fiddle- and flute-player Peter (sometimes Peadar) O’Loughlin, a force in the county’s music since the late 1940s and a fine piper in his own right. Apart from playing with both the Tulla and Kilfenora Céilí Bands., Peter was one of the quartet (alongside P.J. Hayes, Paddy Canny and Bridie Lafferty) who recorded the quintessential All Ireland Champions – Violin in 1959, one of the first albums of Irish traditional music.
While The South West Wind was itself remarkable for Browne and O’Loughlin’s seamless musicianship, Touch Me If You Dare is awesome confirmation of this pair’s prowess. Unaccompanied throughout almost all of 23 tracks, constituting almost 75 minutes of music (unequivocally good value for money), the duo whirl through a selection that has more highlights than even David Beckham’s latest hair-cut. There are reels and jigs a-plenty and the virtual absence of hornpipes is a fair reflection of their status in Clare’s music. In every case Browne and O’Loughlin play to the tunes’ strengths, emphasizing both the power of the melody and the structure’s innate rhythm. The East Galway fiddler Maeve Donnelly adds further resonance on five tracks while one of Clare’s favourite accompanists, the pianist Geraldine Cotter, graces three in typically understated style. Add exceptionally clean production work from Ciarán Byrne and astute liner notes from piper Pat Mitchell and the net product is one of the most gripping, soul-enthusing releases to have appeared in Ireland during the last decade.
This review by Geoff Wallis first appeared in fRoots magazine – www.frootsmag.com.
Journal of Music Review
Touch Me If You Dare is the successor to Ronan Browne and Peter O’Loughlin’s 1988 release The South West Wind. At that time Tommy Potts congratulated them for their recording of ‘the unchanged music of our country with impeccable taste and balance’. Fourteen years on, this latest record does much to reinforce the sentiments of Potts, but also reminds us of the unique musical relationship between Browne and O’Loughlin, evident in a duet where very close settings of the tunes are heard and even ornaments occasionally appear to be synchronous.
Perhaps in attempting a definition of what might be considered good duet as opposed to solo playing, one could mention the importance of possessing an ability to anticipate and respond to variation and improvised gestures: what one musician hears at any moment can inform his choices from one phrase to the next and while controlling the degree to which lines converge or diverge, there is both a dialogue and singularity of purpose, the resulting music at any rate being very different in approach to that of solo playing. An obvious enough comment perhaps, but what we hear in the duet is players finding a space in which to explore unique and valuable musical interaction and not the simultaneous rendition of a shared repertoire.
On Touch Me If You Dare, Browne and O’Loughlin achieve a subtle change of colour by varying their instruments throughout while conspicuously choosing to avoid concert pitch . The record opens with B pipes and fiddle joining seamlessly on ‘The Mountain Lark’/’The Morning Star’ accompanied by wonderful use of regulators by Browne. The regulators continue to feature with great and at times playful effect throughout the recording.
‘An Buachaill Dreoite’ stands out as an example of the subtlety and grace employed by the two players in the flowing transition from fling into jig. So too does ‘Down the Back Lane’/’Fraher’s Jig’ where O’Loughlin plays B-flat fiddle and Browne’s skills as flautist are heard. He also plays a beautifully toned set ‘The Humours of Castlefinn’/’Kitty gone a’Milking’ later in the record.
O’Loughlin, also a great flautist, plays E-flat flute for three tracks, with fiddle player Maeve Donnelly, accompanied by Geraldine Cotter on piano. Donnelly adds viola to the previously mentioned ‘Fraher’s Jig’.
A track with O’Louglin and Browne on flute together seems inevitable, but on this occasion we are denied what would surely be an interesting meeting of styles. There is also an omission of slow airs, but only notable perhaps because we have come to expect their inclusion on traditional recordings.
However, none of this takes away from the vastness of repertoire on the recording – twenty-three tracks span almost 75 minutes of music, richly sourced from, among others, Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Bobby Casey, Frank O’Higgins, Andy Conroy, Patsy Touhy and the music of the Ballinakill Ceili Band. O’Loughlin has sourced five tunes from the band, most notably a two part version of ‘Lord Gordon’s Reel’.
The discerning listener will notice that some of the tunes listed are more commonly known by other names; ‘The Mountain Lark’ is usually known as ‘The Old Wheels of the World’ while ‘The Bunch of Keys’ is a more popular title for ‘The Mills are Grinding’, and musicians would most likely be more familiar with the title ‘Scotch Mary’ for what is here entitled ‘The Knocknagow Reel’.
Touch Me if you Dare was recorded in a cottage overlooking Galway Bay and the Burren. The ease displayed in the music may owe much to the setting in which it was recorded, but Browne and O’Loughlin already proved that their music defied any possible drawbacks of an urban surrounding when they made their debut in a commercial studio back in 1988. We look forward to the next recording.
EMER MAYOCK for the Journal of Music