Almost all of us currently assembled for this recording ran into each other in Boston at some point (that town’s legendary Irish music scene probably shortened our lives by several years). Dave, Ted, and I produced our first recording there in 2003 (Traditional Irish Music from Boston) with some of our many friends in town. On our previous recording effort we tried to capture the vibe we felt defined Boston at the time, for this one I dragged some new friends into The Laboratory to play some of the many tunes we’ve learned from them since Dave and I fled those New England winters. Ted’s from there so apparently he’s immune.
Dave went back to his native west coast and settled in Portland, Oregon where he met Johnny Connolly, an excellent accordion player originally from Dublin. I moved to Baltimore, Maryland and met a host of world class musicians, among them Eliot Grasso, “deluxe” piper and flute player. In my travels I also came across Aaron Olwell from Nelson County, Virginia; master flute maker, instrument repairman, fiddle, flute, and concertina player, and evil genius.
We began this recording in Portland, Oregon in March of 2006 and finished in August in Boston. We hope you enjoy the fruits of our debaucherous labours,
1) The Lark in the Morning/Hardiman’s Fancy/Francis Aucoin
Dave Cory-bodhran, banjo, Ted Davis-guitar, Eliot Grasso-uilleann pipes, Dan Isaacson-flute, Aaron Olwell-fiddle
Willy Clancy’s setting of a popular jig is followed by one of several tunes named after Hardiman, who was apparently a fiddler probably a generation or two before Coleman. This set ends with a more recently composed tune by Howie McDonald of Nova Scotia.
2) The Home Ruler/Ms. McCloud’s
Dave Cory-banjo, Johnny Connolly-melodeon
Dave and Johnny have their way with two classics, the first a hornpipe, the second a reel.
3 ) Imelda Roland’s/The Maid I Ne’er Forgot/Fred Finn’s
Dan Isaacson-whistle, Dave Cory-guitar
The first reel I learned in Boston from our friend Paul Groff, musician, concertina repairman, teacher and botanist. The provenance of this tune is under debate, Imelda was apparently somehow related to Raymond Roland, an accordion player who lived in London. The second tune I learned (thanks to Paul) from an out-of-print recording of Paddy Carty and Connor Tully, the third I learned from an Irish Tradition record called The Corner House.
4) Barrell Rafferty’s/The Highlander Who Kissed His Granny/The First Day of Spring
Ted Davis-guitar, Aaron Olwell-fiddle, Eliot Grasso-uilleann pipes
This is one of our favorite Baltimore session sets, worked out between Eliot, myself, and our excellent friend and killer fiddler Jim Eagan. The first we learned from Billy McComiskey, Baltimore’s Godfather of Irish Music. It was apparently a favorite of Mike Rafferty’s father who was also a flute player. The second is a Donegal tune whose name makes it Even Better, the last we learned from a recent Tim Collins recording.
5) Wednesdays at the Hon/Mick Flaherty’s
Eliot Grasso, Dan Isaacson, Aaron Olwell-flutes, Dave Cory-bodhran and guitar
The first of these two is one that Eliot “made up” and is dedicated to a session Jim Eagan and I still play with Sean McComiskey in Baltimore, the second is one I learned from Billy McComiskey.
6) The Echo/Unknown
Ted Davis-guitar, Dan Isaacson-flute, Aaron Olwell-fiddle
A hornpipe I learned from a Tommy Peoples recording, followed by one I learned from Aaron who learned it from Kevin Griffin, legendary banjo player from Doolin. We were unable to track down it’s origins. This selection is dedicated to my fiancée Kelly Smit who has been an angel of patience and help throughout every step of the process of making this record. Her doctors say she’s recovering nicely.
7) The Project/The Flooded Road to Glenties
Dave Cory-banjo, guitar
Dave brings us a hop jig by our friend Patrick Murray (piper and pipesmaker in Boston) and a reel written by Jimmy McHugh who was a fiddler originally from Tyrone. He spent most of his life in Glasgow where he was a pillar of the traditional music scene. Mr. McHugh wrote this tune in the late 1980’s, late at night next to his broken down car which said flooded road had done a number on. He passed away several years ago.
8) Barlow Knife/Micho Russell’s
Dave Cory-banjo and guitar, Eliot Grasso, Dan Isaacson, Aaron Olwell-flutes, Ted Davis-flute and guitar.
This quirky selection starts with an old-time American tune which we learned from the Foghorn String Band of Portland, OR (we play it wrong but the boys were nice enough not to say exactly that). The second was apparently a favorite of Micho Russell, whistle player and singer from Doolin. I learned it from the first Mary Bergin album.
9) Shiela Coyle’s/ Paul O'Shaughnessy’s/The Four Courts
Johnny Connolly-accordion, Aaron Olwell-concertina, Eliot Grasso-uilleann pipes, Dave Cory-banjo, Ted Davis-guitar, Dan Isaacson-flute
Three traditional reels. The second I learned from our friend and fiddler Triona Tammenagi who learned it from legendary Dublin-based fiddler Paul O’Shoughnassy.
10)Banchoic Eireann o.
I learned this air from a Tommy Peoples recording. The original song probably dates back to the famine, I’ve been told the words are an unfortunately familiar description of the times. The title translates as “The Fair Hills of Ireland.”
