John McSherry & Dónal O'Connor - Tripswitch

John McSherry & Dónal O'Connor
Vertical Records VERTCD076

In a nutshell: an album of fantastic tunes, brilliantly played! You could analyse the time signatures and tempo changes of these exciting tunes (many co-composed by McSherry and O'Connor, others traditional arrangements) till the cows come home, but what's the point? This is a glorious forty minutes' listen from start to finish, overflowing with crisp, clear guitars, very fine percussion, expressive fiddle and keyboard playing from Dónal O'Connor (son of Gerry), and the masterly flute, whistle and uilleann pipe playing of John McSherry. Last time I heard McSherry was on his excellent 'At First Light' venture with Michael McGoldrick. This album has equally strong impact, and if anything, it's all the more enjoyable for its varied instrumentation, which brims with energy.

Paul McSherry, Tony Byrne, Rubén Bada, and Gilles le Bigot play an array of guitars and bouzoukis, and create a rhythmic, 'pulsing' acoustic sound - so satisfying and enjoyable at times that you feel you could 'strip away' the lead instruments and just enjoy the strings! Shaun 'Mudd' Wallace makes a real impact on percussion too. It's very rewarding to chance upon albums that introduce the best Celtic musicians from other countries to a new audience - as here, with Breton guitarist LeBigot, and Asturian bouzouki player Bada. There are just eight tracks here, but there isn't a single tune that fails to engage my attention and interest, or reveal the empathy between all the musicians.

Title track 'Tripswitch' is an ambient slow reel that showcases the talents of every performer, and reveals the intuitive playing of both lead musicians as pipes and fiddle meld seamlessly. 'Spanish 5's' is a beautiful, sensual set of 5/8 dance tunes from Salamanca and Segovia - the time signatures are supposed to make you 'dance like a lame person'! The low whistles of 'Antón' somehow convey an ethereal feel, and 'Áille's Arabesque', John's celebration of his daughter, effortlessly combines slip jig and double jig and features fine harmonium playing by Dónal. The reel sets are simply outstanding - 'Rose in the Gap', 'Sean Maguire's, and the 'Commonalty Set'

'Tripswitch' succeeds in sounding fresh, exciting and innovative where rival contemporary Celtic instrumental albums fail to turn you on. Consummate musicianship, outstanding tunes - acoustic perfection.

Debbie Koritsas

And a second view by another reviewer:-

Belfast maverick piper and Dundalk fiddle prodigy: you'd expect fireworks, and that's what you get. Tripswitch is much more than that, though. Alongside the storming traditional reels and modern global-folk showpieces, there's a lot of very thoughtful and deeply satisfying music here. There could be more, of course - forty minutes is rather short - but I'm sure there'll soon be a follow-up from this duo.

John and Dónal start with The Rose in the Gap, a powerful march in the sparse rhythmic style of Lúnasa's Lord Mayo, then the first reels storm in: Old Dudeen and The First Month of Spring. Fiddle and pipes are as tight as a pair of '80s jeans, and that's the way they stay. More reels follow from Tommy Peoples, Sean McGuire and John Doherty, some of Ireland's greatest fiddlers. Charlie Mulvihill's Reel, Drag Her Round the Road and Iniscealtra are three more well-known reels, powerful thundering ones for the most part.

Jigs don't get a look-in until the final track, with John's composition Áille's Arabesque and the classic Tell Her I Am whose name is explained here at last. The title track is one of several evocative slower pieces, including the bittersweet air Both Ghé and the sultry Muñeira d'Antón. Spain is also represented in a pair of upbeat tunes, a charrada and a corrido expertly transferred to the pipes, with fiddle and low whistle: very tasty.

Tripswitch belongs in the category of modern, full-on, carefully polished studio albums mixing Irish roots with world music offshoots. It also overflows from that category into the living breathing Irish tradition, and could soon be as much a part of the Celtic establishment as Lúnasa or Skyedance. That's quite an achievement. The live show is something special too. On stage as a four-piece, with double-barrelled pipes from Francis McIlduff, the energy flows fast and strong.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 70 of The Living Tradition magazine.