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ALBUM REED ONLY -Brian McNamara & Tim Collins

Track Listings - Behind the Tracks


For album reviews of FORT of the JEWELS  click here.
For album reviews of A PIPER'S DREAM  click here.
For album reviews of LEITRIM'S HIDDEN TREASURE by The McNamara Family click here.


The Top 10 Irish Traditional Albums of 2007
CEOL; By Earle Hitchner [Published on January 23, 2008, in the IRISH ECHO newspaper, New York City. Copyright (c) Earle Hitchner. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of author.]

No. 1
(1) "REED ONLY" by Brian McNamara and Tim Collins (Drumlin Records BTCD01; www.piperbrian.com, www.timcollins-concertina.com)
The last time that a CD duet of uilleann pipes and concertina ensnared me with its unobtrusive brilliance was "The Wind Among the Reeds" by Tommy Keane and Jacqueline McCarthy in 1995. "Reed Only" is even better. The playing of South Leitrim uilleann piper Brian McNamara and West Limerick native concertinist Tim Collins is unaffected, uncluttered, unblemished, and nearly telepathic. The pace is ideal, the musical ideas tumble out organically, and the braiding of instruments shows no stray strand. From the opening track of "Aggie Whyte's Reel/The Small Hills of Offaly/The Widow's Daughter" to the closing track of "John Kelly's Concertina Reel/Our House at Home/The Ballynacally Reel," McNamara and Collins have made the uncommon--pipes and concertina together--sound uncommonly natural, invigorating, and elevating. Together these instrumentalists have created a clear-paned window into the soul of the Irish musical tradition. Their CD offers peerless peering and rapturous listening pleasure

The Piper's Review; Vol. XXVI No. 4 - Autumn 2007
CD Reviews
Brian McNamara and Tim Collins' New CD "Reed Only" on Drumlin Record; Reviewed by Kynch O'Kaine

'Twas a lovely cool Sunday evening in Miltown Malbay and just a matter of hours before the first day of the Willie Clancy Scoil Samhraidh. I was very happy to be back in Clare. I started the week off with the launch of all the new CDs, which was held at St Joseph's Secondary School, in Spanish Point. The first two people I ran into were Brian McNamara and Tim Collins. I met Tim for the first time two days earlier when he came to our house to give me a concertina lesson. Before Tim stopped by, I went to Custy's to purchase "Reed Only," the new record by Brian McNamara and Tim Collins. Having spent a considerable amount of time listening and transcribing both Brian's and Tim's music, I knew that a collaboration of this caliber had the potential of creating something very special. The thought of the supportive cast of well-known figures such as Michael Rooney (harp), Pádraic O'Reilly (piano), Mick Conneely (bouzouki), and Alec Finn (bouzouki & guitar), further peaked my curiosity.

The piping of Leitrim born Brian McNamara is instantly recognizable. His unmistakable time feel, his signature G cran, or simply the sheer tightness of his playing are all part of his musical fingerprint. He does all that and more without gimmicks and still casts beams of passion and beauty throughout a tune. In this author's eyes (and ears) Brian has earned his stripes. He told me that the purpose of his music was "…to reach others." There are some who's playing will fade into the generic landscape of today's Irish Traditional music scene, but this will never be the case with Brian. His music is brilliantly executed and yet it remains wonderfully human.

Tim Collins is a modern concertina stylist in the best sense of the word. His musical roots are buried deep in the place of his birth, Sliabh Luachra, the mountainous region straddling the borders of Southwest Limerick, East Kerry, and Northwest Cork. In addition to winning All-Ireland titles, Tim has performed with the Kilfenora Ceili band for many years. His solo record "Dancing on Silver" is a must-have for anyone in search of great music.

All-Ireland titles, highly acclaimed solo recordings, and birthplaces hardly ensure the kind of magic found on this disc, much less a recording that lasts longer (in history) than its total playtime. The two have proved in spades that they can make lovely solo recordings but the history of records featuring brilliant artists has left its fair share of flaccid attempts on dusty record store shelves. So then, how does this recording stand up?

"Reed Only" is one of the most remarkable recordings in my memory! In 15 tracks you will find; 6 sets of reels, 5 sets of jigs, 2 airs, and 2 sets of hornpipes. I have listened to this CD countless times and there is much more to it than one might expect. Tim and Brian are not the only "stars" on this recording. Perhaps, equal mention might be given to Michael, Pádraic, Mick, and Alec who provide a beautifully textured soundscape for these tunes to so happily traverse. To wax poetic, it is a utopia of sorts that any tune would want to immigrate to.

