Ronan Browne & Peter O’Loughlin
Touch Me If You Dare
Ceirníní Cladaig/Claddagh Records (CCF35CD)
Touch Me If You Dare is the successor to Ronan Browne and Peter O’Loughlin’s 1988 release The South West Wind. At that time Tommy Potts congratulated them for their recording of ‘the unchanged music of our country with impeccable taste and balance’. Fourteen years on, this latest record does much to reinforce the sentiments of Potts, but also reminds us of the unique musical relationship between Browne and O’Loughlin, evident in a duet where very close settings of the tunes are heard and even ornaments occasionally appear to be synchronous.
Perhaps in attempting a definition of what might be considered good duet as opposed to solo playing, one could mention the importance of possessing an ability to anticipate and respond to variation and improvised gestures: what one musician hears at any moment can inform his choices from one phrase to the next and while controlling the degree to which lines converge or diverge, there is both a dialogue and singularity of purpose, the resulting music at any rate being very different in approach to that of solo playing. An obvious enough comment perhaps, but what we hear in the duet is players finding a space in which to explore unique and valuable musical interaction and not the simultaneous rendition of a shared repertoire.
On Touch Me If You Dare, Browne and O’Loughlin achieve a subtle change of colour by varying their instruments throughout while conspicuously choosing to avoid concert pitch . The record opens with B pipes and fiddle joining seamlessly on ‘The Mountain Lark’/’The Morning Star’ accompanied by wonderful use of regulators by Browne. The regulators continue to feature with great and at times playful effect throughout the recording.
‘An Buachaill Dreoite’ stands out as an example of the subtlety and grace employed by the two players in the flowing transition from fling into jig. So too does ‘Down the Back Lane’/’Fraher’s Jig’ where O’Loughlin plays B-flat fiddle and Browne’s skills as flautist are heard. He also plays a beautifully toned set ‘The Humours of Castlefinn’/’Kitty gone a’Milking’ later in the record.
O’Loughlin, also a great flautist, plays E-flat flute for three tracks, with fiddle player Maeve Donnelly, accompanied by Geraldine Cotter on piano. Donnelly adds viola to the previously mentioned ‘Fraher’s Jig’.
A track with O’Louglin and Browne on flute together seems inevitable, but on this occasion we are denied what would surely be an interesting meeting of styles. There is also an omission of slow airs, but only notable perhaps because we have come to expect their inclusion on traditional recordings.
However, none of this takes away from the vastness of repertoire on the recording – twenty-three tracks span almost 75 minutes of music, richly sourced from, among others, Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Bobby Casey, Frank O’Higgins, Andy Conroy, Patsy Touhy and the music of the Ballinakill Ceili Band. O’Loughlin has sourced five tunes from the band, most notably a two part version of ‘Lord Gordon’s Reel’.
The discerning listener will notice that some of the tunes listed are more commonly known by other names; ‘The Mountain Lark’ is usually known as ‘The Old Wheels of the World’ while ‘The Bunch of Keys’ is a more popular title for ‘The Mills are Grinding’, and musicians would most likely be more familiar with the title ‘Scotch Mary’ for what is here entitled ‘The Knocknagow Reel’.
Touch Me if you Dare was recorded in a cottage overlooking Galway Bay and the Burren. The ease displayed in the music may owe much to the setting in which it was recorded, but Browne and O’Loughlin already proved that their music defied any possible drawbacks of an urban surrounding when they made their debut in a commercial studio back in 1988. We look forward to the next recording.
Published on 1 May 2003