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Album Review

With Appalachian tunes, there's something about the combination of a fiddle and a clawhammer banjo that just sounds perfect somehow. And when it comes to Irish tunes, there's something similarly perfect about the combination of a fiddle and an expertly played, open-tuned guitar. It may not be a strictly traditional instrumentation — technically, Irish tunes are usually meant to be played unaccompanied or in unison by whichever melody instruments happen to be in people's hands down the pub — but it sure does sound great. Liz Carroll has emerged as one of America's most accomplished and beloved Celtic fiddlers over the last decade, and no rhythm guitarist is more highly regarded than John Doyle, a co-founder of Solas and frequent sideman for many of the most prominent names in Irish and American acoustic music. On this album the two work their way energetically through a nice collection of jigs, reels, airs and hornpipes both traditional and original (Carroll being well-known also for the quality of her tune writing). One of the most interesting elements of Doyle's and Carroll's playing is their tendency to play reels with a joyful swing, while toning down that rhythmic characteristic in their hornpipes, making it sometimes difficult to tell the two types of tune apart — on "Ronan's Boys" and "Ralph's 2-3-5" there's an especially lovely and pronounced lilt to the playing, while "The Man with One Kidney" and "The Spy Czar" swing more gently but no less infectiously. Doyle's guitar playing is especially subtle and elegant on the jig set "Northern Jig"/"The Box Man". Even when they slow down for the beautiful slow air "The Island of Woods", there's a spunky energy to their playing that makes the tune almost danceable. Overall, this is a wonderful program that will appeal to any fan of Irish music. Highly recommended.

In Play, John Doyle
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