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Johnny B. Connolly "bridgetown" Green Linnet GLCD 1217
John Williams "Steam" Green Linnet GLCD 1215
Anders Trabjerg "Boxed" trabjerg001
Three master players of the button box, set out their stalls for approval by the record buying public. Not everyone's idea of a rummage sale, I hear you say, but pass these three by and you will miss out on some finely crafted work indeed.

Johnny B. Connolly is from Dublin, although for the last five years or so he has been in America playing and living around New York, Boston and Portland. He was a member of Anam and can be heard on their first CD, which is worth grabbing if you can still find it anywhere, the mix between himself on the bosca ceol and Brian O' hEadhra on guitar produced some memorable tracks.

On, "bridgetown", Johnny B. Connolly's first release on Green Linnet, he plays a number of sweeping sets in the company of Adain Brennan and Jim Chapman on guitar and bouzouki; Kevin Burke makes an admirable guest appearance on three tracks and Skip Parente adds fiddle viola and cello to track five, the longest track on the CD. Indeed this track, "Down the Hill/The Boys of Ballisodare/ Maids of Mount Cisco", at just over seven minutes shows many of the finer points of Connelly's playing. Other tracks to treat yourself to are, "The Heathery Glenn", "Sheanamhac Tube Station/The Robin's Nest", "Snowman's Fancy/Off to California" and the Musette, "Marcelle and Marcel". A meticulous player, following well planed and measured routes through all the tunes.

John Williams is by far the best known and most successful of these three box players, for his work as a soloist and with "Solas". He can also, "put the pedal to the metal", and when it comes to playing fast, he does and does and ..… He manages to always avoid coming a cropper when rushing through these tunes but somehow a de-railment by way of a sticking air valve or a sudden giving way of a shoulder strap might just be more exciting. Fast playing can get a bit too wearing and predictable for extended listening.

However, there is no denying that John Williams is a fine musician. On "Steam" there are tracks with jewel like clean lines, as with, "Seo Uileo Thoil & The Deer's March", " "Paddy Canny's Toast & Paddy Fahy's" and "Up in the Garrett & The Old Tipperary". There are also tracks, "Johnny O' Leary's & Patrick Maloney's Favourite" for starters, which can refresh like a gust of sea spray.

Williams also shows great versatility, playing button accordion, Anglo concertina, flute and whistle. Heard on the fine accompaniments are Liz Carroll on fiddle; Dennis Cahill on guitar; Seamus Egan on banjo and Paul Donnelly on bodhran. All adding up to a very well made and superbly recorded CD.

Anders Trabjerg is from the village of Hee, on the west coast of Denmark and started playing Danish traditional music on the button accordion and the continental accordion (often known as the five-row accordion) when he was seven. In 1996 he moved to Co. Galway to study the traditional music of Ireland with the aid of a grant from the Danish Government.

The lead and inspiration for Anders Trabjerg's playing has come from the older style Irish players, Joe Cooley in particular, but he also has a liking for the playing of Martin O'Connor and Tony Mac Mahon. Indeed this freer and warmer humoured approach to the performance of traditional music fills this recording with entertainment, an ingredient which is a bit lacking in the CDs of both Connolly and Williams.

More entertaining indeed, but Anders is no less skilful in the playing or interpretation of the material. The five-row continental is a different beast from the two-row or the melodeon. The mechanics, reed layout and playing system are more akin to a piano key accordion. Anders treats us to a small taste of Scandinavian music on the five-row - compositions of grandeur and elegance. The bulk of the CD, however, is from the equally grand and elegant, Irish Tradition. Anders Trabjerg can rattle reels out with the best and make every incidental and grace note count. Try a sample of the first track, "Eel in the Sink/Imelda Roland's/ Sporting Nell". His playing takes on a statesman like quality in the hornpipes, "From Galway to Dublin/ The Blackbird", while jigs, "Up Sligo/ Connie the Soldier/ Jackie Small's Jig", have that comforting sureness of pace. Accompaniments from Nial McQuad on bodhran and Verena Cummins on keyboards blend in well and are an added treat.

Three great players, three great CDs. Each has its own strengths so try to hear a track or two before you buy. For myself, the fine playing, warmth and affable nature of Anders Trabjerg's "Boxed" wins every time.

Peter Fairbairn.

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This album was reviewed in Issue 47 of The Living Tradition magazine.