By Jamie O’Brien
Marie-Therese McCartin — Another April Day
(MTM Records MTMCD001)
I wasn’t sure what to make of this instrumental album when it first arrived. I’ll be honest, the first listening did not grab me and as a result, Another April Day kind of slipped to the bottom of the pile. But regular readers of this column will know that everything that arrives here gets a fair chance, even if priorities might lie elsewhere.
So recently, I began playing the CD again. And again. And again. And I found Marie-Therese McCartin has a wonderful touch on piano. She also has a great belief in the melodies. She also chooses excellent pieces to present.
There is a good mix of originals, standards and contemporary tunes here. She includes just enough of the familiar to draw you in – “Rose of Tralee.” “Black is the Color” and “Homes of Donegal” among others—and then adds a few lesser-heard gems: the title track, “Love Thee Deerest” (sic) and more. The overall sound tends to the easy-listening end of things, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Here it is delightfully relaxing, with more than enough to demand your attention.
Naturally, her performance is a large part of that, but credit must also go to Frank McNamara, who not only produced and engineered the sessions, he also arranged the music. Using the National Symphony Orchestra of Radio Moldova, he has created a wide sound, full of warmth and interest, majestic here and there and occasionally dramatic, but always appropriate.
The musicians may be based miles from Ireland, but they are good: I particularly like the cameos played on concertina and the bass work.
Also appearing on the album are Cormac Juan Breathnach on low whistle—I was very impressed with his playing a few years back when he toured Pennsylvania—and the pipes of Obhran Cassidy (of Na Casaidigh). Used sparingly on the album, they are tremendously effective with what they do.
As a bonus, a 16th track is added—an alternate version of “Another April Day.” This time not an instrumental, but as a song. McCartin has a gentle, almost fragile voice, yet carries a lot of power in her singing. A former member of Anuna, she is noted not just as a pianist, but also as a singer and harpist. I’d like to have heard one or two more vocal versions, but even so I still like this album very much.
Orla Fallon — My Land
Orla Fallon knows what’s what. She opens My Land with one of the strongest versions of “Mo Ghile Mear” I’ve ever heard. It immediately grabs your attention and lets you know that this former Celtic Woman takes her music ever so seriously.
But a good opening track is only part of it: she follows it with a set of 10 more songs that really need to be heard. (Well, maybe not that many tracks in my opinion—there is one song I really cannot stand, but I guess that’s my problem, not yours. She still does it well. And anyway, I forgive her for including it because she follows it with a wonderful Bo Diddley-style version of “Ni Na La.” Excellent.
And that is one of the really good things about this album: she covers a lot of ground, performing traditional songs along with more contemporary ones. From that boppy “Ni Na La” to a moving, a capella “Down to The River” (remember “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”?) to a “Both Sides Now” that sounds like it was written for her to an almost-but-not-quite corny “Isle of Inishfree” (that high voice, the harp, the sweeping strings).
There is not only something here for everybody, but also everything works so well that if you like one track, you’ll love the entire album.
The singer and harp player is joined by the Wildwood Studio Orchestra, a couple of choirs and 11 other musicians. Guitars, bass, percussion and harp are here, along with pipes, accordion, whistle, fiddle and more. The approach of the album leans into a really appealing contemporary Celtic sound.
She is also joined by singer Tommy Fleming for a neat duet on “Red is the Rose” and by Damien Dempsey on a live version of “Tell Me Ma”; that track, along with “Spanish Lady,” also features the Dubliners. I’ve really fallen for this album
Naim Amor — Dansons
I couldn’t resist including this, the latest CD by French singer, guitarist and composer, Naim Amor. Dansons is 40 minutes or more of pure delight, a dozen songs of pure heaven by this inventive musician, accompanied by a handful of friends.
I first heard Amor in a French restaurant about five years ago, playing chansons with singer Marianne Dissard and I fell in love with their music instantly. Since then, I’ve delved deeper into their careers and discovered a whole new world of music.
A dynamic jazz guitarist, Amor also veers into a variety of other genres, as this album shows. His own particular approach, which is featured here, offers humor along with sensitivity and diversity. The opening track “Creole,” is a surprising experience, featuring his guitar work, along with percussion, bass, accordion and more; but the catchy tune hits home with more attractiveness with his whistling (I thought the art had died!)
He reaches into bossa nova, samba, chansons, folk and even experimental and surf. After establishing his credentials in various styles, he proceeds to extend boundaries as he takes you further along his musical road. Whether singing in English or French, it’s hard not to become immersed in the songs.
This is partly to do with his recording techniques. As with his live performance, he seems to use older equipment that brings in a warmth not always present with today’s modern microphones, speakers and so on. But the sound is not old fashioned, either, and that has a lot to do with the musicians’ playing.
Guitarist Matt Mitchell, Thorger Lund (bass), Arthur Vint on drums, accordionist Marco Rosano, Christian Ravaglioli (oboe), John Covertino (percussion) and Howe Gelb on Wurlitzer piano round out the instrumental side of things. Emilie Marchand also sings on a couple of songs. Amor wrote all but one of the tracks—the exception is the classic “Our Day Will Come.”
With my collection of his CDs (and a vinyl album—remember what I said about his recordings? He released an LP a few years back.), each one seems to be better than the last; except they all sound good. If you’ve not heard of Naim Amor, it’s time you became acquainted.
That’s it for this month. If you have problems finding any of these albums, do get in touch, c/o Irish Edition or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org