Matt Molloy

Stony Steps

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Irish flutist Matt Molloy has made a number of excellent solo albums (in addition to his fine work with groups like the Bothy Band, Planxty, and, most famously, the Chieftains), but this album stands out among them as something rather special. It's not that Molloy is playing any more virtuosically than usual, though as always, the reels, jigs, and airs he interprets swirl out of his flute with a perfect combination of unassuming grace and stunning ornamental intricacy. Nor is it that his sidemen are more distinguished or creative than usual; as always, they wisely keep well to the background, giving him a solid harmonic and rhythmic foundation and otherwise leaving him alone to work his magic. It's mainly the tunes themselves, which on this album are more than usually well-chosen, a perfectly satisfying assortment of tunes both sweet and astringent, both joyful and mournful. Poet Seamus Heaney wrote the liner notes, and according to him, the centerpiece of the album is an unusual medley of an air entitled "The Parting of Friends," an untitled slip jig and a reel called "Paddy Ryan's Dream." But fine as that set is, it is eclipsed by the tune that comes