Joe Derrane, accordion, Séamus Connolly, fiddle, John McGann, mandolin/guitar
Voted #1 album of 2004 by The Irish Echo columnist Earle Hitchner
(1) THE BOSTON EDGE, by Joe Derrane, Séamus Connolly, and John McGann (Mapleshade 10332):
Those who gushed over "Ireland's Harvest," an album by Derrane, Frankie Gavin, and Brian McGrath in 2002, seemed more dazzled by the idea of the partnership (Gavin worshipers are legion) than its actual realization on CD. It was a very good, not great, album marred by sonic imbalance, a couple of odd tune choices, and too much let's-wing-it jousting. Emphatically superior to that album is "The Boston Edge," where the tightness of Derrane's
button accordion, Connolly's fiddle, and McGann's guitar and mandolin playing clearly stems from proper rehearsing and occasional gigging together. The meticulous care with which the trio have mapped out their music allows them the freedom to improvise or ornament confidently while holding fast to the melody. Virtuosity and vitality run neck and neck right from the memorable opening track, "The Curragh Races/The Skylark/The Reconciliation." There's no letdown in taste or touch anywhere, and each instrumentalist shines within the teamwork of the trio. What a knockout CD debut by three of Boston's finest. Earle Hitchner.
A "dream team" Irish trio plays traditional jigs, reels and airs with passion and originality. Led by button accordion master Joe Derrane, 2004 National Heritage winner. Locked tight as a drum with Joe are Séamus Connolly, the golden-toned fiddler who's won the All-Irish Championship ten times, and guitarist/mandolinist John McGann, a National Flat-Picking Champion. The recording is so pure and spacious, the instrumental timbres are so rich and dynamic that the trio sounds almost orchestral.
The Hare's Paw:
- The Curragh Races / The Skylark / The Reconciliation
- Billy Rush's Jig / Brosnahan's Frolic / The Miner's Jig
- The Devil and the Dirk / The Trip to Windsor / Brumley Brae
- Remembering Curly / The Twins / Mordaunt's Fancy
- John Kelly's Concertina Reel / Kiss the Bride / Martin Ainsboro's
- Whiddon's / The Nightlight / Hannah McGann's
- The Humors of Lisheen / McMahon's Jig / The Merry Old Woman
- Miss McLeod's Hornpipe / Petticoat Promenade
- Patsy Touhey's Reel / The Gooseberry Bush / Reilly's
- Chief O'Neill's Favorite / The First Of June
- Sporting Paddy / Sheila Coyle's / The Hare's Paw
- The Killaloe Boat / Gan Ainm / Gan Ainm
- The Man From Newry / The Last Of The Twins
- The Dash to Portabello / McFarley's Reel / Geegan's Reel.
The Wall Street Journal
The wearing of the green is upon us, a time to dye for, St. Patrick's Day. Beer, beef, beans, bread and broth suddenly take on the hue of the
Emerald Isle, and too often the Irish music heard on March 17 is not much more appetizing or genuine.
The following albums are an exception. Consider them a three-leaf shamrock of music rooted mainly in the turf of centuries-old tradition.
This is blarney-free music, the kind that stays green without trying, all year round.
"The Boston Edge" is a triumph of equal impact. Released late last year by Mapleshade Records, a small, independent label in Maryland, the album is perfectly titled for the razor-sharp music of Boston-area trio Joe Derrane on button accordion, Séamus Connolly on fiddle, and John McGann on guitar and mandolin.
Derrane, who celebrated his 75th birthday yesterday, is the most talented Irish-style button accordionist America has ever produced. Born of Irish immigrant parents in Boston, he initially recorded from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s, then took a nearly 40-year hiatus from playing the button accordion in public. His performance on May 29, 1994, at an Irish folk festival in Vienna, Va.'s Wolf Trap launched what many regard as the greatest comeback in the history of Irish music, culminating for him in a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004.
Renowned for his triplets (three notes played in the time normally taken by two notes) and hornpipes (dance tunes usually in 4/4 time), Derrane sparkles in this inspired collaboration with Connolly, a 10-time All-Ireland fiddle champion, and McGann, a much-in-demand accompanist.
Never letting virtuosity or velocity overwhelm a melody, they play within the structure of a tune while infusing it with fresh, interpretive gusto.
