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JOHNNY ÓG CONNOLLY - Fear Inis Bearachain  

JOHNNY ÓG CONNOLLY - Fear Inis Bearachain  
Cló Iar Chonnacht CICD206  

This button-box maestro pays homage here to his father Johnny Connolly, one of the kings of Irish melodeon. Ireland traditionally had several kings, but not so many melodeon-players in recent years: Johnny Óg himself favoured the B/C button accordion, but his father was a virtuoso on the single-row melodeon. With his father's tragic illness, Johnny Óg turned back to the humble melodeon and overcame its challenges to make this moving and inspiring album of his father's music and his own. Classics such as The Sligo Maid and The Silver Spear jostle good-naturedly with Connemara favourites like Pota Mór Fataí and Cailleach An Airgid. Oddities from the English and American melodeon repertoire include The Keel Row and Kimmel's which I know as The Champion. Johnny Óg adds his own variations to several pieces here, and produces a showpiece version of the hornpipe, The Brown Coffin. Other selections are based on the playing of P J Conlon and Marcus Hernon among others. Johnny Óg also includes nine of his own fine tunes.

The melodeon playing is a fitting homage to Johnny Óg's father, with its characteristic staccato rhythms and arpeggio ornaments. It is supplemented by flute, fiddle and banjo on about half the tracks here, and accompanied expertly on guitar and mandocello. Johnny Óg switches to the two-row box for his slow air, Caoineadh Aisling Na nGael, unaccompanied, dedicated to his father. There's a lovely lullaby too, and a pair of charming waltzes, contrasting with the reels, jigs, barndances and hop-jigs. Fear Inis Bearachain ends with unusual versions of three well-known jigs: The Blackthorn Stick, Humours Of Glendart and Páidín Ó Raifeartaigh, rattled out in fine style on box and banjo. This is an enjoyable CD, a memorable album, and a landmark recording in the Connolly family tradition. It's also a spur to go back and listen again to Johnny Connolly's own recordings from a few years ago. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 128 of The Living Tradition magazine.