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BRIAN KELLY "Brian Kelly" BKCD 001

Along with half a dozen players worldwide, this London musician is one of the young challengers for Gerry O'Connor's crown as king of the tenor banjo. Brian's exciting, dynamic playing is founded on excellent technique in the modern style: triplets, runs, and the occasional chord. Some tracks are in an older vein: The Cuckoo's Nest and The Japanese Hornpipe fit into the current wave of '20s emulation, with a big dollop of Hot Club swing added to the mix. Brian's full-on approach works very well here, producing one of the highlights of this album.

Brian is accompanied by Paddy Gallagher (guitar and bouzouki) and the ubiquitous John Blake (piano and flute). Sister Martina makes an appearance on fiddle too. Amid the jigs and reels, Brian slips in hornpipes and even a planxty. Many old tunes get a good dusting off on this CD: the lovely old Monaghan Jig and Eddie Kelly's, the reel Dowd's Favourite which ends track 1, Tom Billy's Jig and several more. There's a brilliant example of improvisation on Coleman's Cross, where John's flute sticks steadfastly to the traditional melody while Brian's banjo ducks and weaves all around the tune. Only one of Brian's own tunes appears here, and judging from its title Brian Kelly's Number 1 may be his only composition. This is no bad thing: few new tunes are as good as what the tradition can offer. That said, Brian's reel is a quirky and elusive number with a certain charm and grace which may well ensure its survival in the tradition. The recording finishes with an ensemble romp through some well-known reels, great fun and great music.

Despite its low profile, Brian Kelly's debut album is a top quality performance. And the really good news is that this CD was recorded a couple of years ago, so we can look forward to hearing an even better second album before long! to find out what Brian's up to these days, pay a visit. Essential listening for banjo fans and Irish music lovers alike.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 57 of The Living Tradition magazine.