Mick Conneely is a highly interactive and yet unobtrusive bouzouki player. His hammer-ons, rhythmic subdivision, and overall feel are laid back in a most unpretentious way. He's no thrasher by any stretch of the imagination. Mick chooses arpeggiated figures fleshed out with a bit of energetic strumming to propel the rhythm. The first track of reels (Aggie Whyte's Reel / The Small Hills Of Offaly / The Widow's Daughter) find Mick's playing a delight from beginning to end.

Michael Rooney's harp playing is simply exquisite. It's not only what Michael plays, but what he doesn't, thus exploiting the music and not the technique. For example, on the jigs on track 7 (Petticoat Loose/Cró Na nGabhar) the harp makes its entrance on the 2nd tune with a chord on beat 1 and holds it for the next 5 beats. His lovely use of harmony strongly flavours the mood of each track he appears on. Michael utilizes the harp's entire range, tricking the listener into thinking there is a piano on the track. This kind of accompaniment found on his now many recordings is a dream come true.

Pádraic O'Reilly, a solo artist in his own right, shows us that he is just as comfortable playing a supporting role. On track 9 (Fasten The Leg In / Westering Home / Tell Her I Am) he shows us, and all piano-phobes alike, that understanding the architecture of a set is paramount. Never is he bombastic or harmonically inappropriate. On the last B section of "Tell Her I Am, " Pádraic lets the listener know the track is coming to a close with the most tasteful use of dynamics and harmony. Pure class!

Alec Finn needs no introduction. Though there are two bouzoukis on this recording (never appearing on the same track), Alec's recorded sound has more high-mids and highs, with more "ting." His very intricate yet understated playing is like a delicate fabric, felt more than heard in detail. It is just lovely.
Most in the piping community know that the names David Quinn and Benedict Koehler are synonymous with the highest of standards in pipe making. A set of pipes is only as good as the reeds they house. Benedict Koehler's chanter reeds are as identifiable as Brian's playing style. I am certain I can hear the difference between a Koehler reed and that of another maker in the same Quinn/Koehler chanter. Brian's pipes simply sing on this record!

I am enthralled with Brian's production decisions regarding his own playing. As brilliant as his playing is, he chose not to polish the recording into a mirror finish. I reckon there was a greater value placed on the overall vibe of the performance versus choosing a take that had no mistakes, or using aggressive editing to airbrush it into inhuman imaculata. You may find the spot where the back "d" slightly breaks, hear a regulator key that was unintentionally touched, or a first octave E that starts to jump the octave. All of this keeps it real and point to the humility these world-class players.

The use of reverb is the only inconsistency in the production. Different amounts of reverb can be heard on each selection, but it is the airs (played on the pipes only) where it draws attention to itself . Tim's solo tracks and duo playing (with no backing) get the driest treatment. Essentially, it doesn't interfere with the music, or my enjoyment of it.

My Wish list: Though I understand the vibe Brian is going for, in my opinion the excessive reverb on the airs is unnecessary. Perhaps he could treat the recording with more of a consistent "real" room effect. My only other wish is for aVolume II, including the same accompanying artists!
Tim and Brian have a wonderfully balanced synergy. Tim's playing smoothes out Brian's very tight approach to the chanter, yet, there is no loss of definition between the concertina and pipes. The instruments are playing in a variety of pitches. Brian uses his Q&K concert D set, and a Q&K C chanter with drones and regs by Geoff Woofe. Tim's concertinas include a modern C/G Suttner, and two nineteenth century Jefferies pitched in Bb/F & C#/G#.

The settings of the tunes are never mundane and always energetic. The clever arrangements showcase the duo sans accompaniment at a moments notice. The regulators are well-mixed, warm, harmonious, and are always used with skill and taste. The conscious use of the drones, perfectly placed in the mix, are sometimes on and sometimes off, adds another layer of richness to the tapestry. There is much more to say, but I will leave that for you to discover.

For admirers of beauty and to those in search of that special haven of aural delight, that place is within reach on "Reed Only." In the words of my friend Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, "Long may we enjoy the draiocht of place in the music of Tim Collins and Brian McNamara. Ádh mór oraibh beirt!"



"Pipes, Concertina Impressively Mesh on McNamara/Collins album"
By Earle Hitchner

[Published on October 3, 2007, in the IRISH ECHO newspaper, New York City. Copyright (c) Earle Hitchner. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of author.]

In 1995, the husband-and-wife team of Waterford native uilleann piper Tommy Keane and London-born concertinist Jacqueline McCarthy (her father, Tommy, came from Kilmihil, Clare) issued a magnificent album together, "The Wind Among the Reeds," on their own Maree Music label in Galway. It stands as one of the finest Irish traditional instrumental recordings of that decade and demands to be revisited and re-appreciated today.

