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National Library Of Australia RDZ001

Nothing could cause more excitement among the tight-knit extended family of musicians and followers of Donegal traditional music than word that some fiddle-playing luminary of the past was back from the dead. Well that’s not quite what has happened this time, but it’s the next best thing.

Out West is a CD of unaccompanied fiddle music, solo and duet, with Mick Doherty joined on many tracks by Australian native and former pupil Robert Zielinski. A fine fiddle player in his own right, Zielinski pushed the buttons to make this disc happen and deserves credit for that achievement.

Having only recently revealed his personal and musical lineage, the release of a CD of Doherty’s music has been eagerly awaited in Donegal music circles and elsewhere.

Doherty is 88 years old, and has lived for most of his life in Perth, Western Australia. Son of Hugh, nephew of John, Mickey and Simon - masterful fiddle players and tinsmiths all - travelling people, revered and celebrated to this day in their old stomping grounds mainly south of the Gweebarra river back in Donegal.

The collection does not disappoint, although production is somewhat makeshift. The recordings, made as they were in Doherty’s shed, are occasionally marred by background noise, but sound quality is satisfactory generally. One tune is repeated in the collection with two different titles. Information on the tunes is a little less than we are used to, or would like perhaps, but the introductory texts in the notes are excellent. The overall package is a nice introduction and indeed a fitting tribute to the music of this prodigal son of Donegal music.

Reels and jigs predominate, with a smattering of the various dance tune rhythms characteristic of Doherty’s native tradition thrown in, highlands being notable by their absence. The older approach whereby tunes are presented on their own as opposed to being grouped in sets is the norm. A highlight is surely the beautiful rendition of Mac Sweeney’s Lament, a slow air said to have been composed by a Doherty of former times.

Doherty’s fiddle style is intriguing, echoing faithfully time and again the music of his native place and people after a lifetime across the waves. His command of the instrument, given his advanced years, is remarkable. An enjoyable and historically important release, in the literal sense this collection is the musical statement of a lifetime.

Mick Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 93 of The Living Tradition magazine.