"Many thoughts and adjectives popped into my mind as I listened to this album over the last two months, whether walking the dog, driving, or at the computer: the music is welcoming, warm and engaging; it is gently dynamic, and in no way brash; its dynamics are subtle, refined, totally unpretentious; it has a unified coherence and comfortable pace – we are never jolted by sudden surprise moves which might break the spell cast by Rachel and Alan.
The duo have taken confident ownership of these tunes, harvested from such diverse sources. Over and over I find myself being surprised at tunes’ origins – listening to The Pride of Kildare, for example, I cannot conjure up how Pádraig O’Keefe might have actually sounded playing it, yet it sounds just like Alan Reid and Rachel Conlan! Equally, The ’98 march is something I could picture being played on 2 fifes but it would have sounded completely different to Rachel and Alan’s approach, so much so that again I find it difficult to hear that ‘other view’ of it, much preferring how it is played here. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear this track as part of the soundtrack to an open-skied scene in a western film.
Other than a few notable exceptions, the duet consists of Alan’s banjo and Rachel’s fiddle. And what a special combination it is – the attack of the banjo allied to the fiddle's sustain creates one super-instrument which fills the senses. This attack provides continuous driving punctuation to the music while the fiddle rolls smoothly along, beautifully topping up that momentum. These two instruments are perfectly suited – they share almost no common space, instead complementing each other exquisitely. Arrangements never overpower; small subtle variations abound, perfectly placed variations, which, as a track begins, seem to say, “Wait for it, wait…” Then when they do happen, a small satisfied sigh escapes – I love waiting for Alan’s short harmony notes in the 3rd time around Cuckanandy; then on the 4th repeat, that juicy variation by both which seems to answer every note of the tune up to now and signals the change into Tommie Potts’ madcap musical tongue twister!
Accompaniment is provided in a delightfully understated way by Alan’s bouzouki and Marty’s guitar. They are an extension of our super-instrument and never swamp the music. On Murty Rabbett’s Polka, high mandolin twinkles pay homage to the warbling piccolo of the original 78 while the banjo switches to accompaniment for the last time round as, all the while, Rachel carries the melody beautifully.
On Joe Liddy’s tune celebrating the Manorhamilton Fair we are treated to a warm drone from Rachel’s Hardanger fiddle over which the pair play a slow rendition of the jig, this time with Alan on the Oud whose rich sound sits perfectly with the Hardanger and the gentle pace of the tune. The overall mood is meditative and trancelike as we prepare for the close of the album which finally concludes with the pared-down duet of fiddle and banjo – no accompaniment at all – a brave and gentle way to end.
This is one of the finest duets I’ve ever heard – two people perfectly in sympathy with each other, neither pulling rank nor grabbing attention to the detriment of the other. As the wonderful piper Seán P. McKiernan might say in his finest put-on Cork accent, “…grounds for jealousy there, Boy!"
Listen, grin, and enjoy. Most of all, wallow in that same warm glow of benign envy.
released May 1, 2017
Alan Reid - banjo, bouzouki, mandolin & oud
Rachel Conlan - fiddle & hardanger
Marty Barry - guitar
Sean Horsman - recording & mixing
WAV Mastering - mastering