For album reviews of FORT OF THE JEWELS click
For album reviews of LEITRIM'S HIDDEN TREASURE by The
McNamara Family click here.
BEST OF 2000 - IRISH VOICE "Pick of the best of this
year's traditional music recordings."
UILLEANN piper Brian McNamara
celebrated his south County Leitrim roots on 'A Piper's Dream', a solo disc that
followed up on his family album Leitrim's Hidden Treasure. This is classic piping,
devoid of showmanship but with plenty of local tunes, all played with beautiful
intonation and perfect technical master.
Don Meade, Dec, 2000
Music Magazine - John Bophy Oct. 2000
A great collection which had
me on the edge of the chair (sofa, really) right form the start. Musically it
shows the intelligence and fruit of a long apprenticeship. This is a player who
knows the pipes, and it would be unthinkable to have this music played on any
other instruments, with it's effortless rolls, crans and ornaments. Not only does
he show the unique capabilities of pipes as a solo instrument, but he's able to
blend with his sister, Deirdre, on concertina, with Michael Rooney on harp, an
unusual if historical pairing which works very well and with Jens Kommnick on
The material is very interesting. Certainly there are classics
like Colonel Frazer and The Groves hornpipe, taken at a very deliberate pace,
but there are many other tunes taken form unpublished sources. One collection
is by William Ford of Cork, who died in 1850, and only 87 of the 150 tunes he
collected in Leitrim from piper Hugh O'Beirne were printed. Even more important
is the manuscript collection of more than 1000 tunes by Stephen Grier (1824-1894).
Of these 64 are in Ceol Rince na hÉireann vol. 4, and 20 appeared on the
CD Leitrim's Hidden Treasure on which Brian played. For this solo debut he has
used another seven. By my reckoning, that's at least 923 to be aired! The notes
and production are a model: he's even found out about the Gusty in Gusty's Frolics.
Time was the catch-phrase about the county, referring to soil fertility, was "Leitrim,
God help us!" Now with the likes The Hidden Treasures and what Brian has
shown here, it's going to be "Leitrim, God's blessed us!
John Brophy, October 2000
Irish Voice - Review - A "Dream" on the Pipes
by Don Meade
Brian McNamara is a south Leitrim man and proud of it. Born
in 1967 in Carrickavoher, Aughavas, Brian was 12 years old when he was introduced
to the uilleann pipes, an instrument with a long tradition in the area. The continuity
of that tradition was sundered in the early 1900s by emigration and depopulation.
Now Brian's mastery of this most Irish of instruments, as heard on his new recording
A Piper's Dream, has put south Leitrim piping back on the musical map.
In 1998 Brian produced and played on Leitrim's Hidden Treasure, an acclaimed family
recording that included his flute-playing father and musical siblings in performances
of tunes largely gathered from local sources. A Piper's Dream, which
draws heavily on the Leitrim tradition, should further enhance Brian's reputation
as one of the finest pure pipers in Ireland.
In contrast to the fast-and-furious
"open" piping favored by such popular players as Paddy Keenan, Finbar
Furey and John McSherry, Brian prefers a less turbo-charged style that is closer
to the kind of piping heard in Leitrim long ago. Speed is cheaply impressive,
but seasoned listeners will appreciate Brian's perfect intonation, beautiful chordal
accompaniment on the "regulators" and deftly fingered staccato triplets.
He also gives old-time flavor to many selections by playing low-pitched pipes
without the shrillness that often afflicts modern concert-pitch sets.
Many tunes on A Piper's Dream were learned from manuscript collections put together
in south Leitrim in the 19th century by piper Stephen Grier and fiddlers Thomas
Kiernan and Alex Sutherland. Others are classic piping pieces from the repertoire
of the late masters Séamus Ennis and Willie Clancy.
A Piper's Dream
is not a purely solo effort. Guitarist Jens Kommnick and harp virtuoso Michael
Rooney provide beautiful accompaniment on many tracks. Brian's
sister Deirdre also joins him for some telepathically close note-for-note duets.
Readers interested in the history of the tunes and the south Leitrim musical tradition
will get great enjoyment from Brian's scholarly liner notes, which include an
essay on the history of piping in the region and much information on the tunes
A Piper's Dream can be ordered for $20, which includes shipping,
payable by check to Brian McNamara, 2 Elm Grove, Summerhill, County Meath, Ireland.
Musical Traditions - Review Rod Stradling - 30.7.00
This is going to be an extremely difficult CD to review at any length, since
demands that it shouldn't be just a rehash of the McNamara Family
CD review, and nor ought it to re-use the same list of superlatives - but it's
very, very hard not to!
