Erin go Bragh! Celtic music is fun any time of the year but on St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone is talking like a leprechaun and drinking green beer, there’s nothing like an Irish lilt to get the party started. The new music recommended below is as authentically Irish as you can get; all of the performers are based in Ireland. So go ahead and give these selections a big kiss-me-I’m-Irish smooch; it’s guaranteed they’re going to kiss you back.
The Henry Girls “December Moon” – Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin are the Henry Girls and their voices blend in sweet harmony throughout this generous 14-song offering of mostly original folk/pop tunes. True to the roots of tradition-informed music though not everything here is lyrically bright and sunny and in fact some of the album’s best songs come from the dark side; haunting album opener “Sing My Sister Down” is about murder and the delicate “Rain and Snow” is about abandonment, literally and figuratively. The girls are multi-instrumentalists, here playing harp, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, guitar and more including the bodhran (Celtic drum.) Includes a sprightly, accordion-enhanced cover of Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives.”
Realta “Open the Door for Three” – Two of this band’s three members play the uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes) and boy do they play them here on the Realta debut album, jamming hard on the “Girl of the House/Tom Busby’s/The Bashful Maid/The Flitch of Bacon” medley of jigs and trading licks with whistles on the medley of reels “Jimmy’s Return/John Brennan’s/Trip to Cullenstown.” The album is mostly instrumental but vocalist Deidre Galway sings on a few tunes and in English on “Gathering Mushrooms.”
Fidil “The Old Wheel of Fortune” – You guessed it, Fidil is a fiddle band, here interpreting songs that are favorites in Ireland like the Gaelic wedding song known in English as “The Bargain is Over,” the downbeat hop jig “The Rocky Road to Dublin” and from County Donegal, the oft-covered reel “The Pigeon on the Gate.” The whimsical “Shoe the Donkey” is so beloved that here Fidil offers two versions seamlessly segued together.
Lunasa “Lunasa with the RTE Concert Orchestra” – With only a couple of exceptions every tune presented here is traditional and most “songs” are in fact a trio of songs; “Spoil the Dance” for example is a medley consisting of “Michael McDermott’s,” “Tuttles Reel” and the titular “Spoil the Dance.” The orchestration for the most part is mellow and in the background but with copious use of uilleann pipes, tin whistle, flute and fiddle, this offering is pure Ireland. Includes a nice take on Pierre Bensusan’s “The Last Pint.”
Mairtin O’Connor Band “Going Places” – This fiddle-accordion-guitar trio presents a mix of covers, original material and interpretations of traditional songs here, starting the fun with the extra-lively accordion-driven “Trip to Turk,” a tune inspired by the band’s many trips to the sparsely-populated Irish island of Inishturk. Some of the traditional tunes, all instrumentals, include “The Monaghan Jig,” “The Geese in the Bog” and the hoe down-ish title cut. The one vocal cut here is the gospel-flavored “The Water is Wide” sung by band member Seamie O’Dowd and guests Tommy Emmanuel and Aminah Hughes.
Toner Quinn & Malachy Bourke “Live at the Steeple Sessions” – This six song sampler features Quinn playing solo on one track and Bourke playing solo on one track; otherwise the two fiddlers jam together on traditional tunes like “Ryan’s Slip Jig,” “Clancy’s Dream,” “The Cordial Jig” and “If There Weren’t Any Women in the World.” The EP is not overly boisterous but that doesn’t mean this isn’t dance music; tunes like “Harry O” may be stripped down but everything here is perfect to shake your shamrock to.
Want to see some of these great players perform on their home turf? Find help in planning your trip to Ireland at the Tourism Ireland website.