Máirtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd

Máirtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd

Máirtín O’Connor, Cathal Hayden and Seamie O’Dowd – Crossroads (MCSCD001)

The first full CD from this trio of renowned traditional performers, who have been playing together and recording for a number of years, is an invigorating and eclectic one. Or perhaps I should say apparently eclectic – whether there’s anything really remarkable or surprising any more about the mélange of voices and sources here is arguable. This is not to suggest that there is a sense of ennui about this recording, or any lack of excitement: the playing is exhilarating and full of energy, and Crossroads contains some of accordionist O’Connor’s finest tune-smithing to date. And unlike his solo recordings, which show off fully his fecund imagination, there is a bedrock of thoroughbred traditional tunes grounding the production.

Having said that, my recollection of a thrilling live performance on the tenth anniversary of TG4’s traditional-music television programme Geantraí led me to skip straight to ‘The Geantraí Set’. Getting reacquainted with these new reels reaffirms their greatness. Hayden on fiddle leads off on the first tune, holding back just the right amount at the start to allow the tempo to gradually build over the set. O’Connor’s and guitarist O’Dowd’s chording in the second half is wonderfully quirky and fresh, and this keeps the tension building up until the arrival of the second tune – these are examples of that rare breed of tune that demand to be learnt and played on first listen. The same can be said of the ingenious ‘Begley’s Frolics’, part of a sparkling set of polkas, complete with a mischievous James Bond introduction. And although they are sometimes witty, I did feel that the styles of introduction used were somewhat over-elaborate and over-used throughout the CD, and at times don’t really add anything to the track that follows. It is perhaps because of this that the two-reel set towards the end of Crossroads stand out – without wanting to sound too much of a purist, here the two musicians are heard unmediated from the outset, without the distraction of a preceding riff to set the scene. Aside from this minor reservation, O’Dowd is on fine form, skipping effortlessly between different styles and approaches, and contributing three strong songs. The highlight of these is the closing ‘As I Roved Out’, which is delivered by O’Dowd with a raw sincerity, and is beautifully supported by O’Connor’s solemn accordion drones. These develop into a powerful coda, which brings Crossroads to a close with a soundscape whose grandeur befits the depth of emotion in the song.

Published on 1 December 2009

Adrian Scahill is a lecturer in traditional music at Maynooth University.

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