The Laune Rangers,
Launie Tunes
(self-produced, 1999)

As any readers who have read my review of David Francey's Torn Screen Door know, I have a great love of Celtic music and invariably reminisce about my short time in Ireland whenever I hear that familiar style of music. It certainly gives me a hankering for a grand pint of Guinness. All of the memories are tied up with music (and Guinness) and the Laune Rangers' Launie Tunes reminded me immediately of the ceilis I attended while on the West Coast of Ireland. The bright energy of the album, along with the insistent rhythm, draws me back immediately to the cheer of that long, narrow barn filled with enthusiastic dancers, every one of them pounding the floor with at least as much grace and precision as any of those grand Irish dancing shows. The heart of the night belonged to the grinning musicians at one end of the hall spending as much, if not more, energy to propel the dancers through their steps.

The Laune Rangers display similarly nimble fingers on fiddle and guitar and awareness of how to connect an entire album into a fine set of songs, mingling the melancholy songs with the upbeat reels and jigs well. Although the official members of the band are only two, fiddler Cara Kelly and guitarist Jamie O'Brien, both lending their voices to the music, they also happily include their many musical comrades on their album, adding in the occasional mandolin, accordion and concertina.

"Munster Buttermilk" is a great jig to start off the album, with a jumping beat and a fine example of the clarity of the fiddle and guitar combination. This album offers not a genre tweaking representation of Irish music but instead counts on the long-standing tradition and beauty of the core of the music, and probably to greater acclaim than any new-fangled reworking.

"An Irish Blues" is the first true ballad on the album, Kelly's beautiful but not necessarily polished voice lending laughter and power to a simple song. Again, this selection and the entire album as a whole reflect an appreciation for letting the music work its magic through the musicians without extraneous ornamentation. The artistry of the musicians is always clear, and the album often feels more like a live jam rather than something recorded in a studio, and the improvisation is sure.

"Cooley's Reel/The High Reel/Pigeon on a Gate" is another energetic sling of reels, and the first selection to really hurl me back to the dance floor in Kilfenora. It's difficult not to dance to such music, and the obvious joy in the playing makes the music all the more catching.

"Sweaney's Waltz" arrives, rather like the sequence of music in a long ceili, to give the listener or dancer a bit of a breather. The lilting sway of the fiddle, guitar and accordion are no less engaging than the reels and jigs, and especially the sweet tones of the violin and accordion together lend a romantic air.

"The Lover's Ghost" continues with the slower beat, though this track is decidedly more mournful. O'Brien's voice, though again not traditionally beautiful, is strong and understands well the emotion of the song. As a pair, the two musicians also have that necessary sense of when to give their partner the lead, and here the guitar provides the bones of the music while the fiddle roams through the background.

"Lord Gordon's Reel" jumps right back into the reels and the heart of the album. The tune and rolling style of the fiddling lead the audience right back toward happier thoughts.

"Rolling Waves/Scatter the Mud/Kerfunken" continues the leading aspect of the music, the fiddle again taking on a cycling line and pulling the listener through a smooth, enticing melody. The fiddle is most often melody, while the guitar lends the more percussive line of the music, though here the addition of a bodhran player adds that extra punch to the music which ups the energy yet another notch.

"Margaret's Waltz" brings another moment of melodic rest, this time with a welcome addition of a concertina. The lovely sway of the music is again sweet and contagious, to paraphrase Shakespeare. "Humors of Tulla/Longford Tinker" brings the reels through again. And as much as I can say about the music, I think I'll stop attemping to single out every reel and let them speak (or play) for themselves. After a certain number of descriptions, there's little left to say except that they're great fun and beautifully played.

"The Old Man and a Baby/Old Timey Set" feels to me like the only misstep on the album. Though neither tune is done any less well than those that came before, the pairing feels a little awkward. "The Old Man and a Baby" is a humorous and sad ditty, something one comes to expect from the Irish sense of story, and is certainly entertaining. "The Old Timey Set" is equally lovely, but feels a little odd flush with a lullaby of betrayal and blame. "The Orphan/Cliffs of Moher" begins with a slower beat and builds nicely to an insistent and many-layered jig.

"Once I Loved" finishes the album with a song, with Kelly again singing in her sweet and honest voice, and O'Brien finally joins with the harmony, and made me wish they'd sung together more on the album.

All in all, the album is a lovely addition to any Irish music collection. Most impressive of all is the unaffected attitude of the album and the sheer pleasure the musicians obviously have composing and performing. The liner notes often refer to the community of musicians they hail from, whether in the form of recommendations taken or guest musicians. The last track on the album, not an official song but a snippet of the musicians taking off on their own jam, is a cheerful and welcome reminder of just how much music should rely on the sheer joy of creation and fun.

[ by Robin Brenner ]

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