Sliabh Notes


Along Blackwater’s Banks

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Ossian OSS CD 114; 47 minutes; 1999


Sliabh Notes is Matt Cranitch (fiddle), Dónal Murphy (accordion), and Tommy O'Sullivan (vocals, guitar). The trio  recorded their first album a few years ago and called it Sliabh Notes – those who know Cranitch's recordings Take a Bow and Give It Schtick will recognize his brand of puns – and, like for Altan and Smokey Chimney before them,  the title of the album has become the name of the band.


This is a mostly instrumental album, with lovely solo and duet playing by the two leads. Lots of great polkas and slides from Sliabh Luachra, which music is the focus of attention – Gleanntán (found as Glountane in English) is Padraig O'Keeffe's hometown. There are also some marvellous tunes with other origins: The Miller's Maggot, one of my favourite jigs; the old Ballinakill classic Lady Gordon;  Josie McDermott's The Baltimore Salute; and, Joe Liddy's brilliant Palmer's Gate.


Cranitch, known for his playing of slow airs, plays a wonderful Aisling Gheal. Singer Tommy O'Sullivan also does a great job with the two songs, Tony Small's The Welcome and Jimmy MacCarthy's The People of West Cork and Kerry. Several guest musicians, among whom Steve Cooney (guitar, bass, percussion), John Larkin (banjo), and Johnny McCarthy (flute), bring added variety to the instrumental texture. The whole is well produced and presented. Highly recommended.



This review by Philippe Varlet was originally written for his Celtic Grooves Newsletter and appears here by kind permission of the author.


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Along Blackwater’s Banks


Ossian OSS CD 130; 53 minutes; 2001


Taking its name from the mountain at its centre, Ireland’s Sliabh Luachra region includes parts of the counties of Cork, Kerry and Limerick. Thanks to the recordings of the late fiddlers Pádraig O’Keeffe, Denis Murphy and his sister Julia Clifford, and the still alive-and-kicking accordeonist Johnny O’Leary [Sadly, Johnny died in 2004. Ed.], this one-time backwater is now renowned for the polkas and slides which continue to form the core of the local dance music. Since their formation some seven or so years ago, Sliabh Notes have become well-known as the modern champions of Sliabh Luachra’s music and its fitting that the trio of Matt Cranitch (fiddle), Tommy O’Sullivan (guitar and vocals) and Dónal Murphy (button accordeon) each represents one of the region’s component counties.


Along Blackwater’s Banks is their third album (following 1995's self-titled debut and 1999's Gleanntán) and, unquestionably, the strongest yet, reflecting the trio’s status as one of Ireland’s best live acts. Significantly too, Sliabh Notes are well respected amongst their fellow musicians and the album sees guest spots for the ex-Bothy Band fiddler Kevin Burke, The Chieftains’ Matt Molloy on flute, Colm Murphy on bodhrán and guitarist Steve Cooney. The music throughout Along Blackwater’s Banks is scintillating, seamlessly meshing Matt and Dónal’s often forceful, but never insensitive playing, with the bedrock of Tommy’s accompaniment.


While many Irish bands play dance music, Sliabh Notes play music for dancing, perfectly illustrated by the infectious beat of a set of slides featuring the wondrous The Star Above The Garter or The Blackwater Polka. There’s space too for Matt, one of Ireland’s foremost exponents of the slow air, to demonstrate his intuitive skills on Amhrán na Leabhar and for three songs from the extensive O’Sullivan repertoire - as ever exquisitely delivered, The Star of Logy Bay is probably the cream of this particular crop.


Detailed liner notes source all the tunes and include the songs’ lyrics - an added bonus to an album which thoroughly captures the magic and foot-tapping enticements of this perfectly-formed trio.



This review by Geoff Wallis first appeared in fRoots


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