Masters of the Irish Guitar
When most fans think of the key instruments in Irish traditional music, the top picks would probably be fiddle or flute, perhaps accordion or uilleann pipes — but likely not guitar. This fine album aims to change that opinion, presenting sixteen tunes performed by nine Irish traditional musicians on guitar. Compiled by Danú guitarist Dónal Clancy, Masters of the Irish Guitar consists entirely of previously unrecorded material. All but one of the tracks are acoustic, and most are solo guitar, with a couple adding a bass or bouzouki. There’s a good mix of fast and slow tunes, mostly traditional, but with a generous sprinkling of tunes composed by the guitarists themselves.
The guitarists Dónal picked for this collection are all among the best Irish traditional musicians performing today, and they deliver consistently high-quality performances here. Naturally I have my favorites. For instance, I’ve long been a fan of former Solas guitarist John Doyle, and the two tracks he contributes are excellent as usual, marked by his instantly recognizable driving, percussive style. Donogh Hennessy, who recently left the group Lúnasa to tour with the singer Pauline Scanlon, is a very fine composer as well as guitarist, and his two tracks are great too, especially his original hornpipe “Home by the Fire,” which is filled with lovely, intricate, circular phrases that really do have a comfortable, homey feel. My fellow Chicagoan Dennis Cahill also shines here, joined by P. W. Crump on guitar and bouzouki; Dennis has a lovely light touch on the guitar, as is well known to anyone who has seen any of his amazing performances with fiddler Martin Hayes, and the understated bouzouki accompaniment really brings out the quiet intensity of Dennis’s playing. A new discovery, or rediscovery, for me was Randal Bays. He also has performed with Martin Hayes, and although I’d previously been impressed with his work accompanying Chicago concertina and accordion player John Williams, I haven’t heard much of his playing in recent years. My loss — his two tracks here are both excellent, from the lovely, introspective harp air “The Sheep under the Snow” to a pair of fun, sunny slip jigs, one composed by the guitarist himself.
All in all, Masters of the Irish Guitar is an excellent introduction to the work of some of the finest Irish traditional guitarists performing today. There’s something for anyone who enjoys Irish traditional music, and also plenty for fans of acoustic guitar music.