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BIRKIN TREE - Virginia

Felmay FY8164

Birkin Tree is an established group of Italian musicians playing Irish music; they’ve released three CDs so far which have gained favourable reviews, and on this fourth we find them joined on two of the eight tracks by special guests Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. This salient fact is given prominence on the disc’s front cover, presumably because the group’s profile is insufficiently high in this country and its individual members are unlikely to be especially well-known even to the UK’s Irish music enthusiasts (certainly they were all new to me). Naming names, we have Michael Balatti (flute), Daniele Caronna (fiddle, guitars, bouzouki), Davis Longo (piano, sax), Fabio Rinaudo (uilleann pipes, tin whistle), Fabio Vernizzi (keyboards) and Dado Sezzi (percussion) – see what I mean?… Importantly, though, they’re all very good musicians who have a clear grasp of the idiom and a nigh faultless technical command, and a talent for conjuring from their wide instrumental palette some sufficiently pleasing and listenable (at least for one hearing) arrangements; they even indulge in a little tone-painting on the 12-minute title track. But the ubiquitous and insistent piano underpinning is intrusive, and homogenises the band sound to the extent of sublimating any hint of “edge” in the playing of the other musicians.

Since they’re not native Irishmen, should this matter? one’s tempted to ask… Well, all I know is that after listening to close on an hour of Birkin Tree renditions of (often quite lengthy) sets of session tunes (these being a mix of traditional and self-penned), I’m left with an inescapable feeling of “so what" to the proceedings, for each successive tune-set seems to outstay its welcome somewhat as it meanders happily along its preordained musical road – incorporating more than a touch of jazz or well-controlled all-purpose fusion here and there – while never managing to entirely engage much beyond the track’s four walls. That is, aside from the aforementioned pair of Hayes-and-Cahill-augmented tracks (The Sheep In The Boat and Birdman), which are placed at the end of the disc, and which import a welcome degree of grit into one’s boot-soles that produces sparks and enables the whole enterprise to catch a fire! 

These final tracks are great – but the remainder of the album rather passes by in a well-recorded haze; the music’s perfectly amenable textures are just fine for what they are, but overall, although I wouldn’t go so far as to characterise it as bland, it’s altogether too easy on the ear (even perhaps too pretty) for the hard-core devotee of Irish music who hankers for the feel, and fire and guts, of the traditional session.

David Kidman

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