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STEVIE DUNNE - Live At The Crosskeys Inn  

STEVIE DUNNE - Live At The Crosskeys Inn  
Private Label SDB003  

After two excellent studio albums, Stevie Dunne is rapidly becoming Belfast's banjo king. He's joined for this live recording by Brian McGrath, Cyril O'Donoghue, Gerdy Thompson and John Joe Kelly, as fine a backing band as you could wish for, but there's no safety net for Stevie as the banjo carries the melody unaided. Reels, jigs, reels, reels, jigs, and more reels: that's pretty much the pattern for the first eight tracks. Well you wouldn't expect slow airs on a banjo, would you? Stevie switches to tenor guitar for the WB Yeats version of Sally Gardens, and he does throw in a couple of hornpipes before the end, but otherwise it's fast and furious all the way.

Don't misunderstand me - there's no risk of boredom here, every piece is exciting and Stevie works his musical magic repeatedly. Mr Dunne's banjo sparkles on Jim Donoghue's, Maids At The Spinning Wheel, Fergal O'Gara and Cahir's Slippery Jig: he improvises brilliantly on Peter O'Byrne's FancyThe Red Haired Lad (dedicated to Ed Sheeran) and many more. There's an enviable lightness of touch in O'Flaherty's and Off To California, and a thumping drive to the final pair of steamhammer reels. A good half dozen of Stevie's own compositions are fitted in along the way, plus a few less familiar tunes from other musicians. It's all good, the best of banjo, with added atmosphere from the bar fights and bowsies in the background. If you only buy one banjo album this year, that's probably a good decision - but do consider this one!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 126 of The Living Tradition magazine.