Fear Inis Bearachain
This is a new album by Johnny Óg Connolly compiled as a tribute to his father, the renowned melodeon player, Johnny Connolly. Released on the Cló Iar-Chonnacht label, the album is a beautiful and fitting tribute to one of Connemara's most beloved musicians.
Writing in the album notes, Johnny Óg says that it was always his intention to begin playing the melodeon when his father no longer could. "Sadly, that time has come sooner than any of us could have anticipated. From after the Willie Clancy week in 2018 till the middle of September, I devoted some serious attention to the melodeon, listening and playing along to my dad's wonderful recordings," he explains.
"...the result is an album of variety and contrast, with an emphasis on Conamara music..."
Fear Inis Bearachain, Irish Music Magazine, May 2019. Review by Seán Laffey
This album was released in December 2018, just in time for Christmas. It is in many ways a present from Johnny Óg to his father Johnny Connolly. The latter is the well-respected box player, who hails from the island of Inis Bearachain in Conamara, hence the title of the album. Johnny Senior hasn't been doing too well of late, being struck down with Alzheimer's, so much so, that his playing days are sadly behind him.
On this album, Johnny Óg pays a warm tribute to his father's memory and music, not by way of imitation, neither is it sentimental, it is an act of love, a gentle passing of tradition from one generation to another. Oh' what music there is to hand down, lively dance music, with a strong hint of the wing and verve of 1920s American ballrooms on a pair of jibs 'Flanagan's and Kimmel's'. Track ten is a medley of tunes that recall places where Johnny Senior has lived, Inis Bearachain, London and Boston. There's a waltz lullaby 'Suantrai James agus Eilidh Patricia'. Johnny's own composition 'Tommy the Norman' and 'The Fitzharris Fling' were composed for Leitrim man Tommy Fitzharris who adds his flute to this track.
Other guests include Gary O Briain on Mandocello and Padraig Ó Dubhghaill on guitar, Clodadh Costello on banjo and Liam O'Connor on Fiddle, a premier league team. The solo playing is exemplary, complete with the click and clack as the buttons press out the music, giving the album another dimension of handicraft and honesty.
Music is a gift and the Connollys have shared it with each other and us for years. Give yourself a treat and gift it to your collection.
Fear Inis Bearachain, The Living Tradition, www.livingtradition.co.uk, April - May 2019, Léirmheas le Alex Monaghan.
This button-box maestro pays homage here to his father Johnny Connolly, one of the kings of Irish melodeon. Ireland traditionally had several kings, but not so many melodeon-players in recent years: Johnny Óg himself favoured the B/C button accordion, but his father was virtuoso on the single-row melodeon. With his father's tragic illness, Johnny Óg turned back to the humble melodeon and overcame its challenges to make this moving and inspiring album of his father's music and his own. Classics such as 'The Sligo Maid' and 'The Silver Spear' jostle good-naturedly with Connemara favourites like 'Pota Mór Fataí' and 'Cailleach An Airgid'. Oddities from the English and American melodeon repertoire include 'The Keel Row' and 'Kimmel's' which I know as 'The Champion'. Johnny Óg adds his own variations to several pieces here, and produces a showpiece version of the hornpipe, 'The Brown Coffin'. Other selections are based on the playing of PJ Conlon and Marcus Hernon among others. Johnny Óg also includes nine of his own fine tunes.
The melodeon playing is a fitting homage to Johnny Óg's father, with its characteristic staccato rhythms and arpeggio ornaments. It is supplemented by flute, fiddle and banjo on about half the tracks here, and accompanied expertly on guitar and mandocello. Johnny Óg switches to the two-row box for his slow air, 'Caoineadh Aisling na nGael', unaccompanied, dedicated to his father. There's a lovely lullaby too, and a pair of charming waltzes, contrasting with the reels, jibs, barndances and hop-jigs. 'Fear Inis Bearachain' ends with unusual versions of three well-known jibs: 'The Blackthorn Stick', 'Humours of Glendart', and 'Páidín Ó Raifeartaigh', rattled out in fine style on box and banjo. This is an enjoyable CD, a memorable album, and a landmark recording in the Connolly family tradition. It's also a spur to go back and listen again to Johnny Connolly's own recordings from a few years ago.
Review by Alex Monaghan.