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Private Label  AFLCD201101

Drawing on the title of John McSherry’s 2001 duet album with Michael McGoldrick, At First Light is a sort of extended project (effectively started with the release of the excellent album Tripswitch in 2006) ‘between’ (‘idir’ in Gaelic incidentally) three stellar Irish musicians and an array of associates. The core trio are McSherry (uillean pipes, whistles), Dónal O’Connor (fiddle, keyboards), and Francis McIlduff (bodhrán, uillean pipes, whistles, percussive stuff). Associates here are singer Ciara McCrickard, and Tony Byrne, Ruben Bada, Michael McCague and Paul McSherry (guitars and bouzoukis).

With strong associations with groups such as Lunasa and collaborations and influences across the Celtic spectrum, both in terms of artists (from Clannad to The Corrs) and geography, this is quite a supergroup. Yet, the massive experience and evident virtuosity are skilfully deployed to sophisticated effect. The several tune sets (trad. arranged and composed pieces) and two songs offer wide dynamic range in moods and tempos from delicate piano work to duelling duet pipework. Ciara’s softly accented voice provides a very moving version of Aird uí Chuain (The Quiet Land Of Erin) and Courting Is A Pleasure. Dónal’s fiddle has a very satisfyingly deep and warm tone and his accuracy and expressive phrasing is delightful. Underpinning all is a wonderfully engaging backdrop of rhythmic pulse and shifts from the guitarists involved.

Opening with an infectious ridée by Pennoù Skoulm, there are several other pieces reminiscent of great Breton groups, such as Hudel and Skeduz (both involving guitarist Nicolas Quémener), and the piece El Garrotin comes from the Asturian band Llan de Cubel.  At First Light would go down extremely well at Brittany’s Festival de Cornouaille and similarly iconic Celtic live events.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.