In one way A Piper's Dream is even more of an
achievement than Leitrim's Hidden Treasure. To make a wonderful record with a
six-piece band is one thing - to present 64 minutes of more-or-less solo playing
and retain the listener's interest right to the last note is not a trick many
have been able to master ... certainly not at Brian's relatively young age. But
he has and he does.
The music throughout is a joy to listen to - interesting
and unusual tunes, or versions, played in the unhurried, relaxed style which so
attracted me on the Family
disc. (sound clip - An tSean Bhean Bhocht) I can't
praise this too highly ... I understand that Séamus Ennis scorned fast
playing, feeling that it was so often employed to disguise poor technique. That
may well be so, but it also tends to obscure good technique when that is at the
player's command - to say nothing of what it does to the shape and flow of a tune.
Here, there's technique in abundance,
displayed at a pace at which I'm capable
of appreciating it. (sound clip - Gusty's Frolic)
I called this 'more-or-less
solo' playing because Brian is joined at times by his sister Deirdre on concertina
and backed by Michael Rooney on harp and Jens Kommnick on guitar. My preference
is for unaccompanied solo performance (as is the case here in 10 of the 17 tracks),
but I can find little to quarrel with in the contributions of any of these musicians.
Deirdre plays so tightly with her brother that it's often difficult to believe
that you're actually hearing two separate instruments, although I'm pleased to
see that she does get to lead the set at least once - in the jigs track 8 (sound
clip - Stoney Batter), but this may just be that Brian's playing a flat-pitched
set, so that the higher-voiced concertina is more obvious.
produced booklet is full of useful and interesting information, including a four-page
account of the South Leitrim piping tradition from the late 18th century to the
present day. Although space requires it to be in somewhat condensed form, this
and the notes to the tunes - full of references to Brian's sources - are both
excellent. I was particularly interested to find out that the English jig I know
as the The New May Moon is actually the traditional Irish tune Tom Moore used
for his song The Young May Moon and which was (still is) known as The Old Figaree
in Leitrim, where it's found in the Grier MS - source of many of the tunes on
both McNamara CDs. (sound clip)
All in all, a thoroughly excellent CD
- contending for my 'Irish music record of the year'.
Stradling - 30.7.00
The Living Tradition - Alex Monaghan - Sept./Oct. 2000
Brian McNamara is a Leitrim piper who is well known in sessions around Dublin.
He was previously featured on the excellent McNamara family CD "Leitrim's
Hidden Treasure". This time he has a recording all to himself, over an hour
of exquisite piping from South Leitrim and beyond. The Drumlin tradition of glossy
presentation, copious sleeve notes and flawless production is continued with this
CD, and from track one it's obvious that the music is once again first class.
Brian is a very neat piper, not very flamboyant but precise and measured,
with all the notes in the right place. The tunes here are taken at a reasonable
pace, and the
intricacies of Brian's fingerwork are plain to hear. In fact,
this would make excellent training material for younger pipers. The playing is
more than just technically precise, though; there's an intuitive feel for the
music which comes through both in
the playing and in the notes. It's been
my privilege to participate in a few sessions with Brian, and his empathy with
the tradition, and with his instrument, was evident
then as here. There is
a warmth of tone and a naturalness in the playing on this CD which is all too
rare in recorded music. Listening to the fluency in " The Tailor's Twist"
or "Sean Bui", it is easy to imagine that the pipes are playing themselves.
There's an old-fashioned feel to many of the 17 tracks (63 minutes) which I like.
The style of piping is rather more staccato than the current fashion, and the
minimal accompaniment is more akin to the 19th century than the 21st. There's
a bit of guitar from Jens Kommnick, some sparkling touches from young harpist
Michael Rooney, and some duetting with Deirdre McNamara on concertina, but otherwise
Brian is on his own. Highlights? The big reel "Colonel Fraser", the
"Beauties of Ireland" jigs with Deirdre, the powerful air "Loch
na gCaor", and the reel "The Morning Thrush" which ends this most
enjoyable and engaging recording.
Alex Monaghan Sept./Oct. 2000
The Sunday Tribune - Review by Fintan Vallely - July 23rd 2000
Brian McNamara - "A Piper's Dream"
A tremendous piece of 'concert'
and 'flat piping with attention to detail rarely heard. Superb technique explores
uilleann pipes tone and pitch potential, set with intricate
harp, concertina and guitar. Not only is the great variety in tight-fingered,
unusual and interesting tunes metered zealously with punched-card precision, but
'hard-Ds', trills, rolls and accompaniment too. This, with slow tempo, may disappoint
for perhaps restraining emotion, but here is awesome time given to
in a dramatic marker for the piper's ignored stylistic area.
Fintan Vallely - July 23rd 2000