It is in the details where this recording soars. The trio's deftly ornamented playing of such reels as "The Curragh Races/The Skylark/The
Reconciliation" and "Patsy Touhey's/The Gooseberry Bush/Reilly's" represents Irish traditional instrumental music at its most propulsive and soulful. For taste and touch, it's hard to top "The Boston Edge," Earle Hitchner
Irish Music Magazine March 2005
It's about time that two of the most respected and masterful traditional musicians in the Boston area got together to record a CD. Seamus Connolly, fiddle, and Joe Derrane, button accordion, share a number of remarkable attributes: both were lauded in their early careers as prodigies of their respective instruments, both are accomplished tunesmiths, whose compositions have passed into the traditional repertoire, and both are centres of the Boston area traditional music community and heroes to a younger generation of musicians and enthusiasts.
Their musical styles, however, are quite distinct: Seamus Connolly is known for his gorgeous tone and fluid, inventive phrasings; and Joe Derrane's playing is all clear, crisp precision and brilliant ornamentation. What is perhaps most striking about The Boston Edge is the fact that these two very different approaches are meshed seamlessly, with John McGann's able and versatile guitar and mandolin accompaniment, into a whole that reflects the respect these musicians have for each other, the love of their music, and the fun they must have had recording these tunes. The tracks include newly-composed tunes, that are rarely heard in sessions, tunes from the Cape Breton tradition, and tunes that are typical of what one might hear at a Boston-area session.
Each musician is featured in solo pieces, but the real revelation is the freshness and delight the group brings to each of the ensemble sets.
The Boston Edge is cutting-edge stuff. Let's hope this is just the first of several outings by this outstanding trio. Sally K Sommers Smith
Taplas: The Welsh Folk Magazine
THIS American/Irish trio comprises Joe Derrane on button accordion, fiddler Seamus Connolly and John McGann on guitar and mandolin. The vastly skilful playing reveals the decades of experience these fellows have in the Irish music tradition.
Although there are only three of them, they produce a very full sound, perhaps partly because this was recorded and mastered live in what sounds like a fairly echoey room. The repertoire is mainly traditional Irish session tunes, arranged in a mainly session-like way.
This, the old fashioned style of recording, and the accomplished playing makes it sound like a non-crackly version of an old masterpiece. In fact, Derrane featured on 78-rpm recordings during the 1940s and 1950s, so you can easily guess the influence of his style!
There are a lot of hornpipes - roughly a third of the album consists of them. One features McGann's solo mandolin track, Whidden's The Nightlight and Hannah McGann's - the letter two being his own compositions. Another is the complex, chromatic and downright flash, Petticoat Promenade, written and played by Derrane. This is a great CD for the collection - I just wish there was more of that wonderful mandolin on it. Imogen O'Rourke.
Following on the heels of button accordion player Joe Derrane's 2004 National Heritage Fellowship, this rollicking album sees him teaming up with fiddler Séamus Connolly and their fellow Bostonian, guitarist John McGann.
These three musicians share a bracing, muscular approach and have been playing together long enough to achieve a rare sympathy, easing back or surging forward as a solidly cohesive unit.
The opening set of reels sets the pace, with McGann occasionally breaking effortlessly into melody flat-picking for a bar or two before returning to chordal accompaniment. McGann's mandolin solo set, Whiddon's/The Nightlight/Hannah McGann's (the latter two of which are McGann originals), is another highlight, as are Connolly's original slow air Remembering Curly and Derrane's turn in the spotlight on Miss McLeod's and his own Petticoat Promenade, featuring a jazzy Hot Club de Paris-style backing from McGann. Sarah McQuaid Nine/Ten
The press handout describes this release thus: "a 'dream team' Irish trio plays traditional jigs, reels and airs with passion and originality", so what gives it the "edge" of the title over other instrumental albums which might be similarly depicted?
Well, the Boston edge refers to the distinct advantage of the superlative virtuosity of the three musicians who come from the Boston (Mass.) area. Button accordionist Joe, fiddler Séamus and guitarist/mandolinist John first played as a trio onstage at a New York club in 1999, an occasion noted by all who attended as bringing to the scene something worth pursuing further, an outstanding tightness of ensemble allied to brilliant solo work.
Cementing the musicians' approach was their mutual deep respect and enjoyment of each other's music, and once they'd worked together it then seemed the most natural thing to continue the working relationship. After five years of memorable concert performances, at last we have a recording to treasure.
