ZOE CONWAY - The Horse's Tail

ZOE CONWAY - The Horse's Tail
Tara Music TARACD4018

The hype describes this young Dundalk fiddler as "the best in the country". I disagree, but she may possibly be the best in her generation.  Classically trained, Zoe Conway seems to have overcome that handicap and become a very fine fiddler indeed.  The Horse's Tail is her second solo CD, a giant leap forward from her first one, featuring nine of her own compositions. She plays with the precision and delicacy of Tommy Peoples or Alasdair Fraser, and takes advantage of great classical technique.  Comparisons with Liz Doherty seem entirely appropriate.  Zoe is not so hot on sleeve notes. Spóirt, the opening tune, is apparently a "very old traditional" jig, which may surprise its composer Peadar O Riada, although he will probably be delighted with its performance here. However, anyone who writes tunes like the title track here can be forgiven for most things: the air Wild Strawberry Hill is one of those melodies which feels so right, as though you've always known it, and the showpiece reel The Horse's Tail is simply tremendous.  In fact, this track is so good that it appears twice on the CD, once in a studio version, and again at the end as a live track from the Willy Clancy summer school.  Zoe's other compositions include The Scordisae Reel named for "the celtic tribe who founded Belgrade and other Balkan areas", a lovely bouncy slip-jig Sráid Na Cathrach, and a couple of catchy Breton-sounding tunes.  She also has a taste for Charlie Lennon's tunes, with four of them here: Planxty Joe Burke, Round the House and Mind the Dresser, and a pair of jigs The Smiling Bride and The Handsome Young Maidens where Zoe is fittingly joined by her sister Lisa on harmony fiddle.

Zoe also sings two songs, in a high light voice: A Ghaoth Andeas, and Burn's Westlin' Winds, both perfectly pleasant but not of the same exceptional quality as her fiddling. It's worth noting that this whole album was recorded in the old-fashioned way, no overdubs, no headphones. Three tracks are unsupported fiddle, the others have low-key guitar or bodhrán accompaniment, so what comes across really is Zoe Conway, possibly the best fiddler in her class. The Horse's Tail should be readily available, and Zoe's website provides sample tracks. PS: I was joking about the handicap.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 75 of The Living Tradition magazine.