OIRIALLA
Lughnasa Music LUGCD965, www.oiriallamusic.com
10 tracks, 53 minutes

This should be a traditional music fan's dream - Gerry "fiddle" O'Connor, Nuala Kennedy on flute and vocals, accordionist Martin Quinn, and Breton guitarist Gilles Le Bigot. In many ways it is exactly that: great tunes, many of them obscure, and four songs which combine Irish English and Scots Gaelic. The group takes its name from the area between Louth and Armagh, spanning North and South, a traditional haunt of bards and bandits, musicians and marauders, sometimes known as Oriel. Most of Oirialla's music has associations with that region - there are references in the notes to the Northern Fiddler collection, and the Dance Music of Ireland volumes, but also to MFC and OF. I eventually worked out that LD must mean Luke Donellan's collection Dance Music of Oriel: this seems to be a major source for the tunes here. I gather Gerry and others are involved in research projects to interpret and distribute Donellan's material. There are a few modern compositions here too - by P/M Donald MacLeod, Mike Vass, Liz Carroll and Donald Angus Beaton - and Nuala wrote the melody for one song, but the rest is firmly traditional.

From Delvinside to MacLeod of Mull many tunes on this recording would be familiar to Scottish musicians as well as to the Ulster Scots and the Ulster Irish musicans here, but despite a strong Scottish influence this is mainly Irish music. Reels and jigs are the norm, and there are some smashers: McFadden's Own Reel, The Ladies' Pantaloons, Duffy's Reel and the wonderful five-beat jig Cathal Mac Aodha among others. What this album lacks at times is the feeling that these are tunes which the musicians have known for decades, absorbed at sessions and dances. At times the sense is more of a documentary than a dance, a history lesson rather than a local session. This is not the case with Nuala Kennedy's songs: these stand as individual interpretations, and their unfamiliarity in some ways makes them more attractive, but it may be interesting to see how they evolve in Nuala's hands and in the wider community. And for those of you who enjoy a good thrash through some rousing tunes, there are tracks here which oblige, casting aside any hint of more serious projects: the set of McCusker's Jigs and the final medley Through the Heather are prime session recordings, delivered with practised ease and considerable gusto, by some of the best in the business.

Alex Monaghan