FRANKIE GAVIN "Fierce Traditional" Tara Music TARACD4011
Frankie Gavin is one of the finest fiddlers of the early 20th century, no mean achievement for a man who wasn't even born until 1956. To compensate for not getting born in time, Frankie has led a small but significant movement to recreate the style and sound of Irish music from early recordings. Frankie Gavin and De Dannan, John Carty and At The Racket, and one or two others, have brought the music of Michael Coleman, James Morrison, Patsy Touhey and others back to life in recent years, helped by the sterling work of archivists and restorers of old recordings. This new recording is unsurpassed in both technical and artistic merit. The sleeve notes give detailed information on written sources and early performances, and most of the generous eighteen tracks have that crisp, no-nonsense flamboyance associated with the early recording stars of Irish music.

There are some modern touches, of course. Gone are the crackles and pops of the old 78s, and the tunes needn't be played at breakneck speed because nowadays the wire won't run out in a hurry. There's also a greater depth of tone: today's musicians may have the benefit of better instruments or better maintenance, or the difference may all be due to the ravages of time. It would be fascinating to compare this CD with a pristine recording from the 1930s, or even a recording of Morrison or Coleman made with today's technology: perhaps their tone would be as good or even better.

In 56 minutes (one for every year Frankie missed of the 20th century), "Fierce Traditional" reworks some of the most well-known and oft- recorded tunes in Irish history: "The Foxhunter's", "The Flogging", "The Mason's Apron", "The Wheels of the World", "Lucy Campbell", "Jenny Picking Cockles", and that's just the reels. There's no elaborate modern production, just Frankie with Brian McGrath (piano and banjos), familiar sideman Alec Finn (bouzouki), and brother Sean Gavin on the button box. There's a bit of double-tracking to get Frankie's flute and fiddle onto some tracks, but that's as fancy as it gets. And the results are magnificent: the dance music is full of vigour, the slow airs are bittersweet like the memories they represent, and it's all as fresh as if it had never been heard before - even "The Mason's Apron"!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 47 of The Living Tradition magazine.