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JOHN MCKENNA - The Music And Life Of John McKenna: The Buck From The Mountain

JOHN MCKENNA - The Music And Life Of John McKenna: The Buck From The Mountain
John McKenna Society MCKSOC002

In 1978, The John McKenna Society was founded with the intention of preserving the musical legacy of this great Leitrim flute player. Over the years they have done this through several different projects, but this release, a double CD of the complete discography of McKenna, re-mastered and presented with a book of extensive biographical and musical notes, sees the Society complete a very special two-year venture, commemorating this remarkable man.

44 tracks with a total running time of well over two hours, the CDs bring together for the first time all of McKenna’s commercial recordings from the 1920s and 30s, made during his years living in New York. They have been lovingly re-mastered by Harry Bradshaw, and although the evidence of the limitations of the recording process at that time is evident, and some tracks fare better than others, they have been brought into the 21st century for us with precision and care. The tracks are, in the main, McKenna’s flute, accompanied by piano, with various other instruments (such as James Morrison’s fiddle and Michael Gaffney’s banjo), but contain some lilting and even a song.

The accompanying book is an essential part of the release. It has been finished to the highest quality and contains 104 pages of notes to accompany the CDs. It contains a fascinating account of McKenna’s life, which gives a real insight into the man rather than being a dry, merely historical account. It also includes extensive notes on the music played – a technical discussion of McKenna’s style and that of his accompanists, details of the tunes themselves and their previous ‘sightings’ and a section on John’s legacy and the influence he had on Irish music in general. These are accompanied by some great old photos, mainly sourced from the McKenna family themselves.

This is a very important historical release and a large team of people has had a hand in making it happen, but special mention must go to Sean Gilrane whose comprehensive research over the past few years has made this project come to fruition.

I think Roscommon flute player, Patsy Hanly, sums it up well when writing about John McKenna’s influence: “One cannot but feel the excitement and exuberance in the music of McKenna. This is the music of his own native place, coming directly from the heart, as he played in a place which, in the 1920s and 30s, was so far from home. This was not of the finely honed type of music where the technicality was the main goal, but a style which evolved naturally among the many flute and fiddle players of his own locality, and echoed among his native Whinny Hills, a place where hearty flute playing is still treasured.”

Fiona Heywood

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This album was reviewed in Issue 103 of The Living Tradition magazine.