'The title for this album is indeed very well chosen and self-explanatory. Let me say that there are no airs and graces here. The music springs out of the deep recesses of the pure and natural tradition, bouncing along over rocks and boulders like a mountain stream in full spate, a reminder of the open-hearth fires, flagged-floored kitchens, half-doors and thatched roofs of the Ireland of my youth, where the music found its home and where it flourished in its natural surroundings.'
- Ben Lennon
Mick Conneely: Mick is one of the most respected fiddle players of his generation. He has played and toured with many artists, including De Danann, Mary Bergin, Frankie Gavin, and Máirtín O'Connor among others. In 2001 his debut solo album, Selkie, was released to critical acclaim on the Cló Iar-Chonnacht label.
David Munnelly: David Munnelly was born into a musical family and was surrounded by music from a very early age. He set up the David Munnelly Band in 1999, and in that same year he recorded his debut CD, entitled Swing. He recorded three other CDs with the band and has toured extensively
Album review by David Leger, Hearth Music Blog, www.hearthmusic.com
I’m not sure how Irish accordionist David Munnelly and Irish fiddler Mick Conneely first met, but bless whatever strange muse brought together these two Irish trad musicians at the top of their game. Their new album “’Tis What It Is” is a revalation, a truly incendiary set of duets that crash their way through a brace of Irish jigs, reels, hornpipes, slides, barn dances, and even three waltzes!
Whereas pretty much any other duet album of Irish music features an almost psychic symmetry between the instrumentalists, as they mesh together improvised and wickedly complicated ornamentations on the spot, Conneely and Munnelly seem to delight in clashing against each other. It’s an aesthetic almost totally foreign to modern Irish trad, but undeniably exciting. Their ornaments fit in just the wrong places, repelling each other at a moment when they should be pulling closer in the rhythm of the tune. This brashness harkens back to a punk attitude that I haven’t heard before in Irish trad. Well, that’s not true, I’ve actually heard about a million Irish punk bands playing terribly Irish trad with a lot of aggression. BUT I’ve never heard two master musicians go at it like a backyard cock fight.
And it’s not a question of clashing egos here, it’s just a question of two great musicians giving themselves permission to let loose. They’re drawing rhythms and arrangements out of tunes I’ve heard many times before and totally transforming them. The opening tune, “The High Caul Cap” is so transformed that it sounds almost alien to the tradition, but undeniably marked by the DNA of Irish music. For someone who’s heard a lot of this before, it’s exhilarating to hear new rhythms in this old music. And don’t think that they’re only cutting loose on hellfire fast reels, they kick into a set of waltzes with such goofy abandon that you’ll be hard pressed to sit still. There aren’t many Irish trad musicians today willing to tackle a single waltz on their album, let alone three in a row, let alone make them sound like a underground prohibition-era dancehall party. What’s surprising is that the result doesn’t crash and burn. Usually when two musicians duet with such unrestrained power, everything collapses sooner rather than later, but here the album just gets better and better.
Mick Conneely & David Munnelly. 'Tis What It Is.
2012. Cló Iar-Chonnacht.
Mick Conneely is an acclaimed fiddler and a member of the more traditional version of De Dannan. Working with Irish bouzouki king Alec Finn, he had the difficult task of bringing the kind of fire to De Dannan for which Frankie Gavin was justifiably a legend, and he nailed it. Reviewing De Dannan’s last album I said, “He races through the tunes with hard-as-nails ornaments and plays at dizzying speed. His fiddling is just hardcore enough to keep De Dannan from sounding too polished…” I think of Conneely now as the Art Tatum of Irish trad. Like Tatum, his exuberance keeps bursting forth from the music. He overloads his playings with whirlwinds of ornaments, cascades of notes, and his melodic lines explode unexpectedly in strange directions. And he does this without losing sight of the melody and without missing a beat. I’d heard David Munnellybefore through his work in his own self-titled band, but hadn’t quite realized how much power he had as an accordionist. He rides the fine line between the heavily ornamented Irish accordion style based around a specific kind of chromatic two-row and the chunkier rhythms of the old one-row melodeons. It’s a somewhat archaic style that belongs more in the old dancehalls than in today’s concert halls, but more’s the better. Separately they’re both musicians known for their powerful and uncompromising approaches to the tradition, but together they’re a damn force of nature.
This post originally appeared on the
Hearth Music Blog. Check out
our website and roam through our blog to discover your next favorite artist! We're dedicated to presenting today's best Roots/Americana/World musicians.
Interview, Irish Music Magazine, Seán Laffey
Seán Laffey has a Ronseal moment with Dave Munnelly and Mick Conneely.
There are albums, not many to be sure, but there are albums that are almost timeless, of course, given a careful listen the true fan could put a date on them, tie them down as it were.
Timelessnes isn’t judged solely by whether you have a bouzouki playing along or a vamping piano in the background, it’s more to do with the feel of the work. Mick Conneely and Dave Munnelly’s new album Tis What It Is, already has a timeless feel to it, as if it could have been made any time the past thirty or forty years. In one sens it is rough edged, visceral, honest or as Ben Lennon writes in the album liner notes; old-fashioned hearty music.
I caught Mick on his mobile, he was in a hospital basement somewhere in Galway fixing something, probably electrical. “I’ll step out into the light and talk a bit about the album. It’s the best work I’ve ever done.” I asked for a preview copy, but it wasn’t ready, would I like an MP3 via Dropbox?” “OK, go on, spoil me” ...and he did.
