Reviews

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  1. HOLLY TANNEN, The Flower of Australia: Three Songs for Julian and His Friends. Holly’s original and timely lyrics, set to traditional tunes. She is accompanied here by Amelia Hogan, Danny Carnahan, Myra Joy, Michael Hubbert, and Steve Baughman. All proceeds go toward the defense of Julian Assange. “Who will crush the bastards now/Who will hold them to account/Who will keep alive his vow/When Julian’s in prison.”
  2. JUNE LEVINE AND THE RUDE MECHANICALS BAND, Folkspeare. Words and music by June, Peter Crabtree, and Gene Gordon (a number of the songs are set to traditional tunes). “The Bard in a nutshell”—Humorous musical synopses of 22 of Shakespeare’s plays, from “All’s Well That Ends Well” to “Titus Andronicus” to “A Winter’s Tale,” performed by Lori Higa, Kevin Moore, Geoffrey Pond, Cindy Wyuker, and numerous guest artists.

CD REVIEWS

LIZ CARROLL AND JOHN DOYLE, Double Play
Compass Records, 2009; www.compassrecords.com

Once again, Liz Carroll and John Doyle have produced a lovely album of Irish fiddle music. There is an elegant, light, unforced quality to their playing that I find refreshing. Carroll plays fiddle with easy grace; her notes don’t leap so much as glide. And there’s that little hint of swing peeking through. Doyle’s guitar, bouzouki, and mandola accompaniment is spot on. He is one of a handful of Irish guitarists (Dennis Cahill being the best-known example) who combine quietness with an understated sense of rhythmic certainty. He is delicately firm in his expression of pulse and keeps everything moving along gently but surely. As an accompanist he draws little attention to himself—and he could, as he’s a very dexterous player. Instead he provides a perfect cushion, supporting Carroll’s fiddling from below. Irish music often brings the language of elevation and flight to my mind. Carroll’s playing has a gently soaring quality, while Doyle’s is like a father helping his child jump off the monkey bars for the first time: “You see, didn’t I tell you you can fly?” In such assured (and assuring) hands as these, the tunes don’t move so much as simply happen.

The majority of the tunes on Double Play are original, eight by Carroll, four by Doyle, plus one each from Paddy Glackin and Tom Fleming. Only two of them are traditional. Much of the writing shows wit, invention, and originality. There are a number of surprising turns, not radical enough to seem jarring or “outside,” but enough to show that the Irish tradition is still open to learning new tricks.

Doyle also lends his (somewhat thin) voice to three songs. There’s an Ed Pickford composition, a traditional Irish song, and a traditional English song. To the latter Doyle gives such an Irish treatment that even after having been corrected by the liner notes, I can’t help thinking of it as an Irish song.

Two more musicians add to the flavor on several cuts: Kenny Malone plays “percussion” with a light and expressive touch. (Unfortunately, the liner notes, as is all too common, fail to specify which percussion instruments are played.) To my ear, it sounds as if Malone is playing, in different combinations, bodhran, bongos, tambourine, and cymbals. Bongos certainly are not typically heard in Irish music, but here they never seem tacked on or out of place. The sound is right and tasteful and fits the music, nothing more, nothing less.

John R. Burr plays organ on two tracks. It sounds to me like a proper, church-style pipe organ, but again, the notes don’t say. It’s exquisite! I want to hear more organ in Irish music.

There’s even a local angle. Doyle wrote a tune called “The Boys of Bolinas” “after fun night with the locals.” One can just imagine.

—Ed Silberman

MARK GILSTON, Playing A Round With Dulcimers.
Ramble Creek; 2010; www.markgilston.com

Mark Gilston is an eclectic, talented musician, adept at many instruments, and a prize-winning mountain dulcimer player. See him in concert if you can, or check out some of his many fine recordings (and his books, with music, sold separately, which accompany the various CDs).

Playing A Round With Dulcimers will be of special interest to lovers of rounds, but others will enjoy it, as well. It’s an all-instrumental album; Gilston performs on the dulcimer 30 rounds, some familiar, some not. Each round begins with the melody, then the different parts enter and the harmonies emerge, in artful arrangements. These are great tunes, always interesting, never boring.

The recording opens, appropriately, with “Welcome, Welcome, Every Guest,” followed by the mirthful toast, “Now We Are Met.” More cheery toasts and many classics follow, such as “Dona Nobis Pacem,” the touching “When Jesus Wept” (by William Billings), Henry Purcell’s “I Gave Her Cakes and I Gave Her Ale.”

There are many exhilarating gems, among them: “Joy and Temperance and Repose” (a Seeger family favorite), “Tzena Tzena,” “Kum Bachur Atzel,” “Christ Church Bells,” and “Ring in the New Year.” Even well-known rounds like “Rose, Rose” become magical and truly majestic. Some of the lesser-known rounds are by the likes of the late-Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso and, of course, A. Nonymous. Old friends, new surprises.

The CD is available on its own or with a book that complements it, which includes an essay plus music, lyrics, and dulcimer tablature for 28 of the rounds. You can also find album notes and lyrics on Gilston’s website.

—Sol Weber