Oisin McAuley,
Far from the Hills of Donegal
(Compass, 2007)

Oisin McAuley's self-produced debut solo album, Far from the Hills of Donegal, is nothing short of excellent. Not only does it portray the traditional Irish music he grew up with, it includes many other styles that have influenced his playing throughout his life, including a bit of jazz and classical. The album takes the listener on a Celtic music journey through the playing of tunes from Quebec, Brittany, Scotland, Donegal (of course!) and other parts of Ireland, and even tunes that were played on vaudeville in the 19th century. It also includes some compositions by McAuley, himself.

He opens the album with a set of lively "Quebec Reels," as the set is appropriately titled. From the moment I heard the guitar intro (played wonderfully by Shan McGowan), my toes were tapping. It is one of my favorite tracks and it definitely made me want to hear the rest of the album.

My absolute favorite track on the album is No. 7: "Souvenir of Venice (hornpipe)/Belle of the Stage (clog)." According to the liner notes, McAuley found the tunes in Coles' collection, "1000 Fiddle Tunes," "a strange collection of tunes collected in the US around the turn of the last century." It, too, includes McGowan on guitar and the combination of the instruments is perfect for this track. They are fun tunes that I have come to like so much that I am now learning them myself! McAuley does a wonderful job of putting his own style into these tunes. At times they sound a bit jazzy, which makes them all the more interesting.

Another set that inspired me was track No. 12: "Moneymusk/The Spey in Spate." Both are reels that were played by J. Scott Skinner. What is so interesting about this set is that the latter of the two reels is played in E major and it is normally played in D. It shows McAuley's talent really well because the tune is difficult enough in the original key and he took it to yet another level of virtuosity.

Another thing that really made this album great was the musicians that McAuley surrounded himself with. This included McGowan (mentioned earlier), McAuley's brother Aongus McAuley on cello, Tony Byrne on guitar, Peter Browne on button accordion, Peter Molloy on flute and last, but definitely not least, Ronan Browne on pipes.

I say "definitely not least" because this album includes some of the best piping I have ever heard. A great example of this is the last track: "Port Na Bpucai." The fiddle and pipes blend perfectly for this beautiful air from Co. Kerry.

I have no complaints about this album, whatsoever. If you are looking for a new Irish fiddle album to add to your library, I highly recommend this one!

review by
Kaitlin Hahn

6 October 2007

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