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Crow Valley Music CVCD0006

A second CD from the third Vallely brother - the one who broke with tradition, eschewing mainstream choices such as pipes and concertina, to focus on Irish piano - is a rare treat. As I wrote regarding his first album Strayaway in 2005, there aren't a lot of solo trad Irish piano CDs, and almost none of such high quality. This is still the case a decade later. Caoimhín combines his traditional heritage in Irish music with the ability to create new music from old. His eponymous second album combines sweeping interpretations of traditional tunes with some newer music including one of Caoimhín's own compositions, all of it firmly rooted in tradition but freshly interpreted here. The notes explain that this collection was intended as an uninterrupted stream, divided into tracks merely for convenience, and indeed the pieces flow together seamlessly. The only milestones along the way are the occasional vocal passages by Fiona Kelleher and Karan Casey: these two, and percussionist Brian Morrissey, are used sparsely as additions to Caoimhín's piano. The helpful sleeve notes chart the sequence of tunes during what is a constantly evolving performance of a couple of dozen pieces, lasting well over an hour. Caoimhín is sure-fingered throughout; guiding us through centuries of Irish music with what seems almost nonchalant ease.

Although many of the steps on this winding journey are familiar - a jaunty version of Brendan McGlinchey's reel Splendid Isolation, slower pieces Amhrán Na Leabhar and Dobbin's Flowery Vale, jigs Brian O'Lynn and The Rollicking Boys Around Tandragee, and more reels by the likes of Paddy Fahy and Richard Dwyer as well as several older tunes - the twists and turns are quite disorienting at times and Caoimhín certainly takes us in some unfamiliar directions. When you see that his inspirations include maverick guitarist Ian Carr and innovative French box-player Seb Lagrange, as well as more traditional icons James Byrne, Patsy Broderick, Paddy Glackin and Richard Lucey, the contrasts begin to make sense. Vallely happily steps from reel to jig and back again, from fast to slow, from familiar to obscure material. There's a strong Armagh connection - in addition to some of the melodies already mentioned, Caoimhín includes the story of Patrick Donnelly and a song air collected by Edward Bunting around 1800. No words to the song - vocals are very sparing throughout the album, which really is pretty much solo piano. The slide from this air into the final Independence Hornpipe is one of many tasty moments here, as the waltz melody slowly morphs into a run of triplets which resolves into the hornpipe's distinctive rhythm. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 117 of The Living Tradition magazine.