The Irish Music Magazine – June 2011

MICHELLE O’BRIEN & LAOISE KELLY – The Wishing Well

Harpist Laoise Kelly is one of the most respected traditional musicians of her generation. Here she has teamed up with young fiddle star Michelle O’Brien for a live album recorded in County Leitrim. I had the privilege and pleasure of seeing this duo perform recently, and their deep musical understanding was obvious as the harp sparred and sported with the fiddle. Stripped down to two instruments, their music is still far from simple. Both ladies combine rhythm and melody in their styles, allowing them to chop and change roles during their performance. The result is something special, as you can hear on this recording.

The opening jigs are already enough to captivate the ear, delicate bowing over the powerful long strings of the harp. Laoise moves in on the melody for The Castletown Connors and Paddy Hudai’s, ending the first set in mighty form. Reels follow, and the first of several tunes which were out of fashion when I was younger: The Silver Spear. This grand old reel is played with gusto here, as are Miss Monaghan, Devaney’s Goat and The Wind that Shakes the Barley later on: it’s good to see all of these back in the pale. Another pleasing aspect of this CD is the high proportion of slower tracks – four in all, and every one a beauty. The Fairy Queen and Lord Mayo have been recorded a few times, including great arrangements by Planxty and Lúnasa: here they impress as fiddle showpieces. The harp classics Is Galar Cráidhte an Grádh and Though I Go to my Bed are perhaps less wel know in Ireland, but equally beautiful on this recording.

The dance music is just as fine. The likes of. The Drunken Landlady, The Stack of Barley, Dowd’s and Tommy Whelan’s are all tight and perfectly paced. Micheál Ó Suilleabháin has a piece called Must Be More Crispy: well, they don’t come any crispier than An Seanduine Dóite, also known as The Campbell’s are Coming, its staccato plucking from Laoise matched by Michelle’s rapid-fire bowing. The title track is a jig by Michelle’s teacher, the great Tommy Peoples, paired with a lovely version of The Battering Ram which has long been a favourite of mine. Laoise and Michelle close with a Scott Skinner strathspey in fine Donegal style, and a couple of classic Irish reels, ending a highly enjoyable live recording which might well be one of this year’s best Irish releases. For samples and more information, try www.laoisekelly.ie

– Alex Monaghan