North Cregg - “Mi.Da:Za" - MMRCD1032

Well, the boys have made it to a second album intact, and they've even added banjoman Paul Meehan who guested on their debut CD. They've also won a couple of very prestigious awards along the way. Same line-up, same label, same producer in Niall Vallely, so how does the new album stack up alongside the old one? Firstly, it's slightly longer at 51 minutes. It also has fewer songs, so there's more of those cracking North Cregg instrumentals.

I thought at first that some of the wildness had gone out of the lads on this recording. The whole affair is a bit more polished, from the slightly staid set of polkas which opens Mi.da:za to the carefully considered clarinet on the Quebecois reel which ends track 2. However, it's clear that the spark is still there when North Cregg cut loose on the second set of reels. By the time we get to the hornpipes on two pianos, there's no longer any doubt: this is rollicking good music played with oodles of talent, and more full of life than a bucket of frogs.

The songs on this CD are all in the ballad style, and all fine examples. John Meville's own Young Jack Tanner can hold its head up next to respected compositions by Steve Tilston and Paul Metzers. The arrangements are catchy, and John is in fine voice. The downbeat treatment of Lord Franklin is a disappointment, though: this classic ballad doesn't want to be squeezed into a modern mid-altantic idiom.

The instrumental tracks on Mi.da:za outnumber the songs two to one. As you might expect from a Cork band, the reels take a back seat: it's the polkas, slides and jigs which really knock your socks off. The Race Classic polkas take some beating for excitement and musicality, comparable with the best of Reeltime. The Geese in the Bog set is another winner, a little more traditional but none the worse for that. The reels aren't too far behind, with Paul Meehan's solo on his own tune Nun's Walk a little gem, and Laurel's Reel is a great find.

North Cregg definitely have something special. On balance, Mi.da:za is even better than their terrific debut CD. All the teething problems have been ironed out, and the music is first class. I can't see any reason not to buy this one: there's even an explanation on the back for those who don't understand the title!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 45 of The Living Tradition magazine.