Air Time Review – Aodan O’Dubhghaill

When Fíodhna sent me a review copy of her new “Air Time” album in March 2013, I was delighted to be asked to write a review for her. Only a few short weeks earlier, I heard Fíodhna play a beautiful arrangement of “An Raibh tú ag an gCarraig” at a session run by Paul Smyth in Liam Ó Riains, Ballina/Killaloe, Co. Tipperary.
From the first notes of “An Raibh tú…” this album had me engrossed. Because all the airs are played on low whistles, they move seamlessly in and out of one another. You would imagine that a brave undertaking like this – to play only airs for 40 minutes plus – would lead to fatigue. But I can guarantee the listener that this is not the case, as each air has been arranged and accompanied with such care and attention to detail, that even on repeated listening, the music is given different interpretations as to hold the attention.
There are surprises too. Cathy Jordan’s singing on three of the tracks caught me by surprise. On “An Buachaillín Donn” she is introduced by the whistle but then, after she sings a verse the whistle takes the melody again to the harmonies of voice. Likewise, Martín Ó Connor’s use of the box on “Amhrán na Leabhar” is most interesting and enhancing to Fíodhna’s playing. Seamie O’Dowd’s laid back fingered guitar, strings and keyboard enhance the newly composed air “The Boy from Aughdarra” which flows into Fíodhna’s mother’s composition “An Ghorta” which evokes visions of recent famine in Africa as well as events in our own country in the 1840’s.
Cathy’s harmonies with guitar, accompany the whistle again on the opening of the well know song “The Banks of Sullane” and by the end of the song the whistle and voice are in perfect unison together.
“Hector the Hero” is an air I first heard the great Scottish fiddler Aly Bain play many years ago and it was written by another great fiddler Scott Skinner for his friend, Sir Hector Macdonald who committed suicide as a result of unsavoury rumours and illness. How apt that it should be included here when we hear about so much of such tragedies happening, particularly among the young, in the Ireland of today.
“The Dreams of old Pa Fogerty” is the other Scottish air on the album and again with Mairtín’s drone-like box playing and fills, finishes the music off nicely with Gary Ó Bhroinn’s piano.
aodanOne track I hadn’t mentioned earlier ‘’Easter Snow’’ is an air I first heard played by the legendary Séamus Ennis (piper and collector) and one that he also named his final home in Naul, Co. Dublin after. There are many different descriptions of where the air originates but perhaps my favourite is that Easter Snow is a reference to the blackthorn blossom which appears in the Springtime; blackthorn is the opposite to hawthorn in that it bears its blossom before its leaves open, and the blossom time is usually quite close to Eastertide. Fíodhna is joined here by her father, the well-known Button Accordion player Bobby Gardiner for a beautiful rendition of the tune. So, on this album which is firmly based in the tradition, we hear her mother’s and father’s influences. As the old sean-fhocal goes: briseann an dúchas trí shúile an chait (heritage breaks out through the eyes of the cat).
(Aodan O’Dubhghaill, Head of Lyric FM)