Live music is the real music – there is a certain magic between audience and performer that is difficult to translate to the digital realm. Studio music often preserves the idea that inspired the artist, and creates a different magic with all its sound-enhancing gadgets. So the live recording is often the unfortunate orphan – neither spontaneous nor technically pure. It’s the rare live recording that captures the magic of a concert, or the fellowship of a folk festival. Perhaps you really do have to be there. But for those of us who can’t get to them all, this type of celebration of an ongoing festival can provide an enticing sense of what might happen if you could just get on that plane, into that car, or across that road where the magic is being played. And Cork Folk Festival Archive does just that – it provides some glimpses, some great moments that make me consider taking such a journey.
This album has become a regular on my playlist at work and at home, so much so that I’ve delayed this review for just another listen. There are loads of great performances here, dating from 1991 to 1999, recorded in various pubs that host the festival. Both instrumental and vocal performances shine, and remind me that Ireland is still producing some of the world’s finest singer-songwriters. Each of the tracks credits the person who did the recording, and clearly some venues had better acoustics than others, and I suspect this is true for the recording equipment as well. Still, these are fine performances that cover a broad range of Irish traditional musical styles. Naturally, there are some clear standouts among the 18 tracks.
Did I mention the original songs? Many were clearly performed in the way that singer-songwriters everywhere perform, rather than in recognizably traditional styles, which may not suit a purist, but then I’m hardly a purist! First up is John Spillane’s tender love song “The Only One for Me,” which is tender and wistful. I also liked Sinéad Lohan, accompanied by Declan Sinnott on the discontented “Send Me a River.” On the more traditional side is “Drimin Don Dílis” sung by the Begley Sisters in the séan nos style.
Brendan Ring and John Neville turn in a blistering set of reels on uilleann pipe and guitar entitled “Flagstone of Memories / The Foxhunter’s / Dan Breen’s.” Gerry O’Connor and Mick Daly turn in a great banjo and guitar set of “Micho Russell’s and The Clare Jig” that is subtly lively – both these tunes could lend themselves to excess, but here are handled with bright understatement. On a completely different groove are the waltzes by Chris Wood and Andy Cutting, “When Cloe” and “Ville de Quebec” – slow and compelling. Another track that deserves mention is “Zagreb,” by Orion – a great set of Balkan flavoured instrumentals played with passion. I could go on, but suffice to say that there are a more great performances on this disc.
If you play Irish traditional music, or just enjoy the session at your local, you will enjoy this album. It might even cause you start looking at airfares for August.
(Cork Folk Festival, 2000)