Music Reviews

Tommy Peoples

Waiting for a Call


Tommy Peoples is a living legend of Irish traditional music, revered by generations of musicians and fans for his intense, intricately ornamented, high-energy fiddling. Around 1985, he recorded about two-thirds of an album’s worth of music with Alec Finn, founding member of De Dannan and bouzouki player extraordinaire, uilleann piper Sean Potts, and Donal Lunny on bodhran. The tapes languished on Shanachie’s shelves until 2002, when Peoples recorded another five sets of tunes with John Doyle, former guitarist with Solas and now a fine solo musician. The old and new sets added up to more than an hour’s worth of music, and Waiting for a Call finally saw the light of day.

Unlike many other Irish fiddlers today, Peoples has a very rough, pure, almost old-timey sound, digging deep into the strings to pull up every ounce of emotion they can deliver (and occasionally drawing up some scratchiness along with the emotion). If you’re used to more polished sounds, the results can take some getting used to, but it’s well worth making the effort to tune yourself to Peoples’ frequency. It’s a wonder to experience his transitions from tune to tune, deceptively easy and unforced, and the little touches he puts to the music are often quite lovely, such as the beautifully connected sets of rising notes (quintuplets?) on “Kit O’Mahony’s” jig. Comparing the 1985 and 2002 tracks, Peoples seems to have mellowed a bit, steering clear of most of the super-high notes and concentrating instead on lower, sweeter sounds, which suits me just fine.

Several tracks feature Peoples solo, and I very much enjoyed these, especially the reels “The Drunken Landlady” and “The Fisherman’s Island.” On this set, Peoples fills the studio with sound and motion, effortlessly rolling across the strings at breakneck speed. But the accompanied tracks are lovely as well. I’m partial to the uilleann pipes, so I love the tracks where Peoples and Sean Potts harmonize on fiddle and pipes, especially on the strathspey “King George IV,” a tune with a somewhat march-like tempo that’s often heard in Peoples’s home county of Donegal. And there’s also some great fiddle-bouzouki harmonizing between Peoples and Alec Finn in the set of reels “The Colliers / Bob McQuillen’s / The Spike Island Lassies.” Donal Lunny’s bodhran and John Doyle’s percussive style of guitar accompaniment also lend some great rhythm and “bottom end” to a number of tunes. All in all, Waiting for a Call is a fine offering from a master of Irish fiddling.


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