If CDs were novels you’d want them to start with a pageturner, a killer line from the first word, and the pair oblige here with a deceptively simple High Caul Cap, a tune that crops up all over the English speaking world, you might know it as Donkey riding or Heighland Laddie. Suffice to say the boys grab it and put Irish manners on it. It’s a rare enough tune on albums, the only version I can recall is from the Breton band Gwendal back in the 1970s. I have detected a rawness and freshness in a lot of album releases in 2012. Tis What It Is contains old style music played in the old style, music that is both ageless and very much of now. And so far, halfway into the year there’s nothing better than Tis What It Is... for that raw bar approach.
Mick lives in Galway, Dave lives in Holland, there’s a time difference, so I got to chat to the lads via the magic of Skype. So I asked them tell me the story of making the album. The two had met up around 2000 in Westport where they’d play most Wednesday nights. Just for fun and back then they knew as they traded tunes there was something magical happening. Mick tells me that the pair played regularly in Tigh Chóilí in Galway and it was from those sessions that the bones of this album emerged. After a meeting at a Folk Festival in Finland they decided to make the album.
Mick Conneely was born in Bedford in the UK and learnt his music there. He cites a key moment in he thinks 1983, his first visit to the Willie Clancy Summer School... “I walked along the street and all my heroes were there, Frankie Gavin, Noel Hill, Jackie Daly, I couldn’t believe it, and I was blown away by how accessible they all were, how they went into Quealy’s for a few tunes, how natural it all seemed and how good they were.
Dave adds that the music coming out in the mid eighties was influential in his own journey into the tradition and he says that the pair are chidren of The Star Spangled Molly the classic De Danann album of Irish American tunes. “It brought us the sound of that golden age of Irish music in 1920s America, and it was a springboard to the music of Kimmel, Dan Sullivan and The Flanagan Brothers, as an accordion player there’s so much in those early recordings to work on, to learn and to think they made it on instruments we wouldn’t have much time for today,” he says.
We talk a little about making the album. they had the set list worked out and the running order of the record nailed before they ever went into Eugene Killeen’s Sound Room studio in 2010. “We knew exactly what we wanted to do, how the album would sound, we weren’t in the studio to use it as a rehearsaing space or a place to noodle out new ideas: says Mick. Dave takes up the story, “we did the album in two takes, it took about four hours, we did the first two hours had a tea break and then finished it.”
That approach has produced a remarkably live sounding album, so how did they technically manage it. “Dave and I were in separate parts of the studio, one of us would be in a booth the other by the recording desk and we put on the headphones and we just played. We had to do it that way because we knew we would be ading in more musicians to some of the tracks and the physical separation kept our recorded tracks clean, it prevented over spill of the sounds. Then in 2011, Philip Masure in Belgium put it together and mastered it for us. We had soem great people working with us and Jackei Small did a tremendous amount of work on the liner notes together with the online resource The Fiddlers’ Companion.”
I asked Mick if his choice of The High Caul Cap as the opening track was particularly brave, its apparent simplicity perhaps might be considered an easy introduction to the album (although you should hear what they do with it). “I know what you mean, but we didn’t make this album to show off, to prove we are some sort of musical acrobats, we had these tunes we loved and we really enjoyed playing togheter, tunes we had lived with an worked on since playing them in Matt Molloys in 200 and we said “we’ll do them live in this order and we’ll record them in the same order:. When Cló Iar-Chonnacht heard them they were happy with the programming, it works.”
Mick tells me that the tunes all come from the heart, “I know it might sound a bit hippy but the fiddle for me is a way of releasing the music that is in me, that music is in my soul and even those apparently beginner tunes like Kigh Caul Cap and Shoe the Donkey are gorgeous pieces of music, and they give so much pleasure to play.”
The studio was a converted garage in Salthill, so I joked a bit like Casey in the Cowhouse? That is my all time favourite album,” says Mick. “I loved Bobby Casey’s music, what he did with tunes, his techniques and his phrasing, the honesty of it, to think this album might be even considered in the same league as Casey in the Cowhouse is an honour.”
I posed the possibility that this might become one of those landmark Rawbar albums and wondered how they might be happy with that type of legacy. Dave takes me back to his early days of learning the box in Belmullet. “When I was a young lad starting out, people thought I was a bit odd, I was the only accordion player in the village, I suppose I was obsessed with it, and would be seen walking the roads to lessons with the box on my back, I’m only in my mid-thirties now, but even 25 years ago it wasn’t cool to be a young traditional musician in rural Ireland. Thankfully that has changed now and there are so many more talented youngsters around. As I said, myself and Mick are Star Spangled Molly babies, that got us into the music. Every generation needs a record they can fall in love with, and if they choose Tis What It Is we’d be very happy with that.”
Dave and Mick are master musicians, no doubt abou it, they have the credentials: the track record, the bands, albums and collaborations, but here you get more than just great musicianship, you get a dialogue, a conversation happening now, not parroted lines from some slickly rehearsed ensemble, that is the real excitement here. Clearly they have practiced long and hard, there are gaps and stops and changes of rhythm, which the boys hit spot on, but you’d be forgiven if you thought they just walked into the pub and played straigh off the cuff, which in a sense they did.
Of course, they have a few guests, Johnny McDonagh on bodhrán, Ryan Molloy on Piano and Jonas Fromseier on banjo, he plays trichorda Greek bouzouki in Arcady and Morga, but here Mick Connelly picks up the zook duties, so you expect and wouldn’t be disappointed with a sound that sometimes gets close to, but never really apes early De Danann. With no guitars present, their music is lighter, less bound by a bass line, freer to live on the high notes.
That De Danann reference is just a dusting of spice on the dinner, the meat of the work is a stunningly fresh and honest take on studio playing. There are albums that become obligatory, legendary performances, benchmarks of taste, the right stuff bottled in less than an hour of music. And this is one of them.