Ailbe Grace,
Irish Grace Notes
(Ceol, 2000)

This is a pleasant CD with a good mix of music and a good introduction to the button accordion or melodeon for those who may be a bit ambivalent about whether or not they like the sound. It contains 11 tracks, one entirely composed by Ailbe Grace, the rest traditional tunes arranged by himself and Fran Curry. Overall, the playing is entertaining and the somewhat limited tones of the accordion are enhanced by a panoply of accompanying instruments: bass, piano, synthesizer, guitar, fiddle, bodhran, bouzouki and drums.

For the purists, however, their listening pleasure will be severely tainted by an unforgivable volume of "bellows slap," which should have been minimized by the recording engineers; Ailbe's playing is not at fault, this technical problem should never have been allowed on a professional recording.

He starts off with a medley of hornpipes, moving swiftly into a duo of jigs and then "Waltzing with Beatrice," a blend of two waltzes that has a real Parisien cafe sound despite the fact it is played by an Irishman and is partly based on a French-Canadian tune. After a trio of reels comes his own tune, "The Cliffs of Muskerry," which was composed for his friend's wedding some years ago. It starts off somewhat mournfully, much like a lament, apparently inspired by the breathtaking beauty of the lake of the same name in the Galtee Mountains; the pace picks up and ends up with a breathless enough jig more in keeping with the happy occasion.

The jigs that follow have a good strong Irish sound, placating the seekers of a more stereotypical feel to the album. The air, "A Stoir mo Chroi," demonstrates particularly well-sustained notes, and his arranging of the traditional song into an air is quite delightful. He also carries off "Mozart's Delight" with competence; I have heard it performed with more confident panache and a fuller sound, but that was admittedly on a piano accordion. Ailbe sneaks in another composition, sandwiching it between the classical and another jig. He finishes off with more hornpipes and reels, bringing a debut album to a rounded close.

Unlike some albums featuring accordion music and traditional tunes, Irish Grace Notes does not ever begin to wear thin on the tolerance of the listener. This is a good, all-round album for those who like the accordion -- it is not overwhelmingly "Irish" in sound, despite the traditional base of the tracks, and should appeal to a broad cross-section of prospective listeners.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 10 May 2003

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