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Pulling Out The Stops
Old Box OBR002

Dan’s a Pittsburgh-born box player, who as far as I know is currently based in Anchorage, Alaska; his playing style is both nimble and pleasingly full-toned: honest and easy, I guess you could term it homey and old-fashioned but it’s engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable for all that. Dan is here joined, on the follow-up to his well-received 2006 CD Land Of Sunshine, by a small handful of musician friends for what seems intended to approximate the format of a convivial, laid-back session (i.e. mostly tune-sets but a few songs thrown in for good measure and contrast); in this it largely succeeds, except for a curious interlude midway through, the rationale for which I’ll come to in a bit. But to the remainder of the 16 tracks, which mostly present a basic instrumental complement of Dan’s box (either one-row melodeon or two-row button accordion) backed by Teresa Baker’s piano pumping out the rhythm.

The Tommy Peoples set employs a guitar, while here (as on a small handful of other sets too) the melody line is shared with a fiddler (Kevin Burke or Brongaene Griffin), or occasionally (as on the Miss Langford’s reel-set), by banjo (Quentin Cooper) or (on the jigs at track 8) flute (Mick Mulcrone). On the beautiful air Planxty Dermot Grogan, Dan duets with Elizabeth Nicholson’s harp; while then, sometimes (as in a real session, indeed), a set can be past half-over before the “coach party” arrives and more musicians enter the fray. The session tunes are punctuated by four songs, of which three are sung by Mick Mulcrone (two of which have more than a touch of the Andy Irvine I thought, although Mick’s rendition of Hard Times is arguably a touch rough-hewn even for a session) and the fourth by bodhrán player Gerard McDonnell, who tragically lost his life while descending from K2 (a mountain which he’d been the first Irish person to ascend) barely a couple of years ago.

The latter forms part of the interlude which I referred to earlier, almost as if Gerard seems to have been thrust into the spotlight while the musicians go off for a pint; its overly reverberant studio recording follows a sufficiently showstopping bodhrán solo that was recorded live in 2002 at the Alaska Folk Festival. These selections, for all that they form a kind of “two minutes’ silence” in memory of Gerard, still don’t quite feel as though they belong with the rest of the album, even notwithstanding its role as part-fundraiser … Nevertheless, this is still an appealingly enjoyable record which majors on the heartwarming, life-affirming power of good craic and reliable musicianship.

David Kidman

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