Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Willie Clancy's "The Gold Ring": Music Review

"Uilleann piping from Co Clare," this features a champion player of traditional Irish music's most challenging instrument. They say seven years to learn, seven to practice, seven to master, but Clancy sped up. In that amount of time he made the pipes his own, and influenced the greats after him.

These two discs released by RTÉ expand the previously released tapes made for Irish radio of one of the greatest pipers ever. This release blends some of these tapes with others unreleased, from a widely known yet perhaps under-recorded master of Irish music. Influenced by two travelling players, Garrett Barry and Johnny Doran, this Co. Clare native epitomizes its often mournful, often celebratory “open,” plaintive style that the combination of chanter, drones, and regulators can make in skilled hands.

Disc one features the varied styles Clancy mastered. Thirty-four tracks mix radio session recordings with private tapes made in the field as well as in the studio. Disc two serves in archivist-compiler (and piper with The Bothy Band) Peter Browne’s phrase as a “musical biography,” from 1947 to the early 1970s, of thirty-one examples of how Clancy’s playing evolved on its own, as well as his integration of Doran’s example. Browne’s thorough liner notes enhance these remastered and restored tapes.

These selections, for fans of later players such as The Chieftains’ Paddy Maloney, Moving Hearts’ Davy Spillane, Paddy Keenan, and Planxty’s Liam O’Flynn, will attract listeners to the formative decades when Irish traditional music began to leap from the pub and local session to wider acclaim. Many of these tracks sound familiar only because students of Clancy’s took them and recorded them in later decades to wider acclaim. Hearing them in their abbreviated, unadorned, raw setting enhances the original encounters listeners would have had with this music, emotional and raw, from this standard Irish instrument, the bagpipe’s lap-held cousin.

The premature death of Clancy in 1973 robbed Irish music of this link between its itinerant, wandering practitioners and today’s studio-skilled students. Clancy asserts his delicate touch, mimicking bleats, cackling beasts sometimes and fiddles, voices, and the wind at others. He in this tribute to his legacy demonstrates how one of the most complicated of instruments turns into one of the most direct expressions of how smooth melody can come from a few pounds of wood, bellows, and leather bag.

(I wrote this review except for one added paragraph for "CDRoots.com" and their "RootsWorld Bulletin" site, the great online magazine and store for world music. You can hear Clancy's double jig "The Rolling Waves" from the CD there. My review also appeared on Amazon US 5-12-10)

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