The Living Tradition

LAOISE KELLY 
Ceis


At the forefront of Irish harp music for a couple of decades now, from early days with The Bumblebees to her career as a soloist and tutor, Laoise Kelly is one of the most respected traditional musicians of her generation. I had the privilege and pleasure of seeing her perform recently with the hugely talented young fiddler Michelle O’Brien, and Laoise’s deep musical understanding was obvious as the harp sparred and sported with the fiddle. On this second solo CD, she demonstrates prodigious technique and feeling for the tunes: Joe Cassidy’s and Beautiful Gortree are clear examples, Tommy Peoples reels which make stunning solos. And when I say solo, I mean solo: there’s nothing but harp on this album, if you ignore the birdsong on An Lun Dubh. As well as challenging dance tunes, there are also several tracks which come from the core harp repertoire: The Honourable Thomas Burke, Achill Air and others.

Ceis (pronounced Kesh) is the Irish name for the spellbinding effect of the harp in legend, and sometimes in real life: one reason why the harp is considered a magical instrument, beloved of the faery folk, symbolic of Irish spirit and mysticism. There are touches of this misty-eyed view here, on the ancient pieces Is Galar Cráidhte an Grádh or Separation of Soul and Body, but most of this recording is much more down to earth. Toureendarby Polka opens a set of rollicking dance tunes from down the country, and The Battering Ram ends a trio of swaggering jigs to set any toes tapping. The virtuoso treatment of The Spey in Spate betrays Laoise’s fondness for Scottish and Cape Breton music, also evident in her adaptation of adopted Cape Breton fiddler Jerry Holland’s jaunty jig Malcolm’s New Fiddle and John Morris Rankin’s classic Hull’s Reel. Both Jerry and John Morris are no longer with us, but it’s great to hear their compositions transposed to the harp. Ceis certainly weaves a spell, and will enchant any harp enthusiast: www.laoisekelly.ie has samples and further details.

Alex Monaghan