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Private Label LGBH2012

You can be fairly certain that any recording featuring Len Graham’s singing will be good. After all, this is a man who won the 1971 Senior All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na h?ireann traditional singing competition and later on the US Irish Music Award in 2008. Here he gets together with another singer, with whom I was less familiar, who has also achieved both these accolades. Brian Ó hAirt took the All-Ireland in 2002 and the US award in 2009. Neither man has anything to prove in terms of singing ability and it shows on this recording.

Recorded a couple of years ago, the tracks rely to a large extent on Len’s repertoire, but that’s not to say that Brian hasn’t put his own stamp onto the songs. And don’t assume that it’s all singing either; as well as Len’s excellent lilting, he also adds percussion with what he describes in the sleeve notes as “a lovely pair of wooden spoons”. Brian weighs in with some fine whistle playing and gives us his own percussive offering in the form of some sean-nós stepping on a couple of tracks.

The CD starts with Eddie Butcher’s Adam In Paradise, beautifully sung at a relaxed pace, as are many of the songs here, and like Paddy’s Return which follows it, is the fruit of Len’s intensive collecting during the 1960s. It comes as a surprise (although it shouldn’t) to realise how many great singers of the past Len knew and sang with – and what good use he made of his time with them.

There is only one solo song; Brian’s English language version of Molly Bán, which amply demonstrates his vocal abilities and the ease with which he deals with sean-nós style singing. There are three instrumental pieces, on two of which Brian’s whistle takes the lead, while Len lilts the other ‘instrumental’ while Brian steps to it, and the whole thing finishes off with the anthemic Níl Na Lá (in a translation by Len’s wife, Pádraigín Ní Uallacháin) which flows into a lilted and lively version of The Wind That Shakes The Barley, accompanied by a final piece of stepping.

In summary, you aren’t going to hear much here that you haven’t heard before, but you’ll have a job to find versions of some of these songs that are sung better, and the freshness that the combination of these two singers gives to these well-known songs makes this CD a real treat. I bet they’re good live!

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.