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MICHEÁL Ó’ hALMHAIN - Tuile Agus Trá (The Flowing Tide)

MICHEÁL Ó’ hALMHAIN - Tuile Agus Trá (The Flowing Tide)
Gael Linn CEFCD211

Dublin born Micheál Ó’ hAlmhain has been part of the backbone of the Irish traditional music scene and has played a significant if underrated part in its development. He was the featured uilleann piper on Ceoltoiri Laigheann’s 1972 album, An Bothar Cam (The Crooked Road), and played flute on their 1975 album, The Star of Munster. Ceoltoiri Laigheann was a supergroup formed by Éamon de Buitléar, himself an original member of Seán Ó’Riada’s pivotal group, Ceoltoiri Cualan, which also indirectly gave birth to a spin-off band called The Chieftains. With the death of Seán Ó’Riada, Irish music lacked a visionary whose muse called places as diverse as the compositions of O’Carolan as much as it did the orchestration power of Vaughan Williams – de Buitléar saw an opening for a similar band to Ceoltoiri Cualan, and assembled Ceoltoiri Laigheann which carried on the Ó’Riada style of orchestrated traditional music, equally borrowing O’Carolan and Cornelius Lyons’ harp pieces as much as Kerry slides and familiar session reels. The line-up included Paddy O’Brien, Mary Bergin, John Kelly, Paddy Glackin and James Kelly to name some, and Micheál Ó’ hAlmhain was among them.

After the break-up of Ceoltoiri Laigheann, Micheál Ó’ hAlmhain formed the band Columba and recorded some RTE broadcasts, but there was no official release. Then he moved to the Aran Islands and apart from occasional forays to RTE, nothing until now and his first solo album. A musician whose presence has always been acknowledged and yet whose public acclaim is minsicule, his talent outweighs his lack of presence on the recorded medium.

Accompanied by guitarist Steve Cooney, who also produced and recorded the album in the balmy confines of Miltown Malbay, Co. Clare, this is a picture of a man at home with his music and immersed in the beauty of its colours and shades. His flute playing is rich and subtle, whether floating its way through the opening reels, The Mother And Child, or the sweet cadences of the air, Eibhlin Gheal Chiuin, his command of technique is obvious as befits his reputation. The music possesses deft touches by the bucket load and both he and Cooney seem to relish the opportunity to combine their talents – the jigs Eillis Kelly’s Delight and a goodly gabhail of polkas, slides and hop jigs among the regular reels and hornpipes and airs shows a diverse repertoire devoid of cliché and the obvious. This album has been a long time coming and salutes a mighty player whose music is as warming and comfortable as his Aran jersey on the cover shot. Long awaited, much desired and a sweet piece of work it is.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 116 of The Living Tradition magazine.