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CARMEL GUNNING - Cathair Shligigh 

CARMEL GUNNING - Cathair Shligigh 
Private Label 

Carmel is a whistle and flute player, composer, singer and teacher from Co Sligo. Here she presents a CD of mostly her own material, along with a handful of traditional tunes, on the whistle. It comprises jigs, reels, polkas, hornpipes, waltzes, a fling and a slow air – so plenty of interesting variation throughout.

Carmel’s whistle is accompanied on almost all the tunes by bodhrán maestro Junior Davey, another Co Sligo native. His bodhrán and bones are the only accompaniments and are always steady, interesting and entirely appropriate to what’s going on in the tune (and he gets just about as many notes out of the drum as Carmel does on the whistle!). The lack of other instrumentation really focusses your attention on the tunes and the playing, and the fact that it works so well is testament to the skills of both Carmel and Junior.

The whistle, in Carmel’s hands, is an instrument of joy. Her phrasing and ornamentation are impeccable, her tone sweet, and she uses enough decoration and variation to keep the tunes vibrant and alive without losing their flow. At full speed, she is a force to be reckoned with, and in the slower melodies she is expressive and appropriately restrained. She writes her compositions very much in a traditional style – they follow normal trad patterns and often use familiar phrases in new settings, making them feel familiar and comfortable, and maximising their potential to be picked up and played by others.

The CD ends with two tracks of archive recordings taken from kitchen sessions in the O’Dowd’s house in 1982, and include some of the people who have influenced and inspired Carmel, including Josie McDermott on flute. I’m not sure if Carmel is there or not, but honouring them on the CD in this way is a nice addition, even if these two tracks sit in contrast to the rest of the album slightly.

An album of mighty music and one from where a good few tunes could be gleaned by others.

Fiona Heywood


This review appeared in Issue 141 of The Living Tradition magazine