Johnny Connolly,
Drioball na Fainleoige
(Clo Iar-Chonnachta, 1999)

Johnny Connolly's second release took the Irish traditional music world by the heels in 1999 and gave it a good shake. Although Connolly was already firmly established in Galway and Connemara as the premiere melodeon player of the region, Drioball na Fainleoige put him in the upper echelons of Ireland's top-flight traditional musicians and carved himself a niche as one of the world's great melodeon-players. The melodeon, of course, is that humble one-row cousin of the two-row accordion.

Joining Connolly are Steve Cooney on guitar, Noirin ni Gradaigh on fiddle and Charlie Lennon, who also contributed a couple of newly composed gems, on piano and fiddle. With the opening track, "The Swallow's Tail," Connolly swings effortlessly through three different keys and the listener is pulled into the company of outstanding musicianship. Cooney has some of the best studio ears in the business and it shows here. The depth and clarity of tones on this CD are a lesson to all budding recording artists. Even the click of the buttons, often disguised in previous efforts, becomes an integral part of the soundscape.

This is a well-balanced album including 16 tracks of Irish dance tunes, plus the great Connemara air "Amhran Mhainse" and a lovely relaxed vocal rendition of the sean-nos song "Johnny Seoige." Among the reels, jigs, polkas and hornpipes are some newly composed pieces from Connolly himself, his son Johnny og, Charlie Lennon and Liz Carroll. These tunes have already entered the local repertoire and some are firmly established internationally. The style is relaxed and rhythmic, with Connolly shining on all the selections. The sleeve notes are well written in both English and Irish and the overall package is very presentable. All in all an extremely satisfying listen and a must-have for the collection.

[ by Pat Simmonds ]