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Belfast-based band The Rapparees have everything going for them it seems, with a healthy reputation as a must-see live act to boot. Certainly it can be said that together Gerard McNeill (guitar, tenor banjo, bouzouki), Conor McCaffrey (guitar, tenor guitar, tenor banjo, mandolin), Joseph McKeague (fiddle, viola) and Kevin Mawdsley (fiddle, cello, viola, whistle) make a commendable noise, and on Re:Session, their third album, they’re augmented by Eamon Murray (percussion) and Liam Bradley (piano, keyboards) and a small number of other guest musicians including flute/pipes player Barry Kerr. Accomplishment and character are key features of their sound and their musicianship is both keen and involving.

Re:Session is a collection of songs that have Ulster as a common theme, whether written by Ulster musicians or concerning the province itself, whether drawn from the tradition (Sliabh Gallion Braes, The Banks Of Kilrea) or contemporary writing. In the latter category we encounter Alan Burke & Tim Potts’ Derry Gaol, one by Solas’ Eamon McElholm (Someday You Will See) and two by Barry Kerr (Mother Earth’s Revenge and the drinking-song starter Clear Bottle) while band members Gerard and Conor contribute one song apiece. Principal vocal duties tend to fall to Joseph or Gerard, with Conor taking the lead on his own composition The Stranmillis Fox, while Co. Kerry singer Pauline Scanlon duets with Joseph on Belfast Mountains.

Altogether, Re:Session provides a well-rounded collection of songs, well interpreted, which just for good measure also includes at strategic points a couple of tune-sets that for the most part comprise modern compositions (three by Conor himself and one each by Caoimhin Vallely, Damien O’Kane and Sean Og Graham). So why in the end do I fail to get wildly excited by this accessible, expertly played (and very well-engineered) record? Even after several plays, I can’t quite answer that, for there’s nothing actually amiss with this well-organised and coordinated offering – maybe it’s just that I need to catch the band live.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.