In the dozen years since, I have waited for another pipes-and-concertina CD comparable in impact to the Keane-McCarthy release. The wait is over.
Made by Aughavas, South Leitrim, uilleann piper Brian McNamara and West Limerick-born concertinist Tim Collins, "Reed Only" delivers unrushed, uncluttered, almost telepathic playing. The pace is perfect, the ideas tumble out organically, and the braiding of instruments shows no loose strand.
In his foreword, Ennis-born Gearoid O hAllmhurain, who plays both concertina and uilleann pipes, called McNamara and Collins "musicians' musicians." The proof is inescapable on their recording.

Like Keane and McCarthy's "The Wind Among the Reeds," McNamara and Collins's "Reed Only" features Alec Finn on bouzouki and guitar, and the two albums also share a tune: the jig "Fasten the Leg in Her."

Apart from those similarities and an overall shared brilliance, the two recordings separately establish the uilleann pipes and concertina as mutually complementary. The more familiar pairings of concertina and fiddle, which reached a high-water mark with the 1979 classic album "Noel Hill and Tony Linnane," and uilleann pipes and fiddle, the most electrifying recent example of which was Mick O'Brien and Caoimhin O Raghallaigh's "Kitty Lie Over" in 2003, must again cede ground to the rarer pairing of concertina and pipes on "Reed Only."

McNamara and Collins bring considerable experience to their duo recording. After gracing the aptly named "Leitrim's Hidden Treasure" in 1998, an album featuring six members of the McNamara family, Brian recorded two superb solo CD's: "A Piper's Dream" in 2000 and "Fort of the Jewels" in 2004.

Between 1995 and 2002, Collins made no fewer than three recordings with the Kilfenora Ceili Band, whose seven All-Ireland senior ceili band championships (1954-56, 1961, 1993-95) have yet to be equaled. He is credited with bringing a fresh array of Sliabh Luachra slides and polkas to the competitive repertoire of the Kilfenora, while his solo debut in 2004, "Dancing on Silver," placed him in the same concertina category of Noel Hill, Micheal O Raghallaigh, Niall Vallely, and another Kilfenora veteran, Chris Droney.

Three guests on "Dancing on Silver" appear on "Reed Only": Brian McNamara, Alec Finn, and former Turas pianist Padraic O'Reilly. Common to both "A Piper's Dream" and "Reed Only" is harper Michael Rooney. All these studio-tested collaborations and friendships contribute to the cohesion and lift of "Reed Only."
The opening track of reels, "Aggie Whyte's/The Small Hills of Offaly/The Widow's Daughter," sets the tone and attitude for the entire album. McNamara's uilleann pipes, Collins's concertina, Finn's bouzouki, and Rooney's harp sound as if they were being played near a turf fire in a quiet corner of a pub. Relaxed, focused, and joyful, the performance of these three reels avoids any false urgency or hidden need to show off. By not chasing the music like a hound after a hare, the players allow listeners to come to the music as they have. It is confident, not arrogant; disciplined, not rigid; imaginative, not indulgent. All egos have been safely stowed away at the studio door.

The trio of McNamara, Collins, and Rooney drive "The Ballinacourty/Snug in the Blanket" and "Petticoat Loose/Cro na nGabhar" jigs, "The Nine Pint Coggie/Sailing Into Walpole's Marsh/The Beauty Spot" reels, and "The Good-Natured Man/The West End" and "Johnny Cope" hornpipes. There's an unmistakable distinction to the music produced by those three instrumentalists, with Rooney's playing never once slipping into the cocktail-hour tinkliness of less able harpers that would have diluted or been a distraction on those tracks.
A favorite cut from the "Noel Hill and Tony Linnane" album is Hill's concertina solo on the hornpipe "Johnny Cope," and on "Reed Only" McNamara, Collins, and Rooney provide another prism glimpse into interpreting that tune, lending a jauntiness to heighten its historical swagger.

Collins and McNamara are backed by Finn on bouzouki for "The Boys on the Hilltop/The Cashmere Shawl/The Sunny Banks" reels, in which Finn drops out at one point to let the two melody players step out and also let McNamara carry forward the rhythm on his regulators. It's a well-crafted, well-executed arrangement that rewards repeated listening.

