A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
The harp is a much maligned instrument, probably because of its association in years gone by with sopranos and its current widespread use in new age music. But it has been around almost since the beginning of time and is common to many cultures and traditions. There must be a reason for that. Laoise Kelly knows the reason. |
If you enjoy sweeping, ethereal glissando effects and a dainty plinky-plonky sound, this album is really not for you. There is such body and depth in Laoise Kelly's playing that at times you feel there must be more than one musician playing on this solo album, as her strong melody lines are accompanied by intricate chordal accompaniment and powerful bass runs. Kelly has mastered her instrument completely.
Another exceptional element on this recording is her sense of arrangement. She digs down into the very roots of the tunes, adapts them for her instrument and presents them in a traditional setting. By drawing on the emotion and character of the melodies, Laoise's harp takes its place alongside fiddle, accordion and flute in the echelons of traditional Irish melody instruments, sounding perfectly in place.
President Garfield's Set, which opens the album, sets the mood: a dancing collection of three tunes played as reels, in which you could almost imagine Laoise as some kind of octopus - so many things appear to be happening at once. The album then leads into a waltz medley of two tunes, one classical, the second by Daithi Sproule, which literally flow around the room. Other material comes from the repertoire of pipers, fiddlers, from Canada and Ireland, and from the pen of Bill Whelan, as well as one of her own tunes along with, almost inevitably, a couple associated with Turloch O'Carolan.
The one weak point on the album comes with the Whelan composition, The Coast of Galicia. Just at the moment you are thoroughly under her dancing spell, she slows the pace and alters the mood with this, the only contemporary styled piece of music included. Although she displays great feeling and in spite of it being a strong, intriguing tune, I would rather revel in the swinging involvement of the preceding Brendan Ring's, a set of tuneful jigs with dynamic chord progressions, or the cascading sounds of The Lion which follows.
The prospect of a 41-minute album of one instrument might not seem appealing to everyone, but Laoise's playing is involving and inviting, the choice of material generally spot on and the production warm and clear.
Laoise Kelly has made her mark playing on a number of recordings over the last few years, as well as with her band, the Bumblebees. She is probably the most important harper currently playing and this album only enhances her reputation. By taking a 'whole harp' approach to her music, she has produced a highly enjoyable album.