Seamus Walshe,
Clare Accordion
(independent, 1996; 2007)

Imagine a dance hall where a recital is taking place by young girls from an Irish step-dancing school. The music is upbeat, the usual jigs and reels, some you've never heard and all played flawlessly by an accordionist in the finest old traditional manner, as evidenced by his origins in Clare, a venue renowned for its Irish musical heritage. Such is Seamus Walshe's latest release , Clare Accordion.

In fact, Walshe is from West Clare near Quilty, the seat of music in Clare. Think of the adoration paid to this county in Christy Moore's droll but unforgettable name-dropping tune, "Lisdoonvarna." Seamus's accompanying musicians are Brendan Larrissey on fiddle, Mark Kelly on guitar, Jim Higgins on piano, Tommy Hayes on bodhran, Eugene Kelly on piano and bass piano, and Martin Murphy on bodhran. These other musicians skillfully provide tasteful back up to Seamus' accordion usually in duets or trios.

Here you have trad at its finest, yet most typical. While the musicianship is superb, to mention it again -- virtually flawless -- the music itself is not what lovers of "Celtic" music might like. If you are drawn to today's wonderful, but somewhat less than authentic folk revival syntheses and crossovers, you might find Walshe's CD somewhat undramatic. Those who would purchase an album by Celtic Woman or who like the studio-enhanced, rockified Celtic music CDs so popular today (that one can find in K-Marts across the country) have a choice: steer clear or learn what the real thing is all about. Here, then, are the roots of the big production and electronic age fare. This is the stuff many Irish-Americans, accustomed to "stage Irish" music such as patter choruses singing "Peggy O'Neil" or "When Irish Eyes are Smiling," can often be heard to call "too traditional."

This is trad. This is the stuff young Irish mothers in Ireland send the lad to learn at someone's house. The stuff young Irish children may take lessons in from an early age. This is no rollicking pub fare to clap the hands and stomp the feet to. This is the classical musical heritage of the Ireland of another day. You would more expect to hear it in the parlor on Sunday than in the pub on Saturday night (although, of course, that depends on the pub).

Impressively, Seamus speaks of his admiration for Tommy Peoples, whom he describes as "one of my favorite fiddle players." He says, "I have fond memories of playing with Tommy in Clare during the early Seventies." Today, Peoples is recognized as one of the dynamic trad fiddle players on the scene to emerge in the Celtic Renaissance of the past 35 years or so. I saw him perform and can vouch for his command of his instrument. These are the ranks among whom Seamus Walshe marches, but in august manner. The music is that of the dance hall, church supper and ceilidh.

Like the New England contra dancing familiar to many, Walshe's tracks can often be heard to the accompaniment of a solo pianist or fiddler or acoustic guitarist. When the bodhran is part of the instrumentation, as on the first cut on the CD, it is drubbed daintily and faintly in the background, a far cry from the heartpounding drums beaten in the acclaimed stage production, Riverdance. Sure, the militant rallying power and excitement of loudly beaten drums belongs to the valid Irish musical repertoire, but you won't find it here. These are plain, unvarnished tunes ... and therein lies their charm. The entire body of work on this CD is notable for the dignity and austerity that typifies "classical" traditional music in great measure.

The first track is a set called "Reavey's Jigs," for composer Ed Reavey. I personally found other cuts more engaging. While there are 14 tracks in all on the CD, to me the most charming is "High Part of the Road and Connie O'Connell's Jigs" on track 4. There is quaint country charm to the melody. One can well imagine step dancing to it. "High Part of the Road" was a favorite jig of James Keane, an accordionist admired by Walshe. Said Walshe in comments accompanying the CD, " I love the 'neagh' which he puts into his music." (Unfortunately, a search of online Gaelic dictionaries revealed nothing of the meaning of this word.)

Recognizable to most traditional players are titles such as the "The Bucks of Oranmore" and "Sliabh na mBan," which Walshe renders splendidly for us.

Cuts 11, 12 and 13 grabbed my attention as the most lively. Two hornpipes, "Mulqueeny's" and "Wanderer," comprise track 13, my favorite on the CD. As he mentions in liner notes, Seamus claims influence from 78 records of yesteryear -- those of George Ross, in particular. Ross was an accordionist from Wexford. For Walshe, the highlight of his musical career, in his own words, was when George adjudicated and gave him first place in the Oireachtas 1972 and the All Ireland Senior Accordion Championship in 1980.

Other tunes include further jigs and reels associated with their originators. Other of Walshe's recordings include Memories of Galway and Traditional Music of Ireland on Button Accordion.

review by
John Cross

15 September 2007

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