Traditional Irish Music
Nathan Gourley and Joey Abarta are two of America’s great young trad musicians, and together (with the help of bouzouki player Owen Marshall, who appears on several tracks), they’ve released “Copley Street,” a wonderful album of duet playing that traditional music fans will welcome with open arms – it’s a fantastic release.
Gourley is a brilliant fiddle player with an excellent track record. He’s distinguished himself greatly as a player, winning Boston’s Fiddler of Dooney competition in 2013 and being a finalist in the Sean O Riada fiddle competition in 2014. He’s been a part of some wonderful albums as well. Many readers will remember “Life Is All Checkered,” the brilliant album he released with Laura Fedderson in 2014, and “Bright and Early,” the terrific album he was a part of with Paddy O’Brien and Dáithí Sproule in 2015. Born in Michigan and a longtime resident of Minnesota, Gourley’s been a member of several very interesting groups, including Chulrua, the Doon Ceili Band, the Two Tap Trio, and the Máirtín de Cógáin Project (which included Brian Miller from Bua and Norah Rendell from The Outside Track), and has toured with John Blake and Mairead Hurley as “The Truckley Howl.” Now living in Boston, he’s very involved with that City’s music and shares a music-filled house in Roxbury with Abarta.
Abarta is one of this country’s shining young lights on the uilleann pipes and a great foil to Gourley. An accomplished player, he finished second place in the All-Ireland senior uilleann piping championship in Tullamore in 2009, was the first American uilleann piper to win first prize at the An tOireachtas in 2014, and received a traditional arts apprenticeship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council in 2015. Like so many of Irish America’s best musicians, he is an alumnus of Mick Moloney’s seminal group Green Fields of America, has been a part of Brian O’Donovan/WGBH’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn, and teaches for Comhaltas’ Boston Music School. His fabulous solo debut “Swimming Against the Falls” came out in 2013 and he is currently at work on his as-yet unnamed follow up.
The two players have an undeniable chemistry (which isn’t surprising, as they’re close friends and play together virtually every day) that is apparent on every one of this album’s tracks. Not only do Gourley’s fiddle and Abarta’s pipes blend incredibly well in the production, but the blend highlights the nuanced understanding each has of the other’s playing. To top it off, they’ve chosen an extremely tasteful selection of tunes that commands the listener’s attention. Offbeat settings of well-known tunes are tempered with beautiful tunes that seem to languish in obscurity. It makes for an album full of seriously great music. The jig sets “The Gaelic Club / …” and “Come Upstairs With Me / …” lilt along with lovely lift. The reel sets “West Clare Railway / …” and “The Boys of 25 /…” stand out for the great playing as well as for the nicely matched tunes. There is so much here to enjoy.
Gourley takes a spectacular solo spotlight (supported by Marshall) on “John McGrath’s / …,” while Abarta sounds equally lovely on his solo piece, the air “Eibhli Gheal Chiuin Ni CHearbhaill.” Both are stand out tracks.
One of my favorites, however, is the hornpipe set “Kit O’Mahony’s / Kildare Fancy.” Both are lovely old tunes, the first coming out of O’Neill’s. The second, however, they’ve credited to James Morrison’s playing, but the tune had a special popularity in Boston in the late 1920s: it was not only recorded by Boston’s Dan Sullivan Shamrock Band, but also by the Boston-based accordionists Connie Hanafin and Jerry O’Brien.
“Copley Street” is a wonderful album from two stunning young players that adds to Boston’s rich history of traditional Irish music and brings into sharper focus the serious quality of that town’s music. This is a must-have for supporters of music in Boston, but for traditional music fans in general – it’s just brilliant stuff. Very highly recommended! For more about the album and info about how to purchase, visit www.copleystreet.com.
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