Best of 2020 – Alex Davis

Alex alternates on Atlantic Weekly II Saturday mornings from 10-noon (eastern).

Artist(s)/Album/Label
Ship in the Clouds/Ship in the Clouds/Ship in the Clouds
Description/Review: This debut recording of The Ship in the Clouds delights as well as relaxes the soul. Groovy tunes coexist with mellow energy on this album. The tempo is not breakneck but tasteful and the tune choices range from old chestnuts to the more obscure. The Ship in the Clouds feature accomplished fiddler Laura Feddersen, guitarist and fiddler Nathan Gourley, Natasha Sheely on box (accordion) and Anna Colliton on the bodhran (Irish drum) all based in the Boston/New York area.

Kirsten Allstaff/Four/4/ Online Academy of Irish Music and Kirsten Allstaff
Description/Review: Kirsten Allstaff is a well-known instructor on the Online Academy of Irish Music as well as an accomplished and virtuosic flautist. On this album she does not hold back. Four/4 features rapid reels like Jug of Punch and Billy McComiskey’s The Commodore, but also moodier airs that showcase sensitive musicianship. To wrap up the album, Allstaff gives us a rollicking take on Tico Tico that, if it were ever performed live would certainly bring the house down.

Aine and Francis O’Connor/ They Didn’t Come Home Until Morning/ Aine and Francis O’Connor
Description/Review: This charming album showcases the flute and fiddle playing of Aine (fiddle) and Francis (flute) O’Connor. The project is in the great tradition of the Sliabh Luachra area. The album is also in honor of the great Connie O’Connell, a local Charlottesville favorite and also Aine’s father. The playing on the album is tight and quick, and features a range of instrumental reels, jigs, slides and polka. Also featuring the tasteful accompaniment of Brian Mooney on bouzouki.

3’Oh/On the Go/David Munnelly
Description/Review: David Munnelly’s had a very busy year. This album, which also features Joseph McNulty on fiddle and Shane McGowan on guitar, is only one of three releases of 2020. This one shines, featuring Munnelly’s trademark brash accordion playing style: jazzy, fast and confident. McNulty brings a smoother tone that compliments Munnelly’s jagged edges. This one is great for the jazz and trad fan: Sligo based Munnelly has the traditional resume but is not afraid to compose tunes that explore new territory and bend the boundaries between traditional music and jazz.

Alan Murray and Andrew Finn Magill/Murray & Magill/Alan Murray and Andrew Finn Magill
Description/Review: Released in November, 2020, Alan Murray (bouzouki/guitars) accompanies Finn Magill’s (fiddle) dense playing well in a stunning exhibition of two artists at the top of their game. Finn Magill is an accomplished fiddler from North Carolina who has eclectic music tastes in Irish, jazz, Brazilian, and traditional American music. He also is a well-known composer of tunes. Murray provides a mellow backdrop for Finn Magill’s theatrics and the slower tracks provide a wonderful contrast to the more quick recordings. This album consists of mostly traditional tunes with a few originals thrown in.

The Si Fiddlers/Donegal Fiddle/The Si Fiddlers
Description/Review: This album features 13 women fiddlers from Donegal all playing with impressive unity and extraordinary power. The number of musicians allows for fantastic arrangements that highlight the unique Irish Donegal style, which bears some similarity to Scottish fiddling. Virtuoso Brid Harper and Liz Doherty are among the 13 fiddlers with whom this reviewer is already familiar. For the Irish fiddle music lover this is a real treasure!

Various/Rogha Raelach Volume 1/Raelach Records
Description/Review: This album is a showcase of artists who have recorded albums with Raelach Records. The album features such luminaries as the Martin Hayes Quartet, featuring Hayes on the fiddle, as well as concertina player Noel Hill and Jack Talty. Less known talents are also featured including the luminous singing of Saileog Ni Cheannabhain and the piano playing of the timeless Geraldine Cotter.

Brian Holleran/Banks of the Moy/Brian Holleran
Description/Review: This album features Brian Holleran on flute with Eamon O’Leary (bouzouki) and Jefferson Hamer (mandolin) (of the Murphy Beds) accompanying. Holleran’s smooth playing pairs well with the pluck of the Hamer’s mandolin, and O’Leary’s bouzouki provides the appropriate ambience. Holleran is American (from New Jersey) and was a student of the great flute player Mike Rafferty and was featured on the classic recording “Live at Mona’s.”

Nicolas Brown/ Good Enough Music for Those Who Love It/ Nicolas Brown
Review/Description: If solo pipes are your thing, then this album is for you. Brown also plays flute on this album which focuses on older tunes from 200-300 years ago. The album sounds like classic recordings of pipers like Patsy Touhey and others. Brown’s musicianship has only deepened and grown since his previous release with his now wife, Alison Brown. Check out this recording for a representation of honest trad done faithfully to the old masters.

Hannah Harris/Tea for Tunes/Hannah Harris
Review/Description: Lovely tunes and songs from midwest based fiddler Hannah Harris.

Runa/ The Tide of Winter/Runa Music
Review/Description: This album prominently features vocals from a “supergroup” band that are just in time for the holidays. Featuring Christmas songs done in the Irish trad style, this album is most appropriate for right now and easing into a hopefully more peaceful 2021.

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