Album Review - Rose Flanagan & Laura Byrne/Forget Me Not

My favorite topic of conversation in Celtic music is always the difference between Irish and Irish-American music. Few people even admit there is a difference and fewer still can put their finger on it, but I’m convinced that there are differences between Irish-American music in the States and music back in the home country. The new album, Forget Me Not, from Irish-American artists Rose Flanagan and Laura Byrne is currently helping me figure out some of these differences. Their music doesn’t sound like the music I’m hearing coming from Ireland now, but it does sound a lot like another New York ensemble- The Yanks. Despite sharing a lovely barndance between their two most recent albums, Rose Flanagan & Laura Byrne and The Yanks have a predilection for softly loping reels, wicked fiddle ornamentation, rhythms oriented to dancing more than the concert stage (that might come from the fact both Flanagan and Byrne play in ceili bands on the East Coast as do members of The Yanks), and jigs that sound a lot more stately thank slinky (not scientific music criticism terms). Maybe I’m just grasping at straws, but there’s a definite New York sound here in the music of Flanagan and Byrne. It helps that Flanagan, an absolutely fabulous fiddler by the way, learned directly from New York legends like Martin Mulvihill. Flute player Byrne lives in Baltimore but comes from Vermont originally, and brings a powerful confidence to her flute playing, preferring the breath-punctuated rhythm of old-school East Coast fluters than the mellifluous fluidity of the modern school of Irish flute. The duo are joined by guitarist/bouzouki player Eamon O'Leary (The Murphy Beds) and pianist Brendan Dolan on this album who render beautiful accompaniment.

As with any duet album in Irish trad, the interplay between the artists is paramount, and here that interplay is a real delight. Both artists are listening carefully to each other and modifying their playing as needed. It’s a humbling thing to match yourself to a duet partner in any idiom but neither women on this album sacrifices her musical personality for the other, a difficult balance to strike. This album is chock full of great, lovely tunes and no small measure of deliberate grace. Both women have a very sure hand on their music, guiding it with power and humility.

Rose Flanagan & Laura Byrne. Forget Me Not.
2014. self-released.


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