Michael Gorman,
The Sligo Champion
(Topic, 2001)

So I've been spoiled by modern fiddle albums. I'm used to hearing slickly produced, smooth fiddles, often backed up by what seems to be a full orchestra. So as The Sligo Champion started, I was surprised by the first strains of "Down the Broom." Michael Gorman's fiddle playing, rescued from old tape and vinyl obscurity, is simple, scratchy and thoroughly enjoyable.

It's hard to say anything to increase Michael Gorman's reputation as a fiddle player. He was a champion in Sligo County, famous enough in his day to have several recordings made of his work, and even got on TV a time or two. Reg Hall, credited with research, compilation, text and production, deserves a lot of credit for recovering these songs and reproducing them this well. Background instruments and bow scratches are all captured well enough to recreate a fiddle player onstage, or at least on vinyl. There's also a small textbook's worth of liner notes, detailing the origin of many of the tunes and chronicling Gorman's life. While his story is necessarily oversimplified here, there are still enough conflict and plot twists to make a mini-series.

The liner notes are wonderful for nosy types like me who always want to know a bit more, but Gorman's music doesn't need it. With over two hours of music here, his story is told well enough through his work. Reels and jigs dominate the record, but the occasional hornpipe or set dance make excellent counterpoints. There are even a couple of vocal selections for those of us who never heard Gorman himself. All the tunes are as lively as the man who made them, and that's saying something when that man could fiddle and dance at the same time. The simple style of a barn dance performer and soloist sets the tunes clearly, with enough interpretation to mark them as Gorman's without hiding their basic shape.

Irish traditional music has become very popular in the last few years, but it's rare to find an album of traditional music recorded before 1980. One as comprehensive and well-documented as this is almost impossible to find. Go by Topic Records and pick it up, for far less than it's worth. And if you're not a fan of modern traditional, give the real thing a try.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 5 October 2002

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