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At the time of writing (2007), this CD is getting rather long in the tooth. It makes no difference to the content, of course, but it does allow us to know "what happened next". The things that happened are that Munnelly has continued with his career quite successfully, releasing further recordings, winning several awards for his composing work and mounting numerous tours with his band. I admit that all this was news to me until this CD landed on my desk for review.
From the opening American Polka the album consists largely of high speed tracks in which Munnelly and friends launch an assault on Irish music as they perceive it, which offers plenty of sparkle but very little depth. The adjectives which come to mind are clinical, clever and flashy. Munnelly says he aims to recreate a slice of 1920s Irish-American dance hall music, with more than a nod in the direction of artists like The Flanagan Brothers. Whether many of the artists we now listen to on endless CD reissues will have felt they compromised their musicality in order to make a buck we will probably never know. But while several artists (notably Frankie Gavin) seem to hark back to the recorded music of this time and place with longing, they may have overlooked the pressures and constraints of the 78 RPM recording process and competition for a slice of the market which undoubtedly had an influence on the presentation of music and artists of this era.
That said, Munnelly is a good technician, and if that is what you are looking for, you may enjoy this. The two self-penned slow airs offer a respite form the rather samey chord progressions and hectic feel of the other tracks, and are played with a bit more finesse and soul. The use of soprano sax on An Carraigin works surprisingly well, and Between the Tides features some lovely flute playing from Kieran Munnelly, although David is not greatly in evidence on this track. The CD also features one song, Scots songwriter Dougie Maclean's Singing Land. The performance by Andrew Murray is pleasant and workmanlike, but its presence on this album is entirely anomalous, bearing no connection to the rest of the tracks, it feels like an afterthought.
A few tracks, such as The Star Above the Garter Set offer a somewhat more traditional feel and feature some nice fiddling from Daire Bracken. Some of these tracks would be good to dance to, but still give a sense of trying too hard and of superficiality which disappoints.
9th January, 2007
An original review for TIMR, printed here with the kind permission of its author.
Button accordionist David Munnelly is known as ‘The Bullet from Belmullet’ and this is his second album whose hearing, he fondly hopes, “will bring a beaming smile to your face like it does to us”. Frankly, it does no such thing, inculcating a desire instead to toss the blooming thing into the waste bin.
Speed kills (and I’m not referring here to amphetamines) and, unfortunately, David is one of the boy racers of Irish traditional music, hammering his accordion or single-row melodeon hell-for-leather without any consideration of the subtleties of the tunes he has chosen to murder. For evidence look no further than the second set of tunes on By Heck, termed Kimmel’s (a huge insult to the memory of John J.). The tunes themselves are simply swamped by a barrage of button-pressing, bellow-squeezing fury, where velocity overwhelms whatever remains of the melody and Daire Bracken’s fiddle is simply lost in the mix.
Unfortunately, elsewhere David seems to have been listening to The Tap Room Trio, but not understanding any of the messages, so his attempts at re-creating an old-timey Irish sound, as on the set called McGurn’s or a ludicrous tribute to The Flanagan Brothers, simply makes the listener despair.
Then there are the lumpen arrangements of songs, such as Richard Thompson’s The Dimming of the Day, which even the eloquence of Andrew Murray’s singing cannot salvage while the set of polkas entitled O’Keeffe’s Rattling Bog suggests little affinity with the music of Sliabh Luachra. The closing track, Last Orders, is quite simply a dirge which would drive any listener directly to the bar.
Munnelly is undoubtedly talented, but needs to pay far more respect to the music he plays.
19th May, 2004