It highlights their seamless togetherness, boosted by arrangements that are carefully prepared and yet remain flexible enough to allow inspired touches of improvisation or ornamentation or else felicitous swopping-round of the carrying of the melodic line from, say, accordion or fiddle onto guitar, giving surprising and delightful twists to one's expectations. The skill of these musicians in creatively rethinking well-trodden session staples is stunning, whether they're tackling sets compiled entirely from Irish sources or mixing in Scottish or Cape Breton tunes to demonstrate the cross-fertilisation and enriching of the different tune traditions.
Highlights of this album for me are the sparkling opening set, the fiery lead work throughout but especially on the amazingly together fiddle/accordion duet that comprises two-thirds of the set of reels on track 9, also on the Humours Of Lisheen/McMahon's Jig/The Merry Old Woman set (track 7), the joyous sense of rhythm on the hornpipes (track 10), and, on a smaller canvas track 6, an entire set played solo by John on mandolin, a benchmark of agility and imaginative interpretation the like of which you don't often encounter on albums of Irish traditional music.
But on every single track the playing exhibits a rich but vigorous energy that's absolutely captivating, with a healthily varied interplay between parts that's born of true understanding between the players. Each set is played at a sensible speed (not rushed through as if to fit onto one side of a 78!), allowing the felicities of melody to emerge through the spring in the step that the players' keen rhythmic sense
deploys. And what's also important, listening to the music on this album rather often brings a smile to the face - a nice touch that (just lend an ear to the delicious swing of track 8 for instance!). It starts off really good, but then just goes on getting better, and you really don't want it to end!
The only drawback as far as I can hear, albeit a minor one, is with the recorded sound, which isn't ideally clear, the guitar sound in particular being somewhat boomy or boxy in the ensemble context - or maybe I've heard too many state-of-the-engineer's-art recordings lately? But the 64 minutes of this seriously enjoyable album just fly by - take it from me! David Kidman
The Glasgow Herald 11.12.04
Amid the avalanche of supertalented youngsters who are making traditional music an exciting, hip and gratifyingly youthful artform of the twenty-first century, it's as well to remember that the older heads still have wisdom and musical examples to share.
Joe Derrane is now on his second career as a button accordionist; his first began in the 78rpm era and he spent thirty-five years as a jobbing keyboard player.
This brand new set with fellow Boston residents, fiddler Seamus Connolly and guitarist-mandolinist John McGann, shows the zest, appetite and musical mastery Derrane restored on his return in 1994.
It's essentially three musicians playing as one: tightly executed Irish tunes played with heart, self-expression and the richness that comes from long dedication to the music. Rob Adams FOUR STARS
The Irish Echo. Ceol Column 24.11.04 Give the 'Edge' to this Boston trio
We New Yorkers can get immodest, spoiled, even complacent about the Irish traditional musical riches in our backyard. But when it comes to
top trad playing, Boston doesn't have to take a backseat to any other city in America or Ireland.
For proof, listen to "The Boston Edge," the CD debut of 2004 National Heritage Fellowship-winning button accordionist Joe Derrane, fiddler
Séamus Connolly, and guitar-mandolin player John McGann. Residing or working in and around the Boston area, this trio have created something
altogether rare: an album showing no restraint in individual musical expression yet cohering as a well-rehearsed, mutually sensitive and
In that respect "The Boston Edge" is a significant improvement on "Ireland's Harvest," a Mapleshade CD made in 2002 by Derrane, fiddler Frankie Gavin, and pianist Brian McGrath. I picked it as the fourth-best trad album of that year, but with this caveat: "A sonic imbalance among box, fiddle, and piano (the latter two instruments are too high in the mix), some odd choices in tunes (e.g., 'The Minstrel Boy'), and the personal tangents taken by producer Paul MacDonald in his liner notes prevent this release from placing higher."
The seat-of-the-pants, strut-my-stuff approach to playing by Gavin in "Ireland's Harvest" did generate some heat, but it also resulted in more
dueling than dueting with Derrane. Technique trumped teamwork and partly undercut both Derrane's trademark preparation and the trio's overall effectiveness.
