Perhaps the worst thing you can say about this CD is that it makes you wish for more – like a companion DVD.
“From Tulla to Boston: Live at The Burren” is a recording of last November’s Trad Youth Exchange concert that took place in The Burren in Somerville, and as such is a valuable keepsake of a milestone moment in Boston’s Irish music history. The concert was held as part of a cross-Atlantic partnership between two groups of young musicians – one from Tulla in Country Clare, the other mainly from the Boston area – created through Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann to build fellowship and share a mutual love of Irish traditional music.
Last fall, the Tulla youngsters (the Túlog Ceili Band) spent several days in the Boston area; earlier this year, the Boston contingent (Realta Geala) completed the loop with a visit to Clare.
The 17 tracks on this CD are an audio highlight reel of one very memorable afternoon, when practically every square inch of the Burren Backroom was filled with enthusiastic audience members and youthful musicians – in fact, the latter (numbering just under 30) took up almost all the space on the stage. Three of the album tracks are devoted to the combined Túlog-Realta Geala ensemble.
As impressive, and solid, as those big-band sets are, it’s the various smaller-scale collaborations and solos that really offer an insight into the talent and skill residing in this next generation of Irish musicians (not to mention the organizational acumen of Sean Clohessy, Kathleen Conneely, Mary MacNamara, Lisa Coyne, and the other impossibly committed and devoted adults who put this shindig together).
There are the twin fiddles of Bostonians Josie Coyne and Audrey Bulger with Maeve O’Brien on bodhran, on a pair of jigs (“Cook in the Kitchen/Brendan Tonra’s”); a dandy set of reels, “The Bunch of Green Rushes” and a less familiar version of “The Maid Behind the Bar,” by Túlog’s Lily O’Connor (concertina) and Rosa Carroll (fiddle); the fiddle-playing Kozachek sisters of Realta Geala, Lizzy and Mary, taking on the venerable “Banshee/Trip to Durrow”; a jig-reel pairing on twin flutes by Túlog brothers Stephen and Ronan Kennedy; and easily one of the show’s highlights, a near-flawless rendition of the air “An Raibh Tú Ag An gCarraig” by Túlog fiddler Clodagh O’Farrell.
Another track is a tour-de-force for the concertina (which is, after all, a staple of traditional music in Clare), a medley of reels with solos by Aisling McMahon, Conal Egan, and O’Connor, who join together at the end. In a similar vein is a “Fiddle Run,” a lengthy procession of reels with Túlog fiddlers Carroll, Cliona Donnellan, Leagh Hunt, Eve O’Connor, Áine Murphy and Naoise O’Sullivan. (Credit must be given, incidentally, to Clohessy for his piano backing on many of the tracks.)
Part of what made the Trad Youth Exchange concert special were appearances by accomplished musicians like Jimmy Noonan, Tommy McCarthy, Jon Gannon, Tina Lech, and John and Lisa Coyne along with MacNamara, Conneely and Clohessy. Emcee Brian O’Donovan remarked at one point that the event constituted “a passing of the torch,” where a new generation of musicians served notice that it is ready, willing, and able to continue the tradition. So the veterans’ presence provided a valuable perspective to the show, which the CD captures on three tracks, as well as another in which a jig set by the Coyne family symbolizes this union of generations.
If one really wanted to draw generational comparisons here, the older musicians sound perhaps just a bit looser and more relaxed about the whole affair, and among the younger musicians’ performances there might be the occasional misstep or duff note. But the level of skill, focus, and crispness displayed by the kids – most of whom are barely, or not even, into their teens – is deserving of respect, not to mention heartening in and of itself.
So, yes, one could wish for a video “extra” to this CD, to be able to see that youthful talent in action, and the tremendous response it provoked from the Burren crowd. But then, there’s plenty of footage on YouTube. Or better yet, keep an eye out for these young people, whether at fleadh, festival, concert hall or session – they’re definitely going to be around, and Irish traditional music is all the better for it.
For information on purchasing the “From Tulla to Boston” CD, send an e-mail to Johnmichaelcoyne@gmail.com. The Trad Youth Exchange Facebook page is facebook.com/TradYouthExchange.