McNamara's unaccompanied soloing of the airs "Ag Taisteal na Blarnan," played on a flat set of pipes, and "The Bright Lady," played on a concert-pitched set of pipes, conjures earthy elegance. A rawness of emotion reaches toward an elusive numinous understanding, and the result evokes what Walter Pater might have described as a "hard, gemlike flame" burning within.
Accompanied by Mick Conneely on bouzouki and Padraic O'Reilly on piano, Collins delivers his own glistening solos in "The Wexford Lassies/Biddy From Muckross/The Spike Island Lassies" reels and "Fasten the Leg in Her/Westering Home/Tell Her I Am" jigs. The energy of the Sliabh Luachra tradition blends with Kilfenora-bred fluidity and a spot-on instinct for tasteful ornamentation to create concertina music of deep-dwelling pleasure.

I admit I would have enjoyed hearing more than one track ("The Lady's Cup of Tea/The Basket of Oysters/The Kerry Lassie") of pipes and concertina without accompaniment, if only to savor the more concentrated alchemy of McNamara and Collins dueting. But I also admit that's selfish on my part.

The 15 tracks on "Reed Only" represent an important benchmark in making the uncommon--pipes and concertina together--sound uncommonly natural, invigorating, and elevating. As Mick Moloney astutely points out in his liner note, the album "explores the multiple collaborative possibilities in the union of two quite different and yet oddly similar instruments in an exhilarating musical journey, which starts out and ends up at the heart of the tradition."

Brian McNamara and Tim Collins have succeeded in making the uilleann pipes and the concertina a single, clear-paned window into the soul of the Irish musical tradition. "Reed Only" offers some peerless peering.

Self-issued on their own Drumlin Records/Croisin Music imprint, the album is available at www.piperbrian.com, www.timcollins-concertina.com, and www.ossianusa.com.

IRISH TIMES - Siobhan Long

"Playing the piper"
CD Choice: Trad

The pairing of pipes and concertina makes a particularly sweet encounter on the cannily titled Reed Only from Leitrim piper Brian McNamara and Sliabh Luachra concertina player Tim Collins. This is one of the most refined, high-stepping collections of tunes to seep into the ether this year, a snapshot in time of two musicians at one with their music.

McNamara's distinctively restrained yet staccato piping style marked him apart on his previous solo recordings (A Piper's Dream and Fort of Jewels). Now he's wed it with Collins's self- effacing, fluid concertina lines, with spine-tingling results. The "big" hornpipe, Johnny Cope, is a model of ensemble playing, with concertina and pipes intertwining seamlessly, augmented by a judicious infusion of Michael Rooney's ever-genteel harp.

McNamara's disciplined playing shines further on the air, Ag Taisteal na Blárnan/Travelling Through Blarney, where he exercises the full capacity of chanter and drones without ever exhausting their potential or exploiting the pathos of the tune.

What's particularly striking throughout Reed Only is how the dance music of Sliabh Luachra in all its ferocious glory contrasts headily with the more self- possessed Leitrim repertoire, with neither style overwhelming the other. In fact, McNamara and Collins manage to retain their local accents while at the same time engaging in the kind of scintillating musical tête à tête that keeps the listener hanging on their every note.

Collins' modesty is writ large on the jig set bookended by the lustfully titled Fasten the Leg In and the ever-magical Tell Her I Am. His concertina traces hairlines in the tune, and his choice of Pádraic O'Reilly's piano and Mick Conneely's bouzouki as playdates captures the mood of this three-piece suite with bullseye accuracy.

This is music of our time, still rooted in a past that's laden with treasures, some of them happily unearthed and spit-polished after languishing for too long in the wings. A reedy interlude that unfurls itself with unhurried gracefulness - a perfect recipe for longevity. www.piperbrian.com .

MUSTRAD - Rod Stradling

Brian McNamara and Tim Collins
Reed Only
Drumlin Records BTCD01

Well, this is an easy one: this CD is absolutely fabulous! Buy it!

You wany more? Oh well - Brian McNamara is a fantastic piper and Tim Collins is a fantastic concertina player. Pipes and concertina go brilliantly well together. Both are recorded in scintillating digital stereo, playing a well-varied selection of less-than-common tunes. They are backed-up on some tracks by top-class people like Pádraic O'Reilly (piano), Michael Rooney (harp), Alec Finn and Mick Conneely (strings) in a way which enhances, yet never intrudes.

I'm at a loss as to selecting a track or tracks for sound clips, since all (it seems to me) are equally wonderful. If I must (sound clip left) here's a couple of jigs: the first, Petticoat Loose, is from the late, great Johnny O'Leary, and the second, Cró na nGabhar, comes from the repertoire of James Quinn (1805-1890), better known as Old Man Quinn, a piper from Aughavas - Brian's home village. Something a bit faster? Try Our House at Home then (sound clip right), from the Stephen Grier manuscript - whence came a number of tunes on the lovely McNamara Family CD (review) of a few years back.

