Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Ireland's music: Danu: Buan

One of the hallmarks of the music of Ireland is connection, and another is conversation. Between musicians, with listeners, with the strands of irish tradition, with contemporary music which draws on tradition -- connection and conversation happen in al these ways. For twenty years, the musicians who join together as the band Danu have been working on this. Their album Buan clearly shows that they just keep getting better at these connections and conversations.

Across the years and through a few changes in membership, the band has retained the bright fire with which it began in Waterford those years ago and added the seasoning and maturity that twenty more years of living and playing music will bring. With musicians coming from Waterford, Dublin, Donegal, and Kerry they choose music which draws the range of Irish landscape into the conversation.

They invite listeners into the musical conversation of Buan with an opening set of slides and reels in which the traditions of Donegal meet those of Kerry. Bouzouki joins with flute, accordion takes its place as the tunes unfold and fiddle leads a lyrical dance on the closing tune as all the while bodhran speaks of the beat. Musical conversation continues with Nic Amhloaibh singing a song from Dingle in Irish. A lively set of jigs including two from McAuley’s pen flows into Nic Amlaoibh’s thoughtful rendition of Lord Gregory, a story of star crossed lovers which shows well not only Nic Amhloaibh’s fine voice but also the players’ ability and skill in supporting and illuminating a story told in song.

That skill is also evident in another and very different song. Donal Clancy’s choices in singing and phrasing work brilliantly to tell the story of Willie Crotty, an eighteenth century outlaw from the Waterford area whose colorful life is told in a song written by Clancy’s cousin Robbie O’Connell. The fast paced melody and upbeat playing only enhance Clancy’s storytelling flair.

The musical conversation in Buan continues in equally interesting fashion through a set of reels and a set of two lighthearted songs in Irish that the band dedicates to their children. The men of Ireland’s east and north were inspired by the west as well as a lovely set of a waltz composed by McAuley leads into a march composed by Clancy, both written after the band spent a week of rehearsal in West Kerry last spring.

The enigmatic, poetic, and image filled song Passage West by John Spillane of Cork provides a gorgeous showcase not only for Nic Amhlaioibh’s voice but for all the band members working together to create a vibrant story told as much through melody as through word -- and the words and singing themselves are powerful enough that they could stand alone.

Reels and hornpipes taken over from pipes music make up a set following Passage West, which makes a graceful bridge to The Willow Tree, a quiet song which weaves modern day love song with myth, legend, and landscape and which Nic Amhlaoibh learned from the singing of its composer, Padragian Ni Uallachain. That makes a fitting close to this conversation in music -- rather than a close an invitation to a quiet pause to reflect on the journey the conversation has taken, really -- a pause which will very likely lead to repeated listening.

Danu are: Éamon Doorley, guitar and bouzouki, Oisín McAuley, fiddle, Benny McCarthy, Accordion, Dónal Clancy, guitar, voice, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, voice, flute, and whistles.

Joining them on Buan are producer Donal Lunny on buzouki, zook, harmonium and bass bodhran as well as former band members Tom Doorley on flute and whistle and Donnachadh Gough on pipes and bodhran. For the concert at which the photographs were made, Oisin McAuley was delayed by weather from arriving in Glasgow, so former member Darragh Doyle stepped in. Phil Cunningham on accordion and Julie Fowlis on voice and whistles were also guests at the concert in Glasgow.

Photographs were made by Kerry Dexter at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow, with permission of the artists, venue, and festival. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Ireland's Music: The Small Hours: Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh
Robbie, Aoife, and Donal: The Clancy Legacy
Julie Fowlis: Every Story

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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