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Brill Music BMCD001

Maybe not known to everyone, Paul Bock and Enda Scahill are nevertheless among the foremost exponents of Irish melodeon and tenor banjo respectively. Paul has several CDs under his belt: solo, with Frankie Gavin, and with Moving Cloud and the Brock McGuire Band. Enda has spent more time on stage than in the studio, but his solo CD Picking it Up is well worth picking up. Humdinger claims to be the world's first recording of purely melodeon and banjo - I haven't checked - and it is certainly exceptional in several ways. Firstly, in style and repertoire this is a return to the music of the 1920s: hornpipes, single jigs, clogs and flings played straight but with enough lift to get an Irishman up fifty floors of scaffolding in New York. Get an earful of Kimmel's Jig and you'll know what I mean: prize-fighting melodeon and machine-gun banjo. Triplets are only the beginning, as Enda's pick produces the sort of numbers you'd associate with IVF. Secondly, whilst there is the occasional piano or mandolin involved, what you hear on Humdinger is pretty much a pure cask-strength distillation of melodeon and banjo. We won't address the vexed issue of exactly what a melodeon is: take it from me that there's no accordion here.

The Black Rogue, Miss Thornton's, Barney Brannigan's, The Stack of Wheat, The Primrose Lass, Kings of Kerry: there are plenty of familiar tunes here, but the versions Paul and Enda have chosen were almost all recorded in the 1930s or earlier. From sources such as Dutchman John Kimmel, Joe and Mike Flanagan, Neil Nolan and Paddy Kiloran come crisp dance tunes to set any toe tapping. Most early recordings were showpieces as time and money were short, and the LP hadn't been invented, so medleys and pastiches were commonplace: John Kimmel's Accordion Fantasy and Oh Gee are resurrected here to great effect, along with similar pieces learned from Philippe Bruneau and of course the Flanagan brothers. There are reels here too: Miss McLeod's is given a fabulous low octave treatment on banjo here, and Boys on the Hilltop fairly crackles with energy. Dublin Lasses and Crowley's are delivered in a fine bouncy style, and Humdinger ends on a thumping good rattle through Miss Monaghan. With showmanship that would make the Flanagans proud, Paul and Enda have produced a gem among recordings, and added greatly to our appreciation of early Irish American banjo and melodeon music. Well played, well researched, and well named: Humdinger is just that.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 71 of The Living Tradition magazine.