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CATHAL McCONNELL "Long Expectant Comes at Last"
Compass Records 742872

Singer, collector, flute-player and general bon-viveur, Cathal McConnell is best known as a founder member of The Boys of the Lough. His previous recordings have influenced generations of singers and musicians worldwide. Cathal's last solo album was released in 1978 and, despite appearing on over a dozen collaborative albums since then, he has only just got round to recording the follow-up - hence the title. The nineteen tracks here are split almost evenly between songs and tunes, giving well over an hour of material from Cathal's extensive and often obscure repertoire. To my ears, Cathal is in fine voice on this CD. Recorded in New York, the inside cover shows Cathal being well lubricated by an unidentified local beverage. Whatever the reason, Cathal's singing is as clear and melodious as I've ever heard it.

He presents superb examples of the flowing and flowery ballads of Ulster in 'Edward Boyle', 'The Bonnie Wee Lass of the Glen' and 'Lough Erne', and his taste for comic song is served by the inventive 'Hurricane of Reels'. Add classic ballads like 'The Gypsies' and 'The Banks of Strathdon', and a rousing chorus number to finish off with, and you have enough here to satisfy any devotee of traditional song. The instrumental tracks are not quite as satisfying. Cathal's skill on flute and whistle is more readily appreciated on his recordings from the late seventies and early eighties. Perhaps this album is further evidence that instrumentalists are best recorded young, whereas singers (as many instrumentalists know only too well) can go on and on forever. Nevertheless, there are some outstanding tracks of flute and whistle tunes here: a set of three McConnell jigs ending with the excellent 'Fermanagh Curves', the lovely air, 'Flower of Finae', followed by another fine McConnell composition and another pair of Fermanagh jigs followed by the beautiful Scottish air 'Leaving Kintail'. Cathal's playing does get a little breathless at times, though, which is a shame.

As well as the fine quality of the singing, the completeness of the sleeve notes and the range of interesting and unusual tunes on this recording, the use of guest musicians is worth a mention. There are almost thirty other artists featured, yet the feeling throughout is one of coziness and intimacy. The production is never overdone, and you are left with a strong impression of Cathal McConnell's music - not his friends. I recommend this as a model for solo recordings, and as a superb example of traditional music, from one of the major figures of the last three decades.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 40 of The Living Tradition magazine.