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
(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
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 "
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
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!"
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
In the dozen years since, I have waited for another pipes-and-concertina
CD comparable in impact to the Keane-McCarthy release. The wait
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
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"
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,
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"
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
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
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,
IRISH TIMES - Siobhan Long
CD Choice: Trad
BRIAN McNAMARA AND TIM COLLINS Reed Only Drumlin Records
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
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
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
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
Drumlin Records BTCD01
Well, this is an easy one: this CD is absolutely fabulous! Buy
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.
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
This is a magnificent album, simultaneously
timeless and yet very much of its time.
Dr. Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin,
Smurfit Stone Professor of Irish Studies & Professor of
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!