5 Mile Chase,
5 Mile Chase
(self-produced, 2003)

Having been asked to review a pile of Irish CDs, I took a quick look at the cover of this one and thought, "Django" Amerson -- this is Irish? Django is the name of one of my favorite jazz guitarists, and Irish is just not a word I associate with that name. However, a half-dozen notes into the first cut and that illusion was dispelled. Amerson and Brian Miller, having not a drop of Irish blood between the two, have crafted a very traditional-sounding Irish recording. And given their history, which includes many nights in Irish pubs in America as well as Ireland, it's quite obvious they don't need to be Irish to sound Irish.

The whole package is a marvelous mix of singing tunes, reels and jigs in major and minor keys, both slow and fast, traditional and original, American and Irish. For instance, in the selection called "Maids of Mitchelstown," there's a simple old-timey tune, "Cluck Old Hen," stuck in the middle. There's also a nod to the American fiddling tradition with "Turkey in the Straw," another tune that has jumped the pond and is now becoming a favorite among Irish musicians. Quite honestly, I never liked the version I always heard growing up, perhaps because I associated it with dim-witted cartoon characters, but this twist on the American favorite is actually likeable. Miller first heard it played by Seamus Creagh at sessions in Cork, of all places, which probably explains why it sounds so much better.

Miller's talent shines through as well in his original compositions on whistle, first in the wistful, waltzy melody dedicated to Hannah, "The Valentine," and secondly in the evocative reel, "The Talking Ice," a tune that begins slowly as the ice begins whispering, picking up momentum as the ice turns to chattering.

Amerson's fiddle playing is true session fiddling. He's got lightning speed and accuracy on the kicking reels, like the very first cut "Trip to Cullenstown," which is followed by a tender song Miller learned in Cork and sings here, "Waltzing's for Dreamers." When Amerson plays the musical interlude, "Tour de Taille," around it, the dream is complete.

My personal favorite cut on the recording is the medley, "The Pride of the Bronx" and "Over the Moor to Maggie." Maybe it's because most session tunes are in the key of A, D, G, Em or Am, and this is played in F. Maybe because it's played with an animation not common in session tunes -- there's a "wait-for-it" thrown in in several places that speaks volumes about the delight and dedication of the musicians to the music they play.

The "backup" guitar on session tunes is usually taken for granted, but having played with a number of guitarists, I know how important it is to have one who really understands the music, not just plays the chords. Their role isn't just keeping the rhythm -- they need to be able to enhance and provide counterpoint to the melody, that, after all, is typically the same thing played two or three times in a row. When Miller is on guitar, he is such a player.

To me, one last indication of the players' dedication to their craft is the attention they pay to relating the background of the tunes and songs they've chosen in the liner notes. Included are not only the titles of the individual melodies making up a track, but where they first heard them played. Credit is given as well to the person who either composed it or first performed it.

If you can't be in an Irish pub, pour yourself a Guinness and put on this recording and close your eyes -- its charm and energy will transport you immediately to the magic of your neighborhood public house.

- Rambles
written by Alanna Berger
published 20 December 2003

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