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Private Label URN001 

Forty new compositions by Hession are played here on harp and concertina by Coughlan and Cunningham, with superlative backing by the composer himself. Several of Carl's tunes have already become session standards or featured on recordings by other musicians, so there are flashes of familiarity here: Knefsky Prospect, Morning Gallop and a couple of others are old friends, but most are met here for the first time. There's a varied programme - reels and jigs are only the tip of it, with waltzes, polkas, and a few other forms included. Two tracks lean towards Carl's classical training: a leisurely minuet paired with the waltz, Sprightly Spring, drafting in violin and cello for a late Baroque feel before the concertina cuts in, and the dreamy Celtic Storm medley which has a similar structure.

Eimear and Francis handle all this music with aplomb - I don't think Carl’s piano takes the melody line at all, and both harp and concertina are rock solid throughout. Interpretation and expression are hard to judge, as most of the tunes will have been new to this young duo and the majority of Úrnua is up-tempo dance music played in tight unison. There are three slow reels which leave some room for individual flair, and there is a wonderful lightness and flow to the tunes throughout, but no showy solos. The Ballybrit Dip is a fine example, and other high points for me were the polka Tim The Gardener and the jig Rambles Of Mike. Carl Hession sticks to straight measures and sociable major keys in general, and his melodies fit easily into the canon of Irish music - it would be nice to hear more of the minor keys and modal cadences, maybe next time. For now, as the name suggests, Úrnua provides plenty of shiny new material for listeners and players alike. There's a tune book available too.

Alex Monaghan


This review appeared in Issue 131 of The Living Tradition magazine