Manus Maguire,
Saffron and Blue
(Green Linnet, 2000)

Sligo fiddler Manus Maguire takes a solo bow from his bands Buttons and Bows and Moving Cloud to produce a rich and varied CD of original and traditional fiddle tunes. Maguire's musicianship is faultless. The mood is unfrenzied and stately, and the livelier jigs and reels are performed with understated and elegant simplicity.

Rather than launching the CD with something fast-paced, Maguire starts with "Genevieve's Waltz," an original composition which he named for his wife. A piano and guitar set the tone and Maguire's fiddle begins its sweet and rich singing. The melody line is simple and lovely with a strong waltz beat; it's easy to imagine couples whirling around a dance floor. All I can say is "lucky Genevieve"!

The guest musicians support the music in a way that is wholly integrated into the tune; the balance is as near perfect as humanly possible. Elements of the accompaniment weave in and out with foot percussion here, a nimbly plucked guitar there, but are never out of place. There is subtlety and artistry in each track with enough variety to keep the listener interested for all fourteen tunes and sets.

Maguire composed many of the tunes on Saffron and Blue, in some cases building tunes sets of his own tunes, such as "Howling at the Moon/Sunset over Scariff/The Gortcommer Welcome" or "Lupins on Larkhill/Flight of Falcons" -- not coincidentally two of my favorite sets. Maguire combines the title track, his own composition, with "Highest Hill in Sligo" by the late Ed Reavy; "Saffron and Blue," by the way, is dedicated to County Clare's hurlers, and the colors saffron and blue are those of County Clare.

Some of the selections are traditional, such as the lovely air "An Gleanntain Alainn" or the familiar reel "Boys of the Lough." Five traditional reels finish off the CD in style: "Billy Brocker's/Tom Ward's Downfall/The Torn Jacket/The Liffey Banks/Lucy Campbell." This set begins with just Maguire playing, then one by one the background instruments join in: guitar, mandocello, foot percussion, piano, and double bass and the music rollicks on.

The arrangement of the tracks is careful and cohesive; the tunes move easily one to another without blurring or jarring. There is an "old-fashioned" feel to the simplicity of the CD; Maguire isn't out to demonstrate fancy effects or pyrotechnics. It's pure playing from the heart -- and it doesn't get better than that. This is a CD that will find its way into my player frequently.

Like great fiddle music? Suit up in Manus Maguire's Saffron and Blue.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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