Paddy Keenan/Tommy O’Sullivan

The Long Grazing Acre

HoT Conya Records HCR 003; 51 minutes; 2001

If any Irish traditional musicians merit the term ‘legendary’, then the uilleann piper, Paddy Keenan, would appear high on the application list. Yet Paddy’s own persona has often seemed to mirror the unfathomable nature of his chosen instrument. From a Traveller family, he sprang to the forefront in the 1970s with the unsurpassable Bothy Band while simultaneously ensuring his own place in the panoply of uilleann piping through his 1975 self-titled solo album and Doublin’, recorded with the fiddler Paddy Glackin. Offered the chance to join Moving Hearts, Paddy left his admirers with one of the great imponderables, instead opting to retreat out of the limelight.

His second solo album, Poirt An Phíobaire, appeared in 1983 and, apart from the occasional guest spot, remained his last recording until a move to the US reinvigorated his enthusiasm for playing. Establishing his own label (whose apt name is Traveller slang for ‘hot shit!’), Paddy first issued Na Keen Affair in 1997, an album which featured Kerry-based guitarist Tommy O’Sullivan as one of the accompanists. The pair subsequently formalised their musical relationship, touring widely and bearing fruits with the release of The Long Grazing Acre.

While Paddy’s repertoire has expanded over the years beyond the boundaries of his heritage to encompass almost anything from bluegrass to jazz, The Long Grazing Acre sees him firmly ensconced within his roots. That tightly-fingered chanter style breezes through a composite selection of reels and jigs, the latter including Brother John, composed in memory of his late brother, a formative influence on Paddy’s musical development. Keenan was one of the first to employ the low whistle and gives vent to his skills here on more of his own compositions, plus another, Jutland, by Tommy and always manage to avoid the pitfalls of ambient doodling which trap lesser musicians.

O’Sullivan’s accompaniment is as understated as ever while James Blennerhasset and Greg Sheehan add double bass and assorted percussion respectively. Such instruments might make purists grimace but the overall exploratory mood of the album is comprehensively reinforced by the subtlety of Keenan and O’Sullivan’s arrangements. This also applies to Tommy’s songs, especially the traditional The Maids of Culmore, though Killing the Blues obtrudes like the rawest sore thumb. Overall, however, this is a mighty album and one enlivened by some characteristically blunt sleevenotes!

This review by Geoff Wallis originally appeared in fRoots

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