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Playing harp and concertina, Aisling Lyons first came to my attention with the (soon to be) world famous all-star Irish band, 3 On The Bund. It's no surprise that she's already released her solo debut album, beating the band by a few months. The CD cover is lovely - artist Sorrell Reilly has taken a leaf from Lyle Lovett's songbook, but instead of a pony on the boat we have trees and bushes growing around a seaborne harpist and her "Crann nan Teud".

There's such variety here in the rhythm, texture, emotion, sources and ages of the pieces Aisling has chosen. Three harp tracks cover everything from reels to airs - Pigtown, one of my favourites, paired with The West Clare Reel from the Lyons home county, plus a couple of cheery hop jigs contrasting with the sadness of Aisling's own Tune For Dad. The first concertina set starts with another of Aisling's compositions - there are at least 10 on this recording, all fine tunes - and adds a couple of classic Irish jigs. The little-known Carolan waltz Cremonea - perhaps from his Italian period - brings us back to the harp, and we're soon into folk jazz with the funky Itchy Fingers. Although it's relatively common nowadays for harpists to play complex pieces, providing both melody and accompaniment to a degree which is rare on other instruments, it's worth remembering the extraordinary skill and dexterity required to pluck a piece by Jeremy Kittel or Cormac Breathnach for example: Ms Lyons makes it seem easy!

Hornpipes from Tyneside and Limerick, swing-style jigs and reels, tunes from Scotland and Paraguay of course, more Lyons originals, a couple more concertina tracks and another poignant harp air - there's so much to appreciate on Aistear. A number of other great musicians chip in, but this album really is a solo achievement, harp and concertina keeping my full attention throughout an exceptional CD.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 142 of The Living Tradition magazine