Traditional Irish Music
Mórga has not received any gifts yet
The 1920s were an exciting and fecund time for Irish music. Modern and traditional sensibilities merged in varied and exciting ways, and the bands that were the products of that moment – groups like the Flanagan Brothers and Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band – became the inspiration for more recent bands like the legendary De Danann in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the group Mórga follows in those stylistic footsteps, and has an exceptional new album, “For the Sake of Auld Decency,” to prove it.
Formed in 2008, Mórga originally comprised Dominic Keogh (bodhrán & flute), Danny Diamond (fiddle), Jonas Fromseier (banjo & Greek bouzouki) and Barry Brady (accordion). They released an eponymous debut album in 2009, and although it was well-received and led to several tours of Europe, the group ultimately went on hiatus in 2011. Excited about the group’s stylistic direction, however, button accordionist David Munnelly approached Keogh, Diamond and Fromseier, and in 2012 helped reform the group as a full member.
Munnelly’s presence was an auspicious change, as his playing has incredible spirit that brings out the best in great musicians. One need only listen to “Tis What It Is,” the wild, furious and brilliant album he made with the great fiddler Mick Conneely, to hear this. But whereas a 1920s urban Irish dancehall esthetic was only a small part of Munnelly and Conneely’s approach, it is put front and center on “For the Sake of Auld Decency.”
There is much to recommend about this album, but perhaps the most successful thing about it is how well it balances this 1920s feel with a forward thinking approach to rhythm and harmony. This is not a band with a pedantic sense of duty to an earlier time; rather, it plays within the vintage style and isn’t afraid to finds ways to make it modern. Take the “Fitzmaurice Polka,” a tune the German-American melodeon player John J. Kimmel recorded in 1928 to recognize the recent success of James Fitzmaurice, a pioneer of Irish aviation. Mórga gives this widely recognized tune a crisp treatment through a smart, snappy arrangement that in some ways is entirely reminiscent of Kimmel’s original. However, Fromseier adds a layer of driving, percussive jazz-inspired banjo playing and transforms this old, rather “American” tune into something that sounds like “progressive Ireland” (to appropriate a recent turn-of-phrase from Tony MacMahon).
The interplay between vintage style and modern taste is found in subtle, structural ways as well. Take Munnelly’s right hand droning behind Diamond and Fromseier’s lead playing on “Geese On The Bog” in the “Devlin's / ...” track. It gives the tune its own breath, but adds a rhythmic and a harmonic element you wouldn’t normally hear in the 1920s. Compare, too, the transition from “Coen’s Memories” into “My Maryann” on “Johnny So Long at the Fair / ...” (track 3, 4’18”) with that between “Up The Hill Of Down” and “The Kilmaley” on “Fred And Peter's / ...” (track 4, 1’56”). Both tracks are built on the vintage-era style that characterizes the album, but while the former draws on an almost vaudevillian sense of stage drama, the latter fades in, and in that sense echoes the possibilities of modern studio technology.
Indeed, the entire album is filled with lovely moments. The airs “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms” and “Gol Na mBán Ár,” the slide set “Paddy Cronin’s /...”, and “Kelly’s / ...“, a set of tasty schottisches, are three such examples, but it would be easy to pick out several others.
Mórga is clearly a group with a distinct musical identity and a refined stylistic vision. I love “For the Sake of Auld Decency.” I think it’s an exciting album and is for anyone interested in refined, high energy trad music. For more information, visit www.morga.ie.
Dan Neely, Irish Echo, January 2014
I thought I had retired from reviewing music when we closed down the Danish Irish Society Newsletter. Still, getting the opportunity to review Mórga’s “For the Sake of auld Times” was a chance I couldn’t let pass me by. I got the CD just before Christmas and didn’t really have the time to sit down and listen to it properly. Instead it has been played over and over again while I have been doing other things. I have really taken to it and hardly a day goes by now where I don’t listen to it.
Since their first CD Mórga have changed one brilliant accordeon player with another. Dave Munnelly is the new “boxer” and he has always been one of my favourite box players. Being Danish I am probably a bit biased, but Jonas Fromseier is just an amazing banjo player. He has got “that” sound and feeling many banjo players lack and he is in the league with the best Irish players. Danny Diamond is a great fiddle player who has been breast fed Irish music, so it’s no wonder that he has become so good. The bodhran is normally not my favourite instrument, but there are a few players who can add something to the equation and Dominic Keogh is one of them (He is also heard on flute on the CD).
On paper Mórga is just another “standard” Irish line up, but they have a synergy effect which makes them so enjoyable to listen to. The production of the CD is just perfect - each instrument complements the others so well. It’s interesting that such a relative young crowd is so heavily inspired by Irish music played in the 1920’s by the great masters in the US. But again – why wouldn’t they be? It was a period of wonderful music.
Many readers of my reviews think I don’t like singing, but this is not true, I just prefer instrumental music and that is what we get here. Twelve sets of the finest instrumental music I have heard in a long time and not a single song. Some would probably miss a song, but when the music is as good as this, there’s no need for songs.
Whether you are new to Irish music or have been listening to it for years, you will enjoy “For the Sake of auld Times”. Get hold of a copy and start wearing your CD player out – you will play it over and over again.
