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Private Label HBMC09

Subtitled Flute Music from Belfast and Beyond, this CD showcases two of Ulster's finest fluters. Harry Bradley should be well known to wooden flute fans, having released three splendid solo albums and recorded with numerous other musicians. Michael Clarkson is less established, but has been a leading light of the Belfast scene for a while now. The pair of them play in the rhythmic Northern style, without the breathiness of some players but with a percussiveness and a fierce passion in the music. At times their timber flutes are wielded like weapons, battering the reels and jigs into submission: at others they weave their spell like magic wands, trailing stars and turning all they touch to gold. With a handful of solo tracks and a round dozen duets, there's quantity as well as quality on The Pleasures of Hope: there's also some excellent accompaniment from Garry O'Briain and Seamus O'Kane on mandocello and bodhrán.

The music here comes from all parts of Ireland. The Mayo Lasses and John Doherty's Bundle and Go from the North-West, Seamus Creagh's Polka from the South-West, and The Knackers of Navan from the Midlands, but most of Michael and Harry's repertoire is drawn from the deep well of the fluter's heartland of Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim, a delta of genius. Leitrim Town, Patsy Hanley's, The Edenderry Reel, John Egan's: all are associated with the golden triangle of Irish flute music, and all are pulled brilliantly into a Belfast embrace. With reels and jigs pulsing constantly through the wood, a slow air is a welcome relief and Michael obliges with his gorgeous interpretation of Caoineadh Ui Dhomhnaill. Harry's rendition of The Geese in the Bog and The Jig of the Dead is another highlight, surprisingly sweet for the Ulster style, with beautifully delicate ornamentation. The Pleasures of Hope is topped and tailed by big Scottish tunes, The Spey in Spate and The Banks, bracketing some of the best flute music recorded recently. Highly recommended.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 86 of The Living Tradition magazine.