John McSherry, Dónal O’Connor
Vertical Records VERTCD076; 41 minutes; 2006
Belfast is renowned for its traditional music sessions and now two of its most able sons (albeit one by adoption) have released an album featuring sparkling musical interplay, imaginative arrangements and, above all, the joie de vivre which lies at the core of the land’s music. Those two scions are the uilleann piper and whistler, John McSherry (from one of the city’s most illustrious musical clans, erstwhile member of Tamalin, Lúnasa and Dónal Lunny’s Coolfin and long-time collaborator with Mike McGoldrick) and fiddler/keyboards player Dónal O’Connor (Louth-born son of fiddler Gerry O’Connor and the late singer Eithne Ní Uallacháin, and a long-time Belfast resident). This pairing is enhanced by a clutch of able accompanists in the shape of guitarists Tony Byrne, Gilles le Bigot, Ruben Boda (who also provides bouzouki) and John’s brother Paul, plus Francis McIlduff on bodhrán.
John McSherry has probably never played better in his life than on Tripswitch and for evidence turn to both the opening track, kick-started by the sonorous march, ‘Rose in the Gap’, and the wünderkind set of reels ‘Seán Maguire’s’. It’s not just the precision of his playing, but its sheer invigoration which confirms McSherry as one of Ireland’s foremost pipers and Dónal’s in there too, matching the piper note-for-note via some captivating fiddlework.
And, boy, can these two pick some tunes! Alongside some of Ireland’s most pulsating jigs and reels, you’ll find two gorgeous 5/8 tempo Castilian dances, a driving Asturian jig and several delightful self-compositions, including the dazzling slow air ‘Both Ghé’.
Add to all the above crystal clear production and informative liner notes and if there’s a better Irish album released in 2006 I’ll willingly dance naked in Trafalgar Square with a ferret on my head, but only if Tripswitch is playing in the background.
This review by Geoff Wallis originally appeared in Songlines magazine – www.songlines.co.uk.
For more information about John and Dónal visit www.atfirstlight.net.