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LUKE DANIELS - The Mighty Box

LUKE DANIELS - The Mighty Box
Wren Records WRCD2011

The title is a suitable description for the elegantly constructed white box housing the two CDs constituting this amazing magnum opus from accordionist Luke Daniels. The statistics themselves are astonishing to anyone familiar with recording work. 71 tracks (compiled from traditional Irish music manuscript collections, other contemporary musicians’ sessions and recorded output, and eight of Luke’s own compositions) amounting to almost 110 minutes of music recorded over two days at a studio in County Sligo in, as Luke self-confessedly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, puts it, “a playing marathon I am unlikely to repeat!”

The wide assemblage of tunes embraces strathspeys, reels, jigs, slip jigs, hornpipes, slides and other Irish tunes spanning over three centuries and resonant with wider Celtic echoes, Cape Breton in particular. The pieces, each of which is described in detailed tune notes based on research at the Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, are organised in an array of 24 tune sets that must assure Luke’s perpetual place in the pantheon of great box players.

Consistent agility, fluidity and dynamic sense characterise his playing of a button accordion with the keyboard tuned to A/Bb allowing him to present the traditional tunes in conventional keys but using intricate fingering patterns that provide a refreshing originality. His playing forms the foreground of a beautifully balanced soundscape with, equally consistently, excellent and empathetic accompaniment from, in the main, Seamie O’Dowd (guitars – steel strung, 12 string and resonator; harmonica and fiddle), Junior Davey (bodhrán) Dennis Cahill (guitar and cittern) and Rick Foot (double bass). The recording has a very live feel and is of such a clear quality as to suggest the musicians are in the room playing for you!

This album is a truly great achievement by this ever imaginative, interesting and versatile player imbued with an innate sense of Irish traditional music and the wider Gaelic tradition but open to contemporary ways of reinterpretation and arrangement. Personally, I’ve a modest interest in the button accordion as an instrument but found myself in no way tired or distracted at relentless exposure to so much instrumental tune music. The intricate melodic detail and rhythmic intensity of the music is both magnetic and compelling; indeed I challenge anyone to listen to it and sit still!

Kevin T Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 90 of The Living Tradition magazine.