Album Review - The Music and Life of John McKenna

The John McKenna Society have done a remarkable job in remastering his works, in what must be one of the best presented packages released in recent times.  Not only do you get the complete McKenna works but you get a great 104 page booklet with great detail about his homeland in North Leitrim and the people he played his music with. The world at that time was limited to the “distance that could be walked ( and return ) in one day - about 10 or 12 miles”. McKenna grew up in a musically rich environment “riddled with flute players” and combined learning his trade as a musician while also working in the local coal mines. At the age of 24 he boarded the S.S. Cedric in Queenstown (Cobh), Cork bound for New York where he arrived on 4th November 1904.

This collection of music charts the recordings he made starting in 1922 and ending in 1937.  The quality of the sound is generally good and we include a track from the album below. The accompanying book provides detailed insight into the recordings along with great background to his music. It refers to the “driving rhythmic punchiness” of his music stating that “the use of glottal punctuations are features often associated with flute playing in North Connaught.”  It goes on to say that “McKenna's recordings - and those of his followers - helped to forge these connections.  But while McKenna’s approach has rhythm at its core, his tone has a unique lyrical sweetness and lilt that is particularly apparent in his post-1925 recordings”  Belfast flute player Harry Bradley also contributes to the liner notes and states that “It may be difficult for a traditional musician to assess the influence of John McKenna in that his contribution to Irish traditional music culture is so profoundly embedded in what we do that it is easy to take for granted”.

Reference should also be made to Harry Bradley’s own website The Errant Elbow for those who wish to delve a little deeper into this collection. Harry analyses each track in detail, providing additional insight for flute players wishing to understand McKenna’s style, phrasing and ornamentation techniques.  Overall this is an exceptional collection which provides insight into the life and music of one of our most revered musicians.  Congratulations to The John McKenna Society for their vision in conceiving it, and then delivering it to such a high standard.

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