Michael McGoldrick and John McSherry

Michael McGoldrick and John McSherry

At First Light


At First Light brings together two of Ireland’s finest flute, uilleann pipe, and whistle players for a fun, free-spirited romp through some great sets of Irish traditional instrumental tunes. Mike McGoldrick has played with just about everybody, it seems, from Afro Celt Sound System and Capercaillie to Karan Casey and Kate Rusby; his recent solo album Fused did an amazing job of combining traditional and contemporary musical approaches. Although John McSherry might not be quite as well known, his work with the legendary traditional bands Planxty and The Bothy Band demonstrates just what an amazing piper he is. Together McGoldrick and McSherry helped found the outstanding Irish traditional group Lunasa, and played on their first two albums. (Compass Records has recently rereleased Lunasa’s first, self-titled album in the U.S.; their second and third albums are available from Green Linnet Records.)

Although Mike and John trade instrumental duties frequently, John most often plays pipes on At First Light and Mike tends to stick with wooden flute and whistles. Hearing them play together is almost uncanny; the pipes and flutes or whistles blend so seamlessly it sounds like one person is playing them all. As with many bagpipes, the nasal drone of the uilleann pipes can take a bit of getting used to if you’re not already familiar with them, but pretty soon you’ll be loving them too, and feeling as blown away as I was by the chance to hear two sets of uilleann pipes playing at once on this album — a very rare treat. Guest artists include Dezi Donnelly on fiddle (two tracks), Manus Lunny on bouzouki and guitar (four tracks), Paul McSherry on guitar (six tracks), with Donald Shaw on keyboards and Ewen Vernal on double bass throughout the album.

The opening “Farewell To Connaught” gets things off to a roaring start, with incredibly fast flute and pipes on the first tune, then later on in the set a lovely, melancholy tune with both Mike and John playing low whistle. “Trip To Ireland” starts off with a haunting guitar solo from Ed Boyd, supported with very gentle synths; then Mike and John both come in on low whistle, soft and meditative, like twin faerie fires dancing in the quiet darkness. “The Bloom of Youth” has some great stuff too, from the charming twin tin whistles on the first tune to a funky, electronic beat-drive tune at the end, which throws in low whistle, pipes, bouzouki, and bass for a funky jam that gives the Afro Celts a run for their money.

About the only thing I didn’t like about this album was its slight overuse of synths. I review a lot of synth-driven music, so I don’t have anything against keyboards per se, but it’s very easy for traditional tunes to get overwhelmed with airy synth “atmospheres” that really do nothing to enhance the music, and I’m afraid that happens occasionally on At First Light. However, this is a minor quibble with an otherwise amazing album.

Compass Records: http://www.compassrecords.com

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