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JAMES MURRAY & OLLIE ROSS - The Powelsborough Lassies

JAMES MURRAY & OLLIE ROSS - The Powelsborough Lassies
Comhaltas CL76

James Murray is known as a leading exponent of the South Sligo musical tradition, both on the fiddle and the flute; although his music acknowledges a direct inheritance from musicians such as Jamesy Gannon and Thomas Gilmartin, James himself is eager to credit more specifically a host of key influences and inspirations, naming as greatest of all the Magheranore fiddler Johnny Feely and Powelsborough flute player Peter Walsh. Each musician is accorded a generous paragraph of insightful contextual and personal anecdote in the enclosed booklet, which although running to eight pages is however (sadly) entirely bereft of any information regarding the sources of the music within. It transpires that some of the tunes are his own compositions, and these are interspersed among his spirited and stylishly distinctive renditions of classic old tunes from the accepted Sligo repertoire.

It’s with profound integrity and absolute dedication to the musical style of which he is a proud representative that James pays affectionate tribute to his fellow-musicians on this exceptionally well-filled (72-minute) disc, which was recorded in his own bedroom, “after just one practice run and that was that”! At the risk of exceeding my word-count, I just can’t resist quoting James’s wonderfully honest (if delectably opinionated!) liner note, where he defends to the hilt the fact that the recording is far from perfect: “There are mistakes and slip ups and I am glad that there are because almost every CD or record that I listen to sounds as if it is played by Robots … If you are looking for perfection here you will be disappointed, all I can say is that it is played from the heart and the tunes are played the way I learned them.” Bravo! And I too wouldn’t want it any other way. But I do believe you’d be hard put to pinpoint many imperfections at all – and not that they’d matter one jot in my book.

Variety being the spice of life, the disc’s sequence moves sensibly from fiddle to flute and back again, although James’s spry fiddle playing accounts for just under two-thirds of the tracks, on five of which Ollie Ross does sterling duty with economically pointed, lightly and gently tripping piano accompaniment. Ollie underpins James’s uplifting yet intimately phrased flute on a further four selections, while James turns in an equal number of beautifully poised flute solos. Interestingly, the disc also includes three vocal numbers – A Stór Mo Chroí, Úna Bhán and The Croppy Boy – where James’s attractive timbre both informs and enables a lyrical performing style (although I’m aware it may not suit all listeners).

The prospect of having even 20 out of 23 tracks “played by Robots” would have me reaching for the off-switch pronto, but I must say that this disc has never a tedious moment, being an unbridled delight for its entire length and easily listened to in one sitting. The music breathes with the musicians, it flows in its own time and its own dialect, and yet carries the listener fully along with it. What an achievement.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 108 of The Living Tradition magazine.