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Private Label 0026144064

North Carolina fiddler Magill has plans. Roots is the first of two recordings within six months: the second one, Branches, should be out before the end of 2016 and will contain 10 original compositions drawing on influences from oldtime, bluegrass, African and Brazilian music. But for now, we have his traditional Irish offering to enjoy. Young Andrew Finn Magill is proud of his Irish roots, obviously, and does them full justice here in a sparkling selection of mainly old tunes with a handful of more recent compositions, all by acknowledged Irish masters. A fiddler in a hurry, Magill is full of the fire of youth and rattles through the reels and jigs at high speed - but he doesn't sacrifice much in tone or ornamentation. He can turn his hand to the slower music too: there's a beautiful sweet-sounding rendition of Maurice O'Connor's Third Air, and a poignant version of An Róisín Dubh. What is perhaps lacking, in both fast and slow tunes, is individual interpretation: there are not many surprises, nothing which Magill truly makes his own. Perhaps that will come with his next release.

Andrew opens with the old reel Miss McDonald, and continues with a catchy composition by Dervish fiddler Tom Morrow called The Siesta - not from his days in North London I'm guessing. The popular Tommy Peoples jig, Don't Touch That Green Linnet, is followed by Dancing Eyes by fiddler Sean Ryan from the Tipperary side of the border with East Clare. This set is topped off by The Humours Of Cavan, a tune so rarely heard that most people believe there is no humour in Cavan at all. Magill's version of The Blackbird is another slow number, showing his sparse unadorned style - he taps an occasional low string, but otherwise this is as plain a setting as you're likely to hear. There's a certain charm to this absence of ornamentation, and it certainly speeds things up on the lively reel Corney Is Coming which follows. Armagh piper Cillian Vallely joins Andrew for the reel, taking time out from Lúnasa commitments, and Cillian's pipes return to duet on a fine pair of hornpipes at a contrasting relaxed tempo. If you visit Magill's website you'll find he has quite a few famous friends - guitarists John Doyle, Sean Earnest and Paul McKenna, bouzoukist Vince Fogarty, fiddlers Colin Farrell and Martin Hayes among them - who are happy to endorse him or play on his albums. The less well known Duncan Wickel plays fine fiddle here too. Magill's website also has a lot of information on both his 2016 recordings, telling us for instance that both Kissing And Drinking and Fountains Hornpipe were learnt from the playing of Dublin piper Peter Browne. No connection between drinking and fountains in that case.

The Green Fields Of America and Tommy Coen's Reel, Ed Reavy's great tune Tom Of The Red Hills and the tragic mystery of Tom Ward's Downfall, the neglected beauty of The Western Lasses and the classy finish on McFadden's Handsome Daughter - that's quite a rake of reels, at varying speeds, all tastily backed on guitars and bouzoukis. A purist might say that the playing suffers from too much speed at times, but there's no doubting the excitement and drive here. I'm looking forward to hearing Andrew Finn Magill when he's given his head on his own compositions, and in the meantime I'll be giving Roots a few more spins. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 116 of The Living Tradition magazine.