11) Pike St. Market/ Bonaparte Crossing the Alps
Eliot Grasso, Dan Isaacson, Aaron Olwell-flutes, Dave Cory-guitar
A march that Eliot “made up”, named after the famous Seattle landmark . The second tune is an old march that I learned from the playing of the late PJ Hayes, celebrated Clare fiddler and leader of the equally celebrated Tulla Ceili Band.
12) Hardiman the Fiddler/The Whinny Hills of Leitrim/The Humours of Whiskey
Johnny Connolly-accordion, Dave Cory-guitar
Three popular slip jigs.
13) Colonel Rodger’s Favorite/The Happy Days of Youth/Unknown
Aaron Olwell-fiddle, Dan Isaacson-flute, Ted Davis-guitar
The first two of these tunes are commonly referred to as McKenna’s after John McKenna, flute player and fireman from Leitrim who recorded them in 1934 with the titles listed above. I was unable to unearth a name for the third tune, I learned it from our friend Helena Delaney in Boston.
14) The Spike Island Lasses/The Bunch of Green Rushes/The Commodore
Ted Davis-guitar, Dave Cory-banjo, Aaron Olwell-fiddle, Eliot Grasso-ulleann pipes, Dan Isaacson-flute
This set is dedicated to Billy McComiskey, local hero of the Baltimore Irish music scene. The first two tunes are traditional and we put them together because Billy does. The last tune is one that our illustrious professor co-made-up with fiddler Brendan Mulvihill back when they were causing more toruble together than they currently do.
“This is a recording which is most easily listened to. The music is full of lift and concentrates on the melody and thus focuses the ear to enjoy the central melody of each tune. The Magic Square is a breath of fresh air. Maith iad! Well done!”
Marcas Ó Murchú Raidio na Gaeltachta, RTE, Ireland
Produced by Dan Isaacson and Eric Merrill
Engineered by Mike Kelly , East Side Studios Portland, OR, March 2006 and by Eric Merrill, Wellspring Studios Acton, MA August 2006.
Mixed by Eric Merrill, Mastering by Dave Nchodsky, Invisible Sound Studios, Baltimore MD
copyright 2007 Yah!Mule!Records,
Manufacured by Merkin Records, Baltimore, MD
Website (www.themagicsquare.com) by Kelly Smit, Dan Landau and Chris Undi.
Photography by Nathan Labunski
(Portland, OR - www.nathanlabunski.com)
and Kelly Smit (Baltimore, MD)
Aaron plays a flute he made and an E-flat flute by Bryan Byrne, Eliot plays a D flute by Patrick Olwell and an E-flat flute by Eamon Cotter, his uilleann pipes were made by Kirk Lynch, reeds by Benedict Kohler.
Dan plays Bryan Byrne flutes in D and E-flat, C flute by Patrick Olwell (headjoint by Aaron) and B-flat whistle by John Sindt.. Dave plays a Silver Bell banjo from the 1920’s.
Thanks first and foremost to The Band, Dave Cory, Ted Davis, Eliot Grasso and Aaron Olwell, my friends and compatriots, partners in crime and co-conspirators; Gentlemen, (Here’s) To Evil! Extra thanks to Johnny Connolly for lending his own special brand of class to this project. Family Style Thanks to Eric Merrill whose studio skills, impeccable ear and good taste really made this record what it is. Mike Kelly at East Side Studios (Portland)was very kind to us, and Dave Nchodsky at Invisible Sound Studios is one of my own personal heroes. I owe a huge debt to John Williams, Myron Bretholz, Joannie Madden, Kathleen Boyle, Jerry Holland, Billy McComiskey, Brendan McHugh and Paul Groff who helped me track down tune names, authors, and stories. Thanks to Sara Cory for the album title and to Chris Undi for graphic design.
Thanks also to: all the people who have taught us so much music over the years,
Our Boston Friends (far too numerous to list here), Our Baltimore Friends, especially Billy and Sean McComiskey and Jim Eagan, not to mention all our session companions; Our Portland Friends, Cary Novotny and Johnny and Especially Dan Landau for the best kind of friendship, tour-guide skills, web-savvy and tacos. Our Nelson County Friends Rowena Olwell for all of her hospitality over the year, and Patrick Olwell for everything he’s done for flute players and the music.
Endless Thanks to Marcas O’Murchu at RTE for the kind words and the airplay he gives us. Please tip your bartender! Please! Especially at The Moon and Sixpence (Portland) and at The Druid and Matt Murphy’s (Boston). Joseph “Dr. FeelGood” Byrne is the Patron Saint of Irish music in Baltimore and his pub (J. Patrick’s) is arguably one of the most wonderful places in the world. Thanks to Bill, Jason, Derek, Sammy, Jeff and Russ at Dougherty’s (Baltimore) and to Lisa “Tough Crowd”, (wheedlywheedly)Bryan(BRYAAN! AWESOOME!), Brandon, Esti, Tim, Kate and everyone else who has ever had to clean up after us at Bar Hon in Scenic Hampden (Baltimore). Thanks also to Denise
Whiting for giving us a gig.
Last but Never Least; blinding, unfathomable thanks are due to Kelly Smit whose sharp eyes and ears, optimism and trouble-melting smile were nothing short of a holy miracle of help to me while this project turned into a strange and unruly houseguest.
Notes by Dan Isaacson, edited (surprise!) by Kelly Smit.