You don’t see it too often in the world of traditional Irish music at this point, but vinyl is making a comeback in the world of popular and indie music. Yes, it’s a long wait to have something in a hurry, but the payoff is excellent. The records are cool and even if you don’t have a turntable they make for a good overall memory. It’s also a way to support a band, especially if you primarily listen through streaming services.
Anyway, I love vinyl and last week I received the new version – yes, on vinyl – of “Volume Two” by the Armagh Rhymers. Readers may recall that I wrote about this album last year and was very excited about it, and I have to say I’m excited about the new vinyl release. The two-disc set is well presented, has a cool look, the liner notes are large and easy to read, and it includes material that complements the digital version: in addition to containing the contents of the “Volume Two” CD, it includes six additional remastered tracks from the band’s first release in 1992. It’s a nice set you’ll want for your collection. Order your copy now at armaghrhymers.com.
In this week’s other media player is “Brightly or Darkly” by fiddlers Nathan Gourley and Laura Feddersen. Gourley and Feddersen are Boston scene leaders and have been playing together for years, which has given them ample time and opportunity to develop the special musical chemistry they share. The music they make together is truly magnificent and if you are interested in traditional fiddle you will definitely want to check out their new album.
“Brightly or Darkly” is their second duet set, a follow-up to “Life is all Checkered,” their 2014 release that I called a “must-have.” Gourley and Feddersen also worked together on “Ship In The Clouds” (featuring Natasha Sheehy, button accordion and Anna Colliton, bodhrán), and indeed Gourley has made a relatively common name for readers who have also worked on albums such as “Copley Street” (with Joey Abarta, uilleann pipes) and “The Truckley Howl” (with Mairéad Hurley, concertina and John Blake, guitar).
The taste and thoughtful execution that Gourley and Feddersen brought to their earlier projects is still very much present here, making this album a delight. The way Gourley and Feddersen blend their sounds is superb, but it’s the little touches, the changes between tunes, tempos and cadence that really make their playing special.
However, the twist here is that they take the opportunity throughout the album to explore a range of different tunings for their violins. Now you might not consider this an important detail, but it is: a lower or higher tuning means the strings vibrate differently, and within that you can work with different sorts of sound textures to make something that catches the ear. If only certain strings are tuned differently, players can buzz adjacent open strings in a way that produces something interesting. And if the violins are tuned slightly differently, it allows players to explore the nuances between instruments. There are all kinds of possibilities.
These ideas are explored to great effect here. The fairly wide variety of tunings produces music that sounds light or dark, as the title of the album suggests. “Sir George MacKenzie /…” is the opening of the album and the sort of tuning calls for hearing the liveliness of the uilleann pipes. It is well done. I also like “Maids of Mitchelstown / …”, with Gourley in B and Feddersen in “high B bass”, because the tuning produces a sonic richness that rises when the guitar accompaniment kicks in. (The reader here is gorgeous.) “Kitty Got a Clinking Coming from the Fair /…” is another standout. The tuning between the two violins here once again evokes the liveliness of the pipes in a way that comes across when either does something fiddly. It’s great to listen to. And I love the tip of the hat to Dan Sullivan’s Shamrock Band on the track “From Galway to Dublin / …”, a track taken from one of the group’s old 78 rpm records.
In addition, each violinist takes a piece to present his solo playing, that of Feddersen with “The Haymaker / …” and that of Gourley with Matt Peoples’ / …”. Both tracks are outstanding, but what’s interesting is hearing how, despite their great ability to sound together, how great they sound individually.
“Brightly or Darkly” is a nice collection of tracks. Again, as before, the selection of melodies and tempos are tasteful, but it’s the interesting exploration of chords and how they can use them to extract aspects of melodies that we might not otherwise have. not really considered before that prevail. It’s a beautiful album and should seriously appeal to fans of traditional music. Check it out at www.nathanandlauramusic.com.