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Private Label TC001  

A debut CD from another new group formed in the crucible of Limerick University's music department. Opinions differ on the value of folk and traditional degree courses, but there's no arguing with the fact that all five of The Conifers sprang from the trunk of traditional music in families and sessions before venturing along the academic branch of Irish music. And that pedigree shows here. Their opening set of reels, led by Clare concertina kid Conor O'Loughlin, would do credit to any gathering of Irish musicians - a touch of contemporary flair, a hint of Donegal drive in the fiddle of Cathal Ó Curráin, and a powerful back line in the shape of seasoned session men Marty Barry (Down) and Felix Morgenstern (Deutschland). The slides and polkas later on benefit from Bryan O'Leary's button box; inspired by his famous grandfather Johnny O'Leary, Bryan recreates the atmosphere of a Sliabh Luachra session with Johnny at the peak of his prowess.

As well as a rake of reels, jigs, polkas, slides, a hornpipe, a Scottish Jacobite march and a charming concertina waltz, The Conifers offer three songs here. The first is in Irish; its gentle delivery is boosted by backing vocals from the whole band. The second is an oddity, a Scottish song written for a woman to sing, fronted here by an Irishman, The King's Shilling. The third vocal track once again underlines the connection between Scotland and Ireland, the long-running bus from Glasgow on The Road To Donegal. I think it's fair to say that songs are not The Conifers' strongest suit; the lead vocalists are light and sometimes tentative, but they can carry a tune and remember the words well enough to pass muster. The final set of reels reminds us of the strengths of this quintet: the wonderful Knackers Of Nairn from the fiddling of John Doherty, plus two well-known session tunes, The Yellow Tinker and The Humours of Tulla in a Clare version. I've referred to sessions several times, and this album has a definite session feel to it, more intimate than most recordings - but I want to be clear that if this were a session it would be a damn good one!

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 128 of The Living Tradition magazine.