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MICHAEL SHEEHY - The Cat's Rambles 

MICHAEL SHEEHY - The Cat's Rambles 
Veteran VT160CD

Subtitled Music From The Sliabh Luachra Tradition, this recording is notable for several reasons. Firstly, it is a fine example of the aural tradition, Michael having learnt his style and repertoire from his father Mick, a button box player from West Limerick, isolated from the Irish tradition after moving to Manchester in the 1950s. Mick does seem to have had some wider influences: the music he taught to his son contains several tunes from beyond Ireland's shores, such as The Fairy Dance and Hexham Races. By contrast, Mick Sheehy's Reel, which Michael never heard anyone else play, is clearly a version of the well-known Cronin's Hornpipe, and another family rarity, Balliniska Band, is very close to the English polka Jenny Lind.

The second notable aspect of The Cat's Rambles is that Michael Sheehy plays piano accordion - a full-size box with around 100 bass buttons by the look of it - but he generally limits his left-hand accompaniment to the small number of possibilities available to the eight-button bass of his father's instrument. This keeps his Sliabh Luachra heritage alive, but produces some unexpected effects, such as the clashing chords on Art O'Keeffe's Slide where the button box has no good options but the piano box has several. I can't think of another piano box player who has stuck within these constraints, only hitting the occasional bass note or following the narrow choices of button-box accompaniment. Michael Sheehy does branch out into more conventional chords on the waltz Gartan Mother's Lullaby, but otherwise his left hand is sparse or silent.

Polkas and slides, hornpipes and barndances, all well known to devotees of Sliabh Luachra music from Murphy and Clifford to Breaking Trad: there are plenty of classic tunes here, some with new names, with fine fiddle added to the box on a few tracks, and a touch of guitar. Sheehy throws in a handful of jigs and reels, although one or two of these started life as slides or hornpipes. The recording quality is flawless, and the notes are informative and interesting, so if you're partial to the likes of Dan O'Leary's and Scattery Island you'll enjoy following The Cat's Rambles. 

Alex Monaghan

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