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Vertical Records VERTCD111

It's been a while since this Manchester flute maestro's last “solo” album - this is his fifth in 22 years, which is not a bad average for a folk musician. Arc has been a long time coming though: Mike first spoke to me about it in Glasgow in early 2010, when he had just released Aurora. His concept then was of a more McGoldrick-centred album in terms of the material - his own compositions, his traditional Irish roots, his other influences since Toss The Feathers - but performed by a band of like-minded musicians rather than a backing group. That idea seems to have been realised after eight years of collecting material and choosing collaborators. The reason I put “solo" in scare quotes is because there are over 20 performers here, some only on one or two tracks but most appearing on a fair chunk of this album, and everyone contributing to the overall feel and flow of Arc.

McGoldrick doesn't step away from the mic - far from it - but he does give equal space to Emma Sweeney, Tony O'Connell, Gerry O'Connor, Greg Lawson, Neil Yates, Donald Shaw and others, as well as a cameo track featuring Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. Although her Bakanoba is an outlier on this recording - the only song, the only live performance, the only piece with no real hooks into Irish traditional music - it does illustrate the approach here. Mike's flute is stunning, fitting right into the mood of Malian music, not taking over, and forming the bridge between Fatou's singing and Gerry O'Connor's equally outstanding banjo. The same is true of the duet with Emma's fiddle on John Kelly's Concertina, a medley of three traditional reels delivered in that smooth Manchester mild style. Five And Drive is funkier, jazzier, with percussion and trumpet blasts supporting the low whistle. There's a whole dance band behind Wassalou River, harking back to McGoldrick's Fused album.

Mike McGoldrick's own brilliance is understated here, but he has crafted an exceptional album and produced enough new music to keep listeners and performers happy for at least a year or two.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 124 of The Living Tradition magazine.