For many, the epitome of a great recording of traditional Irish music is one with a genuinely “live” feel. Noel Hill and Tony MacMahon’s “I gCnoc Na Graí” (1985) and Matt Molloy’s first solo album (1976), for example, are two that achieve this. Another current example, I feel, is the Irish Arts Center’s 2011 Christmas Album. However, the most recent example is Micheál Ó Raghallaigh and Danny O’Mahony’s “As It Happened,” a superb recording that showcases two powerful, young musicians in an intriguingly personal context – Micheál Ó Raghallaigh’s kitchen.
Recorded live, with minimal gear and pretense, most will argue that what O’Mahony (who hosts a trad show on Radio Kerry) and Ó Raghallaigh have done isn’t exactly new. After all, recording live, in the moment was always the expedient way of doing things. But as technology developed, so did studio savvy and in the last 20 years we’ve seen musicians become extremely knowledgeable in how they use studio resources to explore and control their sound. So what makes this album remarkable, then, is not that it was recorded live per se, but that O’Mahony and Ó Raghallaigh – two musicians who essentially grew up in studios – are part of a new generation of players that is pushing back and embracing a sophisticated but minimalist approach to recording Irish music in a way they feel suits their music.
Readers may already be familiar with a few from O’Mahony’s and Ó Raghallaigh’s minimalist cohort. Micheál’s brother MacDara Ó Raghallaigh’s for example, came out with his album “Ego Trip” last year, a live, solo project recorded in front of an audience over the course of two evenings. Then, there is Micheál’s work with Catherine McEvoy and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on “Comb Your Hair and Curl It” (2010), an album reviewed here in the Echo last year with appropriate fanfare by Earle Hitchner.
On “As It Happened,” O’Mahony calls the approach” “free-range recording,” a way of doing things that emphasizes the music itself, “as it happened,” with no editing or effects in post-production. (Incidentally, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh – who seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to interesting, well conceived projects – was the recording engineer here and deserves high praise for the album’s balanced, clear sound.)
Putting the focus on tune, performance and musician interaction makes their approach to recording somewhat akin in spirit to Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg’s avant-garde “Dogme” method of filmmaking. Outlined in their “Dogme 95 Manifesto” and codified in a set of rules called the “Vow of Chastity,” the Dogme method emphasized story, acting and theme over special effect and post-production modification.
Although O’Mahony and Ó Raghallaigh allude to a philosophical element in their liner notes, they’re neither didactic nor dogmatic about their “method.” The magic really lies in the idea that there are two smart, relaxed musicians playing tunes together that have a healthy breath and swing. New York-based uilleann piper Ivan Goff, a longtime musical comrade of O’Mahony and Ó Raghallaigh’s who has insight into this minimalist approach, is correct to point out that “when you have two players of the caliber of Micheál and Danny and the resources to record in a relaxed and familiar environment, not only is a live and spontaneous feel more possible but the listener can sense the personal connection between two players.”
Ultimately, this is a brilliant recording. O’Mahony explained that he and Ó Raghallaigh never approached playing together as a note for note thing, rather that they always search for something new in their music. “The album,” he explained, “is about my musical friendship with Micheál. We’ve played together on and off over a long time. He’s open to fun – in the music or out, and I was drawn to that. The music follows that line as well – we very much play off one another and have the craic off one another.”
“As It Happened” will be launched at
Willie Clancy Week. However, it can
be purchased or downloaded right now
through Danny O’Mahony’s website at www.dannyomahony.com.