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EOIN O RIABHAIGH "Tiomnacht / Handed On" Gael-Linn CEFCD 181

This CD was an unexpected pleasure, a mature and accomplished solo album from an uilleann piper whom I'd hardly heard before. Eoin O Riabhaigh is the son of renowned Cork piper and teacher Micheal, and has worked as a backing musician with several big names in traditional music but never really struck out on his own until now.

In almost an hour of consistently excellent piping, Eoin covers most of the forms of Irish traditional music and also throws in a couple of bluegrass numbers. His sound reminds me of Martin Nolan's album, a fluid open style with plenty of raw energy and imaginative acoustic arrangements. The first five tracks come from the heart of the Irish tradition, and Eoin acknowledges the influences of Patsy Tuohy, Liam Og O'Flynn and Paddy Keenan amongst others. He makes a fine job of big tunes such as The Lark on the Strand; King of the Pipers and Colonel Fraser, and his treatment of the air Dark Woman of the Glen is evocative without departing too much from the tune. The truly innovative arrangement of two Irish marches for seven pipers and two drummers works particularly well, whether or not it was meant to be taken seriously.

A brace of bluegrass tracks provide further variety, as well as demonstrating Eoin's total mastery of a notoriously difficult instrument. Fitting the Kenny Baker showpiece Bluegrass in the Backwoods onto the pipe chanter is no mean feat, but O Riabhaigh pulls it off with panache. The pair of old-time waltzes is a similar success story, the pipes duetting with down-home fiddles and flitting between keys like an experienced longshoreman. The string band accompaniment gives the impression of a well-oiled bluegrass outfit backing a guest piper, much in the style of Gerry O'Sullivan's recordings.

Eoin O Riabhaigh's flirtations with foreign music don't prevent him from getting the best out of his own tradition. There are tracks in the second half of this CD which do full justice to some of the classic Irish reels, jigs and polkas, and would make any piper proud. The fourteen tracks on Tiomnacht give a very clear picture of O Riabhaigh's repertoire: what you see is the combination of quality and depth, and a skill which has been kept in the background for too long. I hope this is just the beginning of Eoin's solo career!

You'll have gathered that there are one or two other musicians on this album - a baker's dozen, to be precise, including most of De Danann and some other familiar names. Even in such illustrious company, the piping consistently comes out on top. There are a couple of unsatisfying patches - a little raggedness about some of the reels - but this is generally an excellent recording which is worth listening to over and over again.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 44 of The Living Tradition magazine.