Album Review - Shane McAleer / Long Time No See

I've missed Shane McAleer! I knew him mostly as the impossibly fiery fiddler for Dervish back in the day. Always an Irish super-group, the core players of Dervish in the early days lit up every stage they were on purely through the sheer power of their musicianship and the speed and dexterity of their playing. And Shane McAleer was a real star then. I used to stay up at night trying desperately to learn tunes from his playing, only to find that no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get the same life in the tune that he did. I had the notes, I had the ornaments, but I just couldn't make it sound the way he played. There was a core of life in his tunes that I couldn't copy. Of course, part of the issue is that the early Dervish albums were hard to learn off since they were all tuned up a half step, a common trick in Irish trad recordings from the 80s and 90s that helped the music seem just a little more frenetic. But really McAleer's playing just couldn't be easily imitated. He was one of a kind. He left Dervish after their punkest album, At the End of the Day, and I didn't hear from him after that. I assumed he left because of their heavy touring schedule, but turns out now that he left because of a drinking problem (a fact he's not shy to admit since he's now sober). Dervish got new fiddlers, like the excellent and eclectic Tom Morrow, and kept going strong, but I always missed McAleer and wondered what he was up to.

So now it's wonderful to hear his new album and to know he's back on the scene! With Long Time No See, McAleer delivers the kind of album that seems to have fallen out of style: nothing but tunes tunes tunes. It's great fun and his playing is as deft and light as I remember. He's lost some of his original fire, some of the burning flames of a wild youth that fueled him in Dervish, but he's exchanged that for a sure hand and a strong maturity that brings his playing to a new depth. His playing on the slow air, "Dunluce Castle," which he wrote, is deeply beautiful and unhurried in the kind of way that a well thought out and eloquent speech would be. On the creatively titled barndance "If there weren't any women in the world," he spins through the lilting melody with a careful ear to the subtle rhythms. The whole album is much slower than I remember his fiddling from Dervish, but that's kind of nice. I've got stacks of albums of fast fiddlers and though it's a bit of a rush to listen to that, there's more to McAleer's playing than just speedy fingering, and he shows it here. McAleer hails from Belfast but is originally from Omagh in County Tyrone. The album was produced by fellow Omaghite (is that the word?) Eamon McElhom of Solas, who also joins on guitar/keyboard/cello (!) throughout.

This is a thoughtful album in the best way, made by an artist who you can feel is just happy to be back playing music. Good on you Shane, it's great to have you back! Many happy returns on your new album and I hope we'll get to learn tunes off you for many more years.

Shane McAleer. Long Time No See.
2013. self-released.

Shane McAleer: Dunluce Castle/Paddy Fahy's



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