Album Review: Liam O Connor, The Loom

This is Liam O Connor’s first solo album and more then confirms his place amongst the elite of Irish fiddle players. The playing is joyful, fresh, innovative and considered. A Dublin born musician, he follows in the musical footsteps of fellow Dublin fiddle players, Paddy and Seamus Glackin, Sean Keane and especially Tommy Potts who clearly influence his style. The playing is exceptionally dynamic and tending towards the virtuosic without ever parting with the tradition.
The influence of Tommy Potts is evident in many of the tunes and indeed, the title track was one of Potts’s favourites. Potts, of course, was famously innovative, a musical magpie who robbed from jazz, classical and pop music and greatly enriched the emotional and melodic possibilities of traditional music.

O Connor doesn’t quite follow him into the moody brilliance and emotional turbulence that makes Potts one of the most interesting artists of 20th century Ireland but the character of his playing, the way he grabs the tune with both hands and adds his melodic inventions and innovations is heavily influenced by Potts. If I may be glib, he sounds like Potts in good mood.

The sheer joy in his playing is refreshing and his technical mastery of the violin, his clear bright tone, is always evident but is always sensitive to the melodic rendering and rhythmic subtlety inherent in the music.

The opening track, a set of three reels, opens with the Tarbolten which is given a strange and slightly surreal rendition with drone accompaniment from strings that references Sibelius’s violin concerto in D minor. The tune itself is played in the unusual and slightly surreal key of G minor. All very fresh. The second tune is credited to Imelda Roland and is a thoroughly gorgeous composition. The switch to G major is a beautiful modulation. The finishing tune, Master Crowleys, is a tune much associated with Potts and gives a magical end to a stand out set.

The jigs that follow, Miss Thornton’s and The Coolelan Jig are given a contrasting lyrical, light treatment. Repeal of the union follows and is another Potts classic.

Track five features two of my favourite hornpipes, Galway bay and The few Bob (which is surely amongst my favourite tune titles too!). Both are given a lovely, considered treatment here.

Easter Snow, the next track, is a well known slow air. Although, a technically accomplished rendition, I was a little unconvinced by it. It lacked a certain spaciousness and plantiveness that I seek in slow air playing. Molly from Limerick and nine pints of knavery follow and are nice jigs in major keys with an ebullient, jaunty feel.

Small by nature, is a jig composed in memory of Martin Small who died tragically in a car crash. The tune is suitably plaintive and the melody is very special. A Liam O Connor composition.

Two well known reels follow, the High Road to Galway and The Graftspey. The High Road to Galway is a lovely tune but for some reason, I dislike the Graftspey as a tune. There is no good reason for these likes and dislikes sometimes and certainly nothing to fault Liam O Connor on here. A joyful, virtuosic performance.

Another favourite hornpipe of mine, The Rights of Man follows along with another Liam O Connor composition The Rights of Women, composed in honour of the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Great composition.

Two hop jigs follow, The Buncranna Boy and The loom. The loom is a Potts composition. Hop jigs are strange creatures with an usual 3/8 rhythm and Potts jig is a melodically exhilarating jaunt through the staccato like rhythm of the hop jig. It is wonderful music.

An intricate version of the Bucks of Oranmore, one of the most commonly played tunes, and O Dowd’s reel, another tune much associated with Potts, bring us to another slow air, The Wild Geese, which recalls the tumult of the 17th century. Again, I felt the tune could have been more spacious and plaintive but no faulting O Connor’s mastery of the violin.

A stunning album overall, that gives a bright, cheerful and rich take on many common and uncommon tunes. O Connor is at his best in joyful, extrovert tunes and can clearly compose beautiful plaintive melodies also. The slow airs didn’t quite do it for me emotionally, but there is never any doubting the technical brilliance and dynamism at his playing. A brilliant solo debut overall.

Rush out and buy it !


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