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CRAOBH RUA - The More That's Said The Less The Better CD0020

Craob Rua are a Belfast band playing, mainly, Irish music in the traditional style. Their line up is Mark Donnelly on Uillean Pipes and tin whistle, Jim Byrne, guitar and vocals, Michael Cassidy on fiddle and Brian Connolly on Banjo, Mandolin and Bodhran.

I first came across Craob Rua in 1988 or thereabouts. They has sent me the most appalling demo tape I had ever heard. It sounded as if it had been recorded on a dying tape recorder perched on the front seat at a club gig. Somewhere deep within the hisses, scratches, groans and yowls, though, was a taunting, promising sound. On the strength of that tape I arranged a gig for them near Ayr and a live performance the following night on a folk programme I was producing for Westsound Radio. The rest's history. People listened, taped them and sent copies of the tapes far and wide. Bookings followed for clubs and festivals from Edinburgh to Milwaukee and I persuaded them into Ronnie Wilson's Brick Hit House, near Irvine to record "Not a Word About It", their first album. Accusations of Nepotism or not I picked it as my album of the year in 1990 because it was the best.

With a score more festival bookings and numerous television appearances under their belt they have produced their latest offering "The more that's said the less the better" and it's even better than the first one. Brian Connelly's original and distinctive arrangements permeate the sets and overall the sound has grown in maturity.

Craob Rua (the name means Red Branch) are very much an instrumental band and although most of the album tracks are tunes the songs have not been forgotten. With the exception of a very fine arrangement of Jock O Hazeldean, all the songs are Irish including two from Belfast. Campbell's Mill, a fast moving jaunty song and the more sombre sounding Cotton Mill Song are both love songs taken from the singing of Maurice Leyden. A Neansai Mhile Gra is sung in Gaelic and there is no translation in the sleeve notes so I have no idea what it's about. It's slow and melodic and probably a love song. Jim Byrne's easy delivery of this and the other songs and their sympathetic arrangement makes a grand contrast to the powerful, coursing sets of tunes and provides a well balanced feel to the album.

Not surprisingly they have pinched a few Scottish tunes and songs during their travels and have included the Spay in Spate and Andy Renwick' ubiquitous Ferret. There's a host of old favourites from The Mooncoin and The Humours of Ballyconnell to Munster Bacon and Galway Bay all sounding entirely different from any version you've heard before.

You won't find any rock or jazz fusion or crossover here for the influences are all traditional but a tradition re-interpreted and kept alive. The beautiful merging of harmony and melody lines, the multi layered texture of the arrangements and the driving beat of the guitar and bodhran all contribute to making this album an absolute cracker.

Hugh Taylor

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This album was reviewed in Issue 1 of The Living Tradition magazine.