CD Review: Neill Lyons – Skins & Sins
Skins & Sins
Lyonsie Records NCLD001
The life of a bodhrán player can be a lonely one: constantly searching for a musical partner; often maligned by instrumental prejudice; without session civil-rights; without much of a recorded history or long standing lineage. Yes it could be lonely, but here on this recording Neill Lyons has surrounded himself with a group of fifteen talented friends with whom he explores his own abilities and the continued refinements of his chosen instrument.
Skins & Sins belongs to that short list of albums of Irish traditional music which feature the bodhrán as the main, leading instrument. Such a collection automatically raises the question of how the balance will be struck between highlighting a background instrument while meeting the expectations and balances of the group setting. However, once you listen to Lyons’ playing you realise that in the hands of a master a bodhrán is not a background instrument, but an extension of the tunes. These extensions are perfectly highlighted in the duo moments of this album. Whether with Éamonn de Barra on ‘Mick Coyne’s’, Alan Byrne on ‘Courtown Harbour’ or Paul McNevin on ‘The King’s Reel’, Lyons’ bodhrán continually forms complete partnerships; these unions find him laying a bed of rhythm and tone which concentrate one’s perception of the tune.
Included among this collection of traditional standards are two dedicated bodhrán tracks. One is a solo piece which gives Lyons room to reveal the subtleties of his playing and to set standards for the instrument. The second of these tracks, ‘Brother Fusion’, presents a rhythmic exchange between Neill and his younger brother Conor. This closing track departs from the traditional Irish content of the other ten and removes the listener to another space; one which has been expanding ever since Tommy Hayes recorded the solo track ‘The Post Man’ during his time with Stockton’s Wing. On these tangents this drum, locked within a melodic-tradition, has been given space to explore the voice it never had; are these the sounds of a bodhrán dreaming?
The precision and brevity of Lyons’ strokes are mirrored in the exactitude of these eleven tracks. Most of the tunes are only played through once which results in a mere 28 minutes of music, but it is music full of momentum. With Skins & Sins expectation and deliverance are matched exactly as this champion player presents not one false beat or weak track, but instead raises the standing of this often abused instrument.
Published on 1 January 2009