This really is a lovely record - at once both modern sounding and completely traditional. The sound sparkling and precise; the style relaxed and at ease with itself and with the music.

IRISH MUSIC - Alex Monaghan

If there is such a thing as hardcore traditional music, this is it. The uilleann pipes and the anglo concertina are two instruments which have never really moved outside traditional music, and although there are enormous mechanical and historical differences between them, they blend and complement each other very successfully. The pipes and concertina combination is rarely recorded: Tommy Keane and Jaqueline McCarthy's album springs to mind, and some early Chieftains records, but there aren't too many others. Reed Only is up there with the best of them: Aggie White's Reel kicks off a splendid opening set, followed by a grand old pair of jigs in The Ballinacourty and Snug in a Blanket. The quality doesn't falter for the full fifteen tracks, finishing with a trio of unusual reels including Our House at Home. In between, a couple of hornpipes vie with the reels and jigs, and Brian delivers two sweet solo slow airs: Travelling Through Blarney and The Bright Lady.

The duet playing here is glorious, neither man holding back but not a jarring note. Tim Collins returns cran for cran, triplet for triplet, and the concertina harmonies are matched by Brian's regulators. Brian plays an agressive set of pipes on most of this album, a concert D set by Koehler & Quinn, but Tim has the edge even so. Tim sticks to jigs and reels for his solos. A Clare concertina setting of The Spike Island Lasses brings one solo to a climax. The other centres on a jig version of the song Westering Home which is uncannily close to the Scottish march Muckin' O' Geordie's Byre, also known as The Hair Fell Off my Coconut. Compositions by Richie Dwyer and Paddy O'Brien add to the traditional highlights here: Return to Burton Road and The Small Hills of Offaly are deserved favourites.

In fact, this music is so good that it almost makes up for the album title, which is saying a lot. More information is available from www.piperbrian.com, where you can also find out about Brian's previous albums, or from www.timcollins-concertina.com which has samples of Tim's debut solo CD.

Mick Moloney
Global Distinguished Professor of Music,
New York University.

Duet playing can create some of the most exciting and engaging sounds in Irish traditional music. At its best, the dynamic interplay between two master musicians can produce a performance that exceeds wonderfully the sum of the parts. This groundbreaking recording by Tim Collins and Brian McNamara explores the multiple collaborative possibilities in the union of two quite different and yet oddly similar instruments, in an exhilarating musical journey, which starts out and ends up at the heart of the tradition. The beautiful reedy sound of the uilleann pipes and concertina, complimented by the fine accompaniment of Alec Finn, Mick Conneely, Michael Rooney and Pádraic O Reilly creates a magical tapestry of musical textures, which soars effortlessly into heights of artistry where virtuosity is always balanced by supreme tastefulness.

This is a magnificent album, simultaneously timeless and yet very much of its time.

Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin, MBA, Ph.D.
Smurfit Stone Professor of Irish Studies & Professor of Music
University of Missouri-St. Louis

At a time when tabloid hagiography and the cult of the celebrity have become defining features of the Irish music industry, it is refreshing to hear a traditional recording that allows the music to speak for itself - uninhibited by the crass superlatives of performers, or the 'marketspeak' of their mogul benefactors. Leitrim's Brian McNamara and Sliabh Luachra's Tim Collins need no introduction to discerning aficionados of Irish traditional music. Masters of their traditional crafts who have astutely explored the historical depths of their musical dialects, Tim and Brian can best be described as musicians' musicians - a quiet honour reserved for a small cohort of players in today's vast global marketplace for Irish music.

This album explores the hidden nuances that distinguish the traditional dance music of Sliabh Luachra and Leitrim, as well as the more conspicuous common ground shared by both musical styles. Above all, the music makers themselves approach their task with a profound sense of deference for the elder tradition bearers of both regions, as well as the oral and manuscript sources that they left behind in their wake. Their peregrinations, however, also take them along other musical byways - from the rolling hills of Iorrus in south west Clare, northwards to Sliabh Aughty, and further north again, to Prestonpans near Edinburgh, where General John Cope got his comeuppance in 1745. This splendid album is a treasure throve of Irish music and music history that underlines the unique empathy between uilleann pipes and its bean cháirdín successor. As an all-too-rare testament to the significance of regional identities in Irish traditional music, this album speaks for so much more than the two masters who have allowed such wonderful music to speak through them. Long may we enjoy the draíocht of place in the music of Tim Collins and Brian McNamara. Ádh Mór Oraibh Beirt!






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