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ALAN KELLY GANG - The Last Bell 

ALAN KELLY GANG - The Last Bell 
Blackbox Music BBM007

Now an established group, this gang is on its second CD and has been touring for a few years now. Based on the formidable talents of Roscommon piano box phenomenon Alan Kelly and his transatlantic partner Steph Geremia on flute and vocals, backed by the affable Tony Byrne, the core group sees a surprise entry at number four with Scottish fiddler Alasdair White. There's a bunch of hangers-on too, some of them belonging to the AKG Big Band, as well as guest vocals from Eddi Reader, another Scot sneaking in there. The Last Bell is about half traditional and half new material, all seriously funked up by Kelly & Co. On the instrumental side, a handful of reels and a couple of jig sets are augmented by a Kelly march and a trio of Geremia originals in both flavours of 7/8. Steph switches to soprano sax for extra soul and the addition of thumping bass and percussion makes for a quite modern sound at times, so much so that I wasn't sure whether some of the traditional tunes were being claimed as new compositions. But no: Lady Gordon's, Tame 'er When Da Snaw Comes, Mollard's Gavotte, Major Moran's and even the contentious Wedding Reel are all firmly attributed to Tommy Rad despite having the bejaysus arranged out of them.

There are four songs on this album, one track in three, which is a bit of a high ratio for my taste, and to be brutally honest Music Makers would have been better replaced by a good instrumental air. The other three are entertaining enough, delivered by Steph and Eddi in sultry tones: Boo Hewardine's grimy After The Last Bell Rings, modern social ballad The Poorest Company and the castanets of John Douglas' Sleeping Policeman trawler tango which is owned/nailed by Ms Reader. Then just the big finish, three reels naturally: one of Alasdair's own and a pair of Irish beauties, played pretty straight. The Alan Kelly Gang manage to sound like a ceilidh band, a jazz combo, a first class session and even a Fest Noz in full flight for the wonderful Hopvotte. To pigeonhole this as Irish traditional music is woefully inadequate, but that core is unmistakable, as is the band's own distinctive and irrepressible sound. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.