Thursday, February 04, 2010

traveling fiddles: Niamh Ni Charra & Jamie McClennan

Niamh Ni Charra hails from Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland, and has traveled the world as a fiddler with the show Riverdance. Jamie McClennan grew up in New Zealand, is based now in Scotland, and has seen a fair bit of the world through his music as a fiddler and guitar player, as well. Each handles travels and international influences in combination with respect for and enjoyment of tradition in current solo albums.

Ni Charra’s recording is called On On Da Thaobh/from Both Sides. The thirteen sets find her playing fiddle and also her well loved concertina. There are jigs, hornpipes, reels, and slip jigs. There’s also a set of Hungarian csardas paired with a reel, and a classical piece written for and played on the concertina. There’s a classical piece from another genre, too: bluegrass master Bill Monroe’s Crossing the Cumberlands, which Ni Charra has integrated into her own style. That’s a style filled with musical imagination and melodic sense, clear and vibrant tone and touch, and an eagerness to explore and bring home the fruits of those explorations to her own sound. There’s a fine helping of tradition, from The Jug o’ Punch to Trip to Athlone, as well as a generous helping of quality original compositions, usually played in sets with tunes from the tradition. To bring things right home, Ni Charra, who grew up surrounded by Sliabh Luachra musicians, ends the album with a set of slides, an original named for the area where she went to school, Lios Ui Bhigin, and the traditional Johnny O’Leary’s, An Choisir, and The Hare in the Corn.

Jamie McClennan’s album is called In Transit. The music begins with Emily’s Wee Tune, a jig with a nod to Scottish tradition in style and substance. which leads into the fast paced, edgy title cut. Together they open the door to moods of journey, travel, changes, and passing landscapes, which McClennan carries out skillfully through twelve sets of original music. Most of the time he’s the fiddler, but The Sun Trap set finds him on whistle in an intriguing two whistle intro with former New Zealand band mate and current member of the Irish band Grada Alan Doherty. McClennan’s ideas as a composer are are rooted in Scotland, and he reaches into jazz, American folk, a bit of blues, and more than a bit of bluegrass, as well. There are faced paced numbers, such as the Emergency Flapjack set and the Rainbow Sheep set, played with energetic spice on whistle, guitars, double bass and all sorts of percussion by Doherty, Gerry Paul, Duncan Lyall, and Fraser Stone respectively. Emily Smith joins in on piano on one track and Adelaide Carlow adds cello to another. There are several fine slower tunes as well, notably Road to Bennan, which is McClennan alone, interweaving his own playing on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. Side note: McLennan both engineered the album and designed the packaging, both very well done.

Strong solo albums both, showing that while Ni Charra and McClennan both have the skills to do excellent work supporting musicians, they each have more than enough musical ideas and creativity to hold centre stage as well.

you may also want to see
Emily Smith, Jamie McClennan, and Robert Burns

Three Fiddle CDs for Fall

Green Fields of America

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Anonymous said...

More great music to explore -- thanks, Kerry!

11:58 AM  

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