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CHRISTY LEAHY & CAOIMHÍN VALLELY Christy Leahy Caoimhín Vallely

Christy Leahy Caoimhín Vallely

Private Label  LVCD001

Christy Leahy should be familiar as the box-player from the fantastic Cork-based band North Cregg. Caoimhín Vallely is of course a brother of Niall and Cillian, and also the fiddler with North Cregg: here he sticks to the ivories, backing Christy's bold Munster tunes and providing one or two sparkling piano solos. Christy's native Cork music is the basis of this recording: speedy slides, punchy polkas, jaunty jigs, and the occasional reel. The pair lead off with the Scottish air Tha mi Sgith shifted up to polka tempo, followed by up-tempo versions of several well-known Irish traditional tunes: Spelan the Fiddler, a version of Father Kelly's reel The Rossmore Jetty, Johnny O'Leary's Jig. The beautiful slow air Crow in the Sun, written by Altan guitarist Daithí Sproule, is transferred to the box with a lyrical grace which Christy repeats on the final French-style waltz La Bourrasque. In between are a number of fine selections, and you only have to listen to the first few bars of James Morrison's or Trip to the Cottage to appreciate the excellent quality of Christy and Caoimhín's music.

Caoimhín's piano playing first struck me on the second North Cregg album: Hornpipe for Four Hands was one of the highlights. Since then he's cemented his reputation as one of Ireland's foremost keyboard ticklers with a solo album Strayaway, perhaps a reference to moving two provinces and several hundred miles away from home. This displaced Armagh man has made Cork City his base for many years, and the honky-tonk magic behind Going to the Well or The Bluebell Polka shows how much has rubbed off. I'm betting he even drinks a Cork pint now. On this recording Caoimhín is content to stay mostly in the background, accompanying Cork music as few can. Only on the slow air Crow in the Sun, and on Christy's solitary vocal excursion (Con Fada's uproarious Hymn to St Finbar), does Caoimhín drag his instrument into the spotlight - not eclipsing Christy but complementing the accordion perfectly. I've never been a big fan of the piano in Irish or any other music - it's just a jumped-up drum-kit after all - but I'm very happy to make an exception for Caoimhín Vallely. I'm also happy to put this duet album on my 2010 Top Ten list. has a few more details.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.