"The Boston Edge," in contrast, shows what can happen when three musicians who have been gigging from time to time during the past five years
put their heads as well as their talents together in the recording studio. It's obvious that the music has been mapped out with meticulous care but also with enough flexibility to allow inventive flourishes.
Those qualities combine viscerally right from the album's opening track, "The Curragh Races/The Skylark/The Reconciliation." This medley of reels breaks out of the gate like Secretariat: strong, spirited, sure-footed. The synaptic sparks and symmetry between Derrane and Connolly are extraordinary, each feeding off the other's virtuosity and energy, each performing with, not at, the other.
Some accompanists in Irish traditional music can lapse into metronomic rigidity or tepid vamping, and for critics with a blinkered appreciation
of rhythm, an unnoticed accompanist is a good accompanist. John McGann has refused to wear this silly musical straitjacket. He brings plenty of chops and imagination to the CD, laying down a rhythm that can be percussive and driving or finely brushstroked behind Derrane and Connolly.
From time to time McGann tucks in his own nimbly picked passages of melody, and in "Whiddon's/The Nightlight/Hannah McGann's" hornpipes,
the last two of which he wrote, McGann showcases his exceptional soloing skill on mandolin.
Backed by McGann on guitar, Derrane offers a jaunty hornpipe-clog pairing, "Miss McLeod's/Petticoat Promenade," as his crisply played solo.
The clog is the button accordionist's own tune and vividly conjures up a scene of Irish girls in rustling skirts out for a night of dancing at one of the five ballrooms dotting Dudley Street in Roxbury, Mass., during the 1940s and '50s.
Accompanied by McGann on guitar, fiddler Séamus Connolly takes a different tack on his solo, "Remembering Curly/The Twins/Mordaunt's Fancy."
The initial slow air, his own composition, is a moving threnody in which Connolly explores, not exploits, honestly felt emotion. It eventually segues
into a hornpipe that he plays with more joyful verve, and the medley finishes with a capering jig that reveals another side of the master fiddler's touch.
Above all, true teamwork gives this album its finely honed edge. "The De'il and the Dirk/The Trip to Windsor/Brumley Brae" reels, "The Humors of Lisheen/McMahon's/The Merry Old Woman" jigs, and "The Dash to Portobello/McFarley's/Geegan's" reels represent three-part instrumental
playing of the highest order.
There's also some breathtakingly tight dueting by Derrane and Connolly throughout "Patsy Touhey's/The Gooseberry Bush/Reilly's," with McGann
entering on mandolin just for the third reel. A slice of Django-ish guitar swing by McGann provides a tantalizing intro to "The Man From Newry/The Last of the Twins" hornpipes, where Derrane and Connolly interlock impressively in their ornamentation. The fun of playing together similarly comes across in another pair of hornpipes, "Chief O'Neill's Favorite/The First of June."
Not a single moment of weak or mediocre music can be heard on this 14-track recording. "The Boston Edge" is full of tasty tunes, focused
arrangements, unclichéd thinking, transparent communication, and resplendent playing. These three musicians are a bona fide trio, not an
armchair-impulse gathering. They thrive in each other's company, and I can't imagine any listener not thriving in theirs. In the parlance of
their beloved Red Sox, this album is a World Series clincher. Earle Hitchner
PAY THE RECKONING.COM
Following Mapleshade's release of accordionist Derrane's comeback album - Ireland's Harvest, which featured Frankie Gavin and Brian McGrath - Mapleshade have succeeded in coaxing the National Heritage award winner back into the studio. In the process they've assembled yet another
"dream team", with Connolly on fiddle and McGann on guitar.
No mistakes, this is a superb album, every bit as compelling as his comeback. Despite (or perhaps because of!) his advanced years, Derrane hasn't lost the magic touch that teases impossibly inventive ornaments from his box; at the same time he manages to be incisively precise and crisp in his playing. Connolly, of course, is equally renowned for his inventivess and McGann is a much sought-after accompanist, whose chords and runs anchor the tune, but never dominate his fellow musicians.
So it's no surprise that this is an album, which elevates the senses. It brims with good humour and abandon. Three master musicians have chimed in to create a modern masterpiece. Aidan Crossey.Joe Derrane.
Joe Derrane, born in Boston, Ma. In 1930 to Irish immigrant parents developed a deep and abiding love for the accordion and traditional Irish music from a very early age. Around 1940, he started studying the 10 key melodeon with the great Jerry O