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VARIOUS ARTISTS - Our Dear Dark Mountain With The Sky Over It

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Our Dear Dark Mountain With The Sky Over It
Private Label DMR01

A number of years ago, I remember being amazed by the brilliant box playing of a young lad called Darren Breslin, but equally entranced by the gentle, stylish and self-effacing fiddle playing of his grandfather, Brian.  After that, I looked unsuccessfully for further examples of traditional players from their area without success.  Well the wait has been worthwhile.  This is an album with a purpose - almost an agenda: to revive the traditional playing of the North Monaghan/East Fermanagh area.  This is being done by a concentration on repertoire specific to the place, particularly the manuscripts of collectors James Whiteside and Bernard Bogue, plus information from some of the seminal older players.  All this sounds very worthy, but when you listen to it, it really comes to life - the mercurial playing of Darren Breslin is featured and all the musicians sound as if they're having a great time and really loving it.

There are two beautifully performed songs (from Monica Beagon and Caitriona Sherlock) amidst the reels, jigs, flings, hornpipes - even a clog dance!  Personally I would have preferred fewer musicians on each track - I'm not sure the guitar and bouzouki featured heavily in the old days, but this is a bit curmudgeonly as their player is the driving force behind the project and the sound may tempt younger musicians to delve into the repertoire.

Hopefully this will also lead to publication of the two main manuscripts and perhaps an album of some of the source musicians such as the aforementioned Brian Breslin, Eddie Murphy, 'Paddley' McKenna et al.  Strangely, nowhere is there mention of either the Hidden Fermanagh CD and book (based on the Gunn mss) nor Keith Summers's recordings of the vocal traditions of the area (see for details of both).  Nicely packaged (although the archival photographs are rather obscured by text), this is an important and enjoyable issue which is highly recommended.

Paul Burgess

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This album was reviewed in Issue 104 of The Living Tradition magazine.