Gavin Whelan,
Gavin Whelan
(Tallaght, 2001)

This is an exciting album of Irish traditional music. Gavin Whelan can make the whistle sing and his self-titled album achieves a purity and simplicity of uncluttered excellence. The range of material covered is impressive, too: no less than 36 tunes over 15 tracks with sets of reels and jigs predominating. Although the album is mainly based on traditional tunes, nine of them are credited to seven composers.

Whelan was born and lives in Dublin but many visits to County Clare have evidently been a big influence on his playing and selection of music. He is ably supported by 11 musicians playing bouzouki, guitar, bodhran, mandolin, fiddle and concertina.

Colm Murphy and Donnacha Gough's bodhran playing makes a significant impact on most tracks as this instrument combines particularly well with the Eb whistle Whelan favors. Other musicians making their mark include Finbarr Naughton on mandolin and Zoe Conway on fiddle -- both instruments underpin the album's traditional base.

From the opening set of reels this is music to lift your spirits and even inspire some impromptu dancing. Your imagination might well transpose you to the pubs of Dublin or bars of County Clare! Whelan's whistle playing is always dazzling but appropriately paced and beautifully phrased. As well as the typically fast tunes, Whelan also displays mastery of the slow air with two fine examples including the unaccompanied "Bean Dubh An Ghleanna/Dark Woman of the Glen" that highlights the lyricism of his playing.

The album builds up in intensity through the album much like a live gig or pub session. It is particularly impressive when Whelan is joined by four or five other musicians creating a characteristically expansive sound in the jigs and reels. Several of the highlights hail from County Clare including the jigs "The Pipers Chair" and "The Cliffs of Moher" (Clare version) and the reel "Micheal Relihan's."

If you like your Celtic music acoustically simple yet free-spirited, then this will be one for you.

by Andy Jurgis
10 July 2004

In these days of very heavily, sometimes over-produced records and hordes of big-name guest appearances, it is great to see a traditional music player getting down to the roots. The tin whistle is a musical instrument that is all too often overlooked when we think of music. Yet it is an instrument that is relatively inexpensive and easily portable, and if you listen to Gavin Whelan you will realize it can be a magical item.

This CD gives us 15 examples of great traditional sounds that come primarily from an instrument that we all probably think we could play -- but when you hear an expert like this you realize it is just a thought.

He starts in Donegal with a set of reels that lays the tone of the album -- good, clean, clear and addictive. He later launches into a series of jigs, reels and slow airs that traverse the country. I particularly enjoyed a set of Highland reels and the slow air "Dark Woman of the Glen."

This CD will have many people wishing they could play like this and dreaming of producing a tin whistle from their inside pocket at weddings, wakes and funerals to enthrall the crowds. Unfortunately, most of us do not have the talent of Gavin Whelan, so keep dreaming.

This album reminds me of the complex simplicity of Irish traditional music. What sounds like an impromptu tune has a history, has often evolved from another instrumental incarnation and is played with subtle backing of guitars, bouzouki and bodhran to weave the spell. For those who like Irish traditional tunes well played, this is a must-have album.

by Nicky Rossiter
24 September 2005

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