Mich Nielsen, The Danish-Irish Society, January 2014
Powerful, compelling, and full of life, this debut CD is extremely impressive. Mórga have been compared to early De Danann, and there are many similarities. Both are based on fiddle and box with bodhrán and round-backed bouzouki (and a touch of banjo), producing the same general sound. There’s also a shared interest in the less common dance forms: barndances, marches, hornpipes and polkas all feature on this album. However, the differences are also striking. Firstly, while Mórga don’t yet have the finesse of De Danann, I’d say they already have the edge in raw energy:McDermott’s and Ride a Mile kick up the dust all right, and at times these lads almost outdo themselves in sheer drive and velocity. Secondly, Mórga is purely instrumental (a plus point for me - long may it be so!). No guest singers here, but there’s more than enough variety in their tunes to hold your attention. In amongst the Clare and Donegal influences are the Anglo-Irish jig Wellington’s Advance, the Scottish reel Miss Mac Donald, and a couple of other strays. The closest Mórga come to a song here is the polka version of Mary my Fine Daughter, named for Biddy Martin. Although three members of Mórga are based in Galway, none of them is from that county. Box-player Barry Brady is a Westmeath man, drummer Dominic Keogh is from Mayo, and the young fella on bouzouki and banjo is Danish export, Jonas Fromseier - probably. The fourth member is fiddler Danny Diamond, son of Dermy and Tara, Dublin reared with Ulster roots. Despite their different back-grounds, these youngsters seem to have a common approach to the music; maybe it’s their generation, exposed to everything from Planxty to Riverdance, which has produced a curious mix of respectful and unorthodox attitudes. I hear touches of Beoga in Trim the Velvet, of Bellowhead in Return from Fingal, but also the spirit of John Doherty, Seamus Ennis, Mike Flanagan, Charlie Lennon and other masters of the tradition throughout this recording. Don’t miss the masterful versions of ‘The Orphan’ and ‘Mulqueen’s’ before the final sprint for the finishing line. My hat is off to Mórga for a very fine debut, one which will bear repeated listening and will do them credit for years to come. If you want to know more, try www.morga.ie.
Alex Monaghan, Irish Music Magazine
When I look up Mórga in my Irish – English dictionary it says: Great, exalted and majestic. I can't think of a more apt description of this CD. If there is a risk of wearing out a CD, this is definitely in danger. It has been in my player constantly since I got it and when I don't listen to the CD, I have the mp3 version in my mp3-player. Mórga is a “new” band on the scene, consisting of four great musicians. Despite their young age they are all very experienced and master their instruments to perfection. One would think these four musicians have been playing together for years and have released several CDs, but no. They started playing together in 2007 when they decided to revive the sound of the great Irish bands of the seventies. Here is where the Greek bouzouki comes into the picture. In the seventies there was no such thing as an “Irish bouzouki”, so of course Jonas Fromseier plays the Greek bouzouki when he is not handling a banjo. The box, fiddle and bodhrán are still the same and I think they have obtained what they set out to do: Create a sound that might as well have been taken out of the seventies. Energy is the key word! They play with the confidence of older and far more experienced musicians. It's hard to believe this is a debut CD. Yes, they play very fast, but contrary to many other fast bands, Mórga has the ability to play fast and well at the same time. The music is just so lively that one can hardly sit still and listen. I'm really impressed with the tightness between box player Barry Brady and fiddle player Danny Diamond and they are perfectly backed up by the greek bouzouki and Dominic Keogh's bodhrán playing. I like the fact Mórga haven't fallen into the trap of including a singer, because “you have to”. Their music is instrumental and it's no problem listening to a CD full of just tunes (12 sets), when they are played so well. I will highly recommend this CD and to Mórga I will say, “Well done boys!”
Mich Nielsen, The Danish – Irish Society
The sizzling dynamics of a live session propel this debut from its opening reels set. Mórga are a newly minted foursome, featuring Danny Diamond on fiddle and Barry Brady on button accordion. Banjo and bodhrán from Jonas Fromseier and Dominic Keogh are the other propulsive forces, which put a dozen sets through their paces, with Fromseier lending the original pot-bellied Greek bouzouki to the mix with superb results. At times the sheer breakneck speed of Mórga’s tune choices might send listeners diving for respite, but fleeting glimpses of restraint on the Seamus Ennis-inspired Return from Fingal and the old-timey whimsy of Biddy Martin’ s reveal musicians in thrall of the electricity that passes between them, but still intimately acquainted with the space between the notes. An impressive debut with limitless spark in its fuse box.
Siobhan Long, The Irish Times
New to us, and we believe new to you, too. But this is a mere misfortune for us. But fate has now taken a hand and sent us a fresh new band of high flyers. This drives along nicely allowing you to capture the contributions from each of the players, even in the melee of a fast reel. You should really have a serious listen here. It’s very good indeed.
These young musicians' enthousiasm, interplay and their perfected style already puts them on line with the biggest groups in traditional Irish music. They impressed us with their ability to liven up every kind of venue or audience. The mix of instruments sound in perfect harmony, the tunes are varied and you'll quickly be astonished by their ability to breathe new life and momentum into their Irish musical heritage."
Didier Riez (Festival Semaine Irlandaise en Artois Gohelle, France)
Gosh darn! The self-titled CD by Irish traditional band Morga is blowing me away as I type! Comparisons to De Dannan are fully justified.
Tom Bingham, radio host (WCVF-FM)