Album Review : Tony Mac Mahon & Steve Cooney Live in Spiddal

For a man who has stressed his belief that the accordion is not suited to Irish traditional music, Tony Mac Mahon has succeeded in recording some classic albums that have helped to put the accordion to the fore in traditional Irish music. From his appearance on Paddy in the Smoke in 1966 to his own outstanding solo recordings,  Tony MacMahon (1972) and MacMahon from Clare (2000) he has been an ever present force on Ireland’s traditional music landscape.  

In addition to his solo work he recorded I gCnoc na Graí (1985) with Noel Hill and Aislingí Ceoil (1994) with Noel Hill and Iarla Ó Lionáird. From 1969 - 1998 he worked with RTÉ and was producer on The Pure Drop, The Green Linnet, Aisling Gheal, The Long Note, The Blackbird and the Bell to name just a few. In 2004 he received the ‘Gradam Saoil’/ ‘Hall of Fame’ award from TG4.

This recording made around 2005 in Spiddal Galway with Steve Cooney is important for a number of reasons.  Tony’s recent diagnosis with Parkinson’s means that he is unlikely to be recording again.  Beyond this, there is one other recording that will be released in 2015, a selection of slow airs that Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh recorded of him playing solo a few years ago.

Multi-instrumentalist Steve Cooney has recorded with, and produced for dozens of the biggest names in traditional music as well. His most recognised performances as guitarist have been with Séamus Begley and here on this duo he also brings that innate knowledge to bear. His performance once again heightens the articulated and expressive playing of Mac Mahon himself.

The recording lacks none of the stark beauty of those early Mac Mahon recordings that influenced so many musicians. Tony’s renown for slow airs is exemplified on Caoineadh Eoghain Ruadh which he acknowledges in the sleeve notes as being “One of the very few times when the playing of a slow air went entirely my way. I was in tune with it from beginning to end. It worked for me and with me. Or I worked for it, rather.” The same can be said of any number of the tracks including Port an Bhráthar, Port Shean Sheáin where both musicians so ably lift the tunes to the roof and back. Magical.  

The opening track which includes Cúnla, Na Ceannabháin Bhána, Cailleach an Airgid is included below and is more tempered in its presentation.  Other great tracks include some well known tunes like The Battle of Aughrim, The Wounded Huzzar and the closing track, O'Neill's March is worth the album price alone.  Repeated plays reveal several hidden layers of honest and exhilarating music played by two iconic musicians who exemplify all that is great in traditional Irish music.  

For more information visit Raelach Records and Bandcamp


Re-posted as an album review from an earlier blog.

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