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Old Box Records OBR003

Born on St Patrick's Day, Pittsburgh native Dan Possumato has been playing Irish music for nearly 40 years. He's had a couple of albums released before this one and he's collected a fair number of friends to join him for Tunes Inside: no fewer than 16 musicians on fiddles, flutes, banjos, pipes and backing instruments. There are a dozen instrumentals and two songs with lead vocals by Mick Mulcrone who makes a fine job of the nautical classics Leave Her Johnny and Willie Taylor. The tunes are mainly traditional Irish, touching on Scotland and Quebec.

Two things struck me immediately about Dan's playing. The first is that the pace is often well below that of a typical session, there's no rush here, no ostentatious speed. The second is the unusually muscular and staccato style of Dan's button box technique. Both were explained to some extent when I realised that Mr Possumato plays melodeons, double-row and single-row non-chromatic boxes, rare instruments in traditional Irish music these days, although there are a few younger players now. The melodeon, as I'm sure you all know, imposes many more restrictions than the chromatic button accordion (B/C, C/C# etc), both in the mechanics of playing the melody and in the ornamentation which is possible. This accounts for some of the simplifications in tunes such as Trip To Hervé's or The Doberman's Wallet, and the relative jerkiness compared with chromatic players. There are a few ragged moments on The Captain And His Whiskers which might be due to the instrument or the player, and I don't feel Dan makes the most of the slow air opportunities offered by The Hut On Staffin Island and Valse Du Chef De Gare, both beautiful modern compositions slightly outside the Irish mainstream. On other pieces, Lad O'Beirne's and The Boys Of Malin for example, Dan has no problem fitting a tricky melody onto the melodeon at speed, and the effect is powerful indeed.

The quality of friends on this album is exceptional. Kevin Burke and Vince Burns on fiddles, Brian McGrath on banjo, Cal Scott on guitar and Eliot Grasso on the old horned sheep are probably the most recognisable names, but all the players here are of very high calibre. The choice of material is first rate too, with solid traditional favourites such as The Cameronian and Rosemary Lane plus several newer melodies including a jaunty Possumato polka The Derryloughan. If you have an interest in the melodeon, or follow North American Irish music at all, Tunes Inside is worth a gander. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 105 of The Living Tradition magazine.