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Happy Days
Private Label CN001

An impressive debut offering from new Carlow/Waterford/Kilkenny band Caladh Nua.  The musicianship on this recording is very good, with simple but effective arrangements which do not clutter the overall mix, allowing the tunes and songs to shine through.  The opening set of reels, starting with The Windmill on button box and fiddle with steady guitar backing, builds gently to lead the listener into two further reels; Larry’s Favourite, played energetically on banjo and flatpicked guitar,  and from there to the Commodore reel where the whole band lift the set to a rousing peak.  An excellent showcase for the band to demonstrate their considerable ability.

The song Craigie Hills follows, beautifully sung by Lisa Butler whose voice is rich, warm and nicely ornamented.  The song is set in a very simple arrangement, mainly just mandolin, bouzouki and guitar, with the rest of the band joining for the instrumental break only.  There are three other songs on the recording.  Lisa sings Cad É Sin Don Té Sin which has overtones of some early Clannad vocal arrangements, and she also performs a splendid, atmospheric version of The Banks of the Lee with nicely subtle accompaniment.  The Richard Thompson song Beeswing is well enough sung by Colm O’Caoimh but it does not have the impact of the others and feels a bit out of place in the overall setting of this album.

The remainder of the recording is reserved for tunes.  Apart from sets of jigs and reels, the band have included some barndances and hornpipes with a number of pieces from the Flanagan Brothers repertoire giving a music hall swing to many of the pieces.  The tunes are all nicely paced with nobody rushing to get to the finish line first!

At least four of the thirteen tracks showcase the talents of the individual musicians - Eoin O'Meachair (Banjo, Mandolin, Whistles and Vocals), Paddy Tutty (Fiddle), Lisa Butler (Fiddle and Vocals), Derek Morrisey (Button Accordion) and Colm O’Caoimh (Bouzouki, Guitar and Vocals).  All very good players but these tracks are individual performances (mostly with guitar accompaniment) rather than band arrangements.

Colm O’Caoimh comes up with some outstanding guitar work across the album  – whether providing sympathetic accompaniment to the songs and tunes or in pieces like The Gortnamona Set (solo guitar throughout) where he displays lightness and subtlety in his fingerpicking style. The Gravel Walks Set starts with the Humours of Ballyloughlin played on guitar with button accordion chord accompaniment – Colm’s flatpicking of the tunes is superb with more triplets than an IVF clinic!

My only general criticism, which is evident in many of the pieces, is that the rhythm is often a little stilted giving a “metronomic” feel to some of the songs and tunes (possibly due to recording to a click track??). Overall, however, this is a very enjoyable album - the standard of playing of all the band is first class, and the arrangements refreshingly simple and uncomplicated. Perhaps for their next album they will relax in the studio, let rip and get the tunes firing on all cylinders.  I look forward to hearing it.

Jim Byrne

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.