Usher’s Island

Album Review: The Masterful Irish Craft of Usher’s Island

Usher’s Island – Usher’s Island (Vertical Records, 2017)

Usher’s Island is a new superband that brings together some of the greatest contemporary Irish folk music musicians. Andy Irvine, Dónal Lunny, Paddy Glackin, Mike McGoldrick and John Doyle have played with the most iconic Irish and Irish American bands: Planxty, Bothy Band, Lunasa and Solas.

The majority of the compositions on Usher’s Island are traditional songs and tunes rearranged by the band, along with a handful of originals by Usher’s Island members.

The way the album was made connects with Irish tradition as well. Mike McGoldrick bought a cottage in County Galway, western Ireland that had been used by musicians in the past to hold sessions. McGoldrick turned it into a recording studio for three days.

Throughout Usher’s Island the listener is treated to fascinating storytelling songs and delightful ensemble pieces with superb instrumental interaction and superb solos weaved in. Irish music at its best.

Personnel: Andy Irvine on vocals, mandola and harmonica; Dónal Lunny on vocals, bouzouki, baritone bouzouki, bodhran and keyboards; Paddy Glackin on fiddle; Mike McGoldrick on wooden flute, low whistle and uileann pipes; and John Doyle on guitar, bouzouki and vocals.

Usher’s Island features masterfully-crafted Irish music with dazzling acoustic interplay and exceptionally expressive vocals.

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The Australian: Album Review – Ushers Island

FOLK
Usher’s Island – Usher’s Island [Vertical/Planet]
4 stars
Making Waves – Luke Daniels [Wren Records]
3.5 stars

Go-to flute/whistle man Mike McGoldrick and acoustic guitarist John Doyle link new albums from opposite flanks of the Celtic spectrum. Whereas British button accordionist, composer and producer Luke Daniels takes an experimental approach with Making Waves, the self-titled debut release from Usher’s Island — veteran multi-instrumentalist and singer Andy Irvine’s latest Irish supergroup — is fairly conventional. While Daniels follows the footprints of the Canadian-Scottish sound sculpting visionary Martyn Bennett, who married jigs, reels and airs with archival sound bites and electronic elements, Usher’s Island follows the pathway paved by previous Irvine projects such as Planxty and Patrick Street.

Recorded in a rural cottage, Usher’s Island is as well delivered as Irish traditional folk music can be, even if it’s a tad lacking in invention. Not that Doyle’s recasting of Irish pub staple The Wild Rover isn’t infinitely more mellifluous and sophisticated than the versions rendered with drunken gusto on St Patrick’s Day. Two excellent Doyle originals draw on fascinating historical narratives. Heart in Hand centres on a Galway man captured in the late 1600s by Algerian pirates; Cairndaisy concerns an Irish immigrant fighting for the US during 1898 Spanish-American War. Irvine also dips into the military archives for Felix the Soldier, a song from the mid-18th-century French-Indian War. The relatively insipid As Good as It Gets alludes to Irvine’s unfulfilled romantic aspirations during the 1960s. Bean Phaidin benefits from Donal Lunny’s bottom register singing and the appending of slip jigs. A converted Munster pipes tune (The Half Century Set), in which Paddy Glackin’s fiddle and McGoldrick’s flute combine symbiotically, sets the bar high for the medleys that follow.

Daniels’s modus operandi, which involved processing, layering and looping hundreds of audio samples before getting his guest players to independently record their acoustic parts live, means Making Waves lacks the intimacy and fluency of Usher’s Island. The first half, in particular, features a cornucopia of strange sounds that compete with acoustic instruments for ascendancy.

In The Larks and The Jolly Tinker, the overall effect is discombobulating, with Daniels’s traditionally inspired melodies taking too long to emerge. In Retro Reel, button accordion struggles to cope with extraneous clatter, bleeps and burps. When the producer adopts a more judicious approach, as on McCrone Jigs and Wester Kittochside, Daniels’s accordion — as well as his vintage Polyphon music box — and Aidan O’Rourke’s dancing fiddle sparkle in harness with Doyle’s guitar and bouzouki.

Tony Hillier

source: theaustralian.com.au

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