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TONY MacMAHON "MacMahon from Clare" MACCD 001

Tony MacMahon is a box-player from Clare (of course), but he is much more than that. He has been an important force in promoting and maintaining traditional music on Irish radio and television, and in presenting dance music as music to be danced to rather than a spectator sport or - perish the thought - a museum exhibit. He has three fine albums on the Gael-Linn label, two with Noel Hill, and has appeared on numerous other recordings.

This retrospective release contains material recorded throughout Tony MacMahon's thirty-year career, most of which has certainly not been readily available previously. The sleeve notes are surprisingly reticent about the provenance of some tracks, but it's clear that a good half dozen of the 17 tracks here are on record for the first time and many more have been rescued from archives. Tony is joined by some of the greats of Irish music: Joe Cooley, Peadar Mercier, Barney McKenna, James Kelly, Seamus Connolly and others. The older tracks are a fascinating glimpse of the tradition a generation ago, and the newer ones show how little has really changed in the heartland of Irish music.

In 70 minutes we are treated to reels, jigs, marches, set dances and slow airs, all played with thought and feeling. Slow airs are something of a speciality with Tony MacMahon, and one of the striking things about this CD is that the slow tracks far outnumber the fast ones. Tony can rattle out a reel as well as the next time-served Clare accordionist, as is amply demonstrated in his fine duet with fiddler James Kelly, but the slow airs are where his singular mastery is most evident. "MacMahon from Clare" includes five fine examples: the opening lament "The Fair-Haired Boy", the eerie and magical "Port na bPucai", an unforgettable interpretation of the well-known "Caoineadh Eoghain Rua", a fine Breton air which will doubtless become popular, and a wonderful six-minute exploration of "Amhran na Leabhar" which is a challenging and deeply moving piece commemorating the loss at sea of all the manuscripts by the great Irish poet Tomas Rua O Suilleabhain.

Although Tony MacMahon has admitted that his first love is actually Arab music, this collection shows that he has absorbed more than a little of his own tradition and that his time spent with masters such as Joe Cooley and Seamus Ennis was far from wasted. This is not a CD to be taken lightly, but it is to be taken to heart and listened to with care, for here is a man who understands the music of his people.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 42 of The Living Tradition magazine.