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MARTIN McHUGH - The Master's Choice

MARTIN McHUGH - The Master's Choice
Private Label

Recorded perhaps just in time, this Irish American box player has been at the heart of the session scene in Minnesota for a generation or more. A native of County Roscommon, he seems to have been the only authentic source of Irish music in the area at one time, and his individual take on tunes remembered from his home place became the standard for a large body of enthusiastic learners. The Master's Choice is almost a window onto the process which took Irish dance music and turned it into Appalachian or French Canadian melodies through an evolutionary cycle of copying and adapting. All the pieces here are very recognisable, from Collier's to Muirsheen Durkin, but not one of them is quite as it is now played in Ireland.

Martin McHugh - or Marty as he is known - plays button box in a rhythmic and relatively unadorned style. He has taken a leaf out of Peter Horan's book, in leaving out superfluous notes and sticking to the bare bones of the tune. With more use of the bass buttons than most Irish box players, McHugh's style may suit dancers better than listeners, and is perhaps best appreciated at the core of a session where flutes or fiddles can embellish the basic melody. About half of this CD features the flutes and concertina of Laura MacKenzie alongside Marty, and it's clear that she has picked up his unusual versions of tunes such as Kitty's Wedding, Devaney's Goat, Tom Billy's Jig, The Abbey Reel and other classics. McHugh even puts his own stamp on the slide Padraig O'Keeffe's, popularised by Sharon Shannon as part of her Blackbird medley. With a couple of Scottish exiles, one song and some deft guitar accompaniment from Daithí Sproule, this recording provides close to an hour of vintage playing from an influential character who has obviously inspired many of Minnesota's younger musicians.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 109 of The Living Tradition magazine.