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Irish Music Magazine Recommended Release


Ian Carmichael
SplitRock Music
12 Tracks, 43 Minutes


Ian Carmichael’s album Ten Years On brings to mind Mark Twain’s comment on seeing his first minstrel show in Hannibal, Missouri, in the 1840’s – “it burst upon us as a glad and stunning surprise”.
At the time a banjo craze was sweeping the US and also Europe through these minstrel shows, and the man at the forefront was one Joel Sweeney from Appomattox, Virginia, with family roots in Mayo. Eventually Joel even made it to Ireland. The surprise is that it’s taken another 150 years or so for traditional music in this part of the world to truly embrace the five–string banjo.
Through this release, his first solo album, Ian Carmichael joins the front rank of those exploring the possibilities of the five–string in a rich mix of trad tune types. Ian is the ideal candidate to play at the crossroads of Irish, Scottish and bluegrass. Brought up in the Scottish highlands, his musical journey took him through years of bluegrass festivals in the US, back to sessions in Edinburgh in the early 90s and on to become a staple of the northern Irish trad scene from a base in County Armagh.
Ten Years On is a celebration of highly–accomplished picking married to a thorough understanding of the music and a great ear for a tune, whether found or composed. A personal favourite is Bothy, a brilliant bit of work with guitarist Paul McSherry, composed in a salmon fishing hut in Clachtoll in the west highlands. But there’s lots more where that came from.
The understated and deft opening track, a Scottish reel and an Irish one, sets out the stall. It’s not about musical grandstanding, but an exploration of a lifetime’s work in music. That track is followed by the composition Trampolines, a super bluegrass– influenced tune backed by renowned roots player Frankie Lane. Pipe Set is a pretty remarkable rendition of highland pipe tunes on the five string, and Coloured Aristocracy is a beautiful solo interpretation of an old–time fiddle tune.
If a musician is known by the company he keeps, Ian is well–served on this CD. Brendan O’Regan produces and contributes to various tracks on bouzouki and more. Garry O’Briain features on guitar, Paul O’Driscoll on double bass and Tommy Hayes on percussion, all as tasty as you’d expect.
Accordion supremo Dermot Byrne pops up on the final and title track, Ten Years On, which Ian wrote for his wife, the dancer and flute player Mary Fox. The tune is an appropriate finale – it’s not just Ian’s roots that are showing in this expressive recording but the flowering of the five string in the fertile soil around Maghery on the shores of Lough Neagh.
Twain would approve. After all, he said if you want genuine music, “invoke the glory–beaming banjo!”
Martin McGinley