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Private Label CNC1

Dazzling concertinist and accomplished dancer, this Meath lass has already travelled the world as a musician and with Riverdance. She already has a fine recording under her belt with the Irish-American quartet NicGaviskey. Her pedigree is spotless, coming from one of the most musical houses in Ireland, the regular venue for national radio's New Year recordings. Last time I was there, one of the visitors was the great Galway fluter Vincent Broderick who composed Caitlín's opening reel The Rookery. The Galway influence continues with Joe Cooley's Morning Dew, but Caitlín soon strays farther afield with influences from Cork, Donegal, and her father's native Cavan amongst others. Great old jigs The Bohola and Coleman's Cross, current favourites The Eel In The Sink and The Shallow Reel, a trio of gently swung hornpipes ending with the mysterious Japanese: there's a rare sweetness and lyricism to Caitlín's playing through all of these tunes.

The concertina can be a jerky and brash instrument, powerful but uncontrolled. Here it is tamed and channelled, bent to Caitlín's will. The player, not the instrument, shapes the music. This reminds me of something accordionist Karen Tweed told me: “When you can sound like the fiddle, or the flute, or the pipes, then you're getting somewhere.” I'd say Caitlín Nic Gabhann has reached that place. Her music is just that: not concertina music, not fiddle, flute or pipe music, but simply music. Whether it's her own delightful waltz Heartstrings or the thumping traditional jig Up Leitrim, Nic Gabhann plays with a grace and delicacy which is enchanting. There's power and passion too, but kept in check: even on big reels such as The Blackberry Blossom and Jim Coleman's, she never quite lets rip. Instead, she dances: while her fingers flicker over the keys, her feet clatter across the flags, adding to the sympathetic guitar accompaniment by Caoimhín Ó Fearghail. Lucky In Love, Elevated, The Shepherd's Daughter, The Strawberry Blossom - all are possible soubriquets for this talented young lady, but The Little Bag Of Spuds? Surely not, as she twirls and taps her way through all these reels. Two reels and a jig, with a pair of waltzes and a slow air, are Caitlín's own compositions, with not a bad tune in their number. Combining the new and the old, this debut solo album is a gentle giant, a musical triumph and a masterpiece in the true sense.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 94 of The Living Tradition magazine.