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Clo Iar-Chonnachta CICD 152

A powerful recording indeed from two fine interpreters of Ulster music, this album is redolent of former times but as fresh as new-laid eggs. Séamus' fiddle and Gary's flute are augmented by Séamus' discreet melodeon and piano backing, plus the bouzouki of Altan's Ciaran Curran and a cameo appearance by Charlie Lennon on fiddle. From the rumbling bass accompaniment on the opening pair of barndances to the airy polkas fifteen tracks later, the whole 46 minutes is filled with grand old tunes inspiringly played.

In fairness, that's not so unusual in Irish recordings these days. So what's special about this one? The repertoire for a start: plenty of barndances, highlands, polkas and slip jigs, and only six tracks of reels. The tunes themselves aren't the usual fare either, with names such as The Kiss Behind The Door, The Granny In The Woods and The Gossoon That Beat His Father evoking traditional Irish family values. Much of Séamus and Gary's music comes from around the Quinn home in County Fermanagh, a rich repository of tunes that has been under-exploited. Gary learnt some of his craft from Cathal McConnell, and his own Belfast background surfaces in a trio of fife tunes including the magnificent Number Five and the old loyalist jig Edward VII. Which brings me to the final distinction boasted by this CD: Séamus is a Roman Catholic priest in a Monaghan parish (lovely place), and Gary is the Church of Ireland rector in Westport. While their collaboration is unlikely to secure peace in Northern Ireland, it does demonstrate that religious differences are not a serious barrier to friendship and co-operation, at least not where more important subjects like music are involved.

While the duet playing is superb, on well-known reels like The Humours of Ballyconnell and more obscure tunes such as the gutsy slip jig Dever the Dancer, three of the five solo tracks are also among my favourites here. Two slow airs break up the flow of faster tunes, and they are both excellent examples of the genre: the title track is eked out expertly by Séamus on viola, and Gary's version of the song melody The Banks of the Clyde ranks alongside Frankie Kennedy's An Feochán or Matt Molloy's Dark Woman of the Glen. Finally, Séamus' lovely relaxed handling of The Shaskeen Reel puts an enviable new shine on an old tune.

This is a recording to savour. Separately or together, Séamus Quinn and Gary Hastings are a delight for the ear and an inspiration for the soul. Miss them at your peril.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 53 of The Living Tradition magazine.