Fire in the Glen,
On the Road to Lisdoonvarna
(self-produced, 2000)

Every once in a while you'll run into a recording that makes you think you've just stepped into an Irish-American bar and are engulfed in the atmosphere of such a place. On the Road to Lisdoonvarna is one of those recordings. Fire in the Glen manages to capture all of the spirited fire of an Irish pub, with a wide list of familiar Irish tunes and the vigor and gusto you would expect from such an environment. This would make a great recording to put on while hosting an Irish party.

John Varner strums guitar, adding rhythm and depth to Tom Knapp's zealous fiddle. The guitar is particularly effective where it is used in a percussive manner, as on "John Ryan's Polka," where the stopped chords give pizzazz to the polka beat. The fiddle and guitar work well together on the upbeat dance sets, including the jig set "Stool of Repentance/Stan Chapman's Jig" and the polka set "Ger the Rigger/Maggie in the Wood/Bill Sullivan's Polka." The title track, "Road to Lisdoonvarna/O'Keefe's Slide," features a blistering guitar accompaniment under the fiddle's lead.

This duo doesn't limit their work to instrumentals. Knapp sings backing vocals to Varner's lead, with very folksy treatments of such familiar songs as "Cockles & Mussels," "Whiskey in the Jar," "Paddy McGinty's Goat" and "Barrett's Privateers." Their arrangements use tasteful bodhran (by Knapp) and guitar behind the vocals, letting the instruments give bounce to the music, while the vocals provide story and sentiment. Knapp adds quite a few spoken responses to the words, adding to the pub-like atmosphere.

The fiddle adds to the backing instrumentation on Fire in the Glen's version of Andy M. Stewart's ballad "Lover's Heart," along with a delightful harmony line sung by guest Ginny Bartholomew. "All for Me Grog" features some terrific bodhran accents and vocals that are very convincing, sounding like a couple of guys who clearly spend a lot of time at the local brewery.

The recording isn't exclusively dance sets and songs, sporting a rather unusual set that starts with the lovely harp air (played on fiddle) "Give Me Your Hand" and continuing with a gentle version of "Lord of the Dance." This suddenly moves into the lively "Fairy Dance" and closes with the familiar slip jig, "The Butterfly." They also create a delicate mood behind the modern Scottish air, "Dark Island," with a gentle and lulling guitar behind the fiddle. This is occasionally broken by percussive stops at various points. Fire in the Glen can't leave things slow and dreamy for long, though, and soon move into a progressively accelerating reel, "Devil's Dream."

Probably my favorite track of the lot is the wild ride of an opener, "Scarce o' Tatties." This great Scottish tune is taken at breakneck speed, leading to the feeling of a backyard stomp. The opening phrases are played with a slow, hesitating solo fiddle, giving a stark contrast between the introduction and the rest of the tune and creating an effective arrangement. Although the tune is Scottish, it is played with a decidedly Irish flair. When the bodhran breaks in mid-track, creating an almost hoof-beat background, one can envision Irish dancers dancing around the pub floor.

There are some pitch issues on the recording, and the performance is not as polished as can be found on many CDs, but before long these fade to the background due to the enthusiasm behind the music. Fire in the Glen plays with the passion and exhilaration to ignite a flame under your feet, leading you on a merry dance from the streets of Dublin to the road to Lisdoonvarna.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

Visit the Fire in the Glen website.