Boston Irish Reporter

Mozaik, “The Long and the Short of It” – BOSTON IRISH REVIEW

Mozaik, “The Long and the Short of It” • This space sang the praises of Andy Irvine last month, with the recent release of his “Old Dog Long Road” retrospective. Well, here we go again, although in this endeavor he’s got plenty of company: old Planxty chum Donal Lunny, American old-timey musician Bruce Molsky, Dutch multi-instrumentalist Res van der Zalm, and Bulgarian Nikola Pirova. As Mozaik, these five have for almost two decades now been finding common ground between the Irish, Appalachian, and Balkan music traditions. And on this, the group’s third release (recorded in 2015 but only issued several months ago), they add yet another element: Greek folk music, in the person of guest vocalist Chrysoula Kechagioglou who, while only appearing on a quarter of the album’s 12 tracks, is an absolutely enchanting presence.

The sheer variety of instruments these guys play make up a small orchestra: bouzoukis, mandolins, harmonica, guitars, fiddles, five-string banjo, whistles, uilleann pipes, bodhran, and from the Balkans, the violin-like gadulka, kaval (a wind instrument) and the gaida (bagpipes). Irvine leads on four of the songs, Molsky two, adding Dublin and American voices to the mix. Not to be overlooked is another guest singer, Ágnes Herczku of Hungary, who vocalizes a Moldavian tune that leads into a dance melody (“Gyimes”). The overall effect is exotic to say the least: vintage Irish folk revival fretted-string accompaniment, old-timey/Appalachian drive, Eastern European rhythms and intervals – sometimes intertwining, other times set off against one another, but always holding together the vision of commonalities in cultures and music traditions.

In addition to fine renditions of traditional American songs “My Little Carpenter” and “Old Virginia,” Molsky holds forth on a pair of fiddle tunes, “The Black Hills Waltz” and “The Red Steer,” the latter at times resembling that great Irish reel “The Foxhunter’s.”  Irvine offers up a rather graphic whaling song from England, “The Coast of Peru,” the start of which features a Parov-van der Zalm duet on whistles that has a South American tint to it.

Irvine’s excellent songwriting is spotlighted here, too, with one of his trademark historical biographies, this time of the enigmatic, tragic Harry Houdini – who, as Irvine relates, for all his incredible feats most desired to escape from “the chains of eternity.” There’s also another in his series of memoirs from his youthful travels in Eastern Europe, “As Good As It Gets.” The song was on the album he recorded in 2017 as part of Usher’s Island (with Lunny, John Doyle, Michael McGoldrick and Paddy Glackin), but this was its earlier incarnation. It is particularly appropriate to the Mozaik repertoire, since this period of Irvine’s life was so integral to his involvement with Balkan/Eastern European music. And above all, it’s just a brilliant song – fun, playful, self-deprecating, a joyful reminiscence of being a young Irishman in the midst of overwhelming sensual wonders.

But the real gem is “Rainbow ’Mid the Willows,” Irvine’s take on an Ozark ballad sung by the legendary Arkansas singer Almeda Riddle – he wrote a couple of new verses and adapted a melody by UK musician Chris Algar. It’s a powerful tale of forbidden romance, lyrics full of intense, vivid emotions, yet Irvine and the band treat the song with a gentle poignancy.

Which sets the stage for the next track, Kechagioglou’s outstanding performance of “The Song of the Nightingale,” a traditional song from Thrace (translated, for the most part, into English) that presents as a parable on wealth and poverty. The delicacy and sensitivity of the arrangement complements Kechagioglou’s warm, engaging vocals. She’s also featured on “Like a Soft Breeze,” a setting of a poem by Napoleon Lapathiotis, duets with Molsky on “My Little Carpenter” and – in an indication of the band’s respect for her – does an a cappella solo to close out the album: “Neratzoula,” a song passed along to Kechagioglou by her grandmother who as a young woman, Kechagioglou writes in the liner notes, “was rough, ran faster than anybody else, and had the voice of an angel.”

However one might laud Kechagioglou, Irvine and Molsky on “The Long and the Short of It,” the artistry of Lunny, Parov and van der Zalm should not be overlooked. Like its namesake art form, Mozaik can be admired for both its carefully arranged and assembled individual pieces and the greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts picture it produces.  [andyirvine.com/disc/Mozaik-disc-new.html]

SOURCE: www.bostonirish.com

Boston Irish Reporter – Album Review: Usher’s Island

September CD Reviews

By Sean Smith
August 30, 2017

Usher’s Island, “Usher’s Island” • Sports analogies can be pernicious yet so tantalizing. So when you hear of a band with an “all-star line-up,” it’s tempting sometimes to think of a team loaded with Most Valuable Player candidates, seemingly destined for unparalleled success – only to fall short because of clashing egos and failure to unite skills and talents effectively, thus leading to humiliation and recrimination.

Well, you can forget about that particular analogy as far as this album is concerned.

Usher’s Island is the quintet of Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle, five of the most accomplished figures in the Irish music revival of the past half-century (give or take), and what they’ve produced actually exceeds expectations. In fact, “Usher’s Island” is much like a series of arboreal growth rings, hinting not only at the quintet’s impact on Irish music but also at their individual progression as musicians – from interpreting the tradition to interpolating elements of it into their own creations.

Most importantly, though, it’s simply a pleasure to hear the power, stateliness, and grace of Glackin’s fiddle and McGoldrick’s flute (as well as his uilleann pipes and whistle), such as on the jig medley – “The Half Century Set” – that opens the album, a set of reels that includes two from the repertoire of esteemed Donegal fiddler Johnny Doherty [see “The Tin Fiddle” review below], and “Sean Keane’s,” a pair of delightful hornpipes. Equally pleasing is the accompaniment, whether chordal, harmonic or contrapuntal, of Messrs. Irvine, Lunny and Doyle. They give plenty of room to the melody instruments and vocals but Irvine’s mandola, Lunny’s bouzouki and Doyle’s guitar are ever-present in all their glory.

And then there are the songs. Irvine and Doyle, respectively, give new life to the traditional classics “Molly Ban” and “Wild Roving” (a quieter, more subdued variant of the old pub favorite), and two obscure, fascinating ballads: “Felix the Soldier,” a New England song from the French and Indian War; and “Cairndaisy,” about an Irish Catholic emigrant fighting for the US in the 1898 Spanish-American War, but realizing that his true sympathies are with his opponents.

Doyle and Irvine, of course, have developed into consummate songwriters, too, and are in top form here. Doyle has shown a penchant for historical writing, and his “Heart in Hand” is an autobiographical, emotionally vivid recounting of the life of Richard Joyce, the 17th-century Galway native who, while enslaved abroad, became a goldsmith and reputedly created the Claddagh ring. Irvine is likewise an impressive historian in his songwriting, but of late also has become more personal, more nostalgic, and quite the wit. In “As Good As It Gets” he revisits his formational 1960s sojourn in The Balkans, a subject he’s covered previously via contemplative pieces like “Autumn Gold,” “Time Will Cure Me” and “B’neas’s Green Glade” – but here it’s with fond affection and memories of romantic assignations (failed and successful), and downright funny wordplay.

And mention must be made of Lunny’s return engagement with “Bean Pháidín,” which he recorded with Planxty on “The Well Below the Valley” – voiced rather more quietly and deliberately this time around.

On their respective websites, Irvine and Vertical Records both refer to this as the “first” Usher’s Island album – one shouldn’t automatically assume that to mean there’ll be a second (a third?), but a little optimism these days is a lovely thing. [verticalrecords.co.uk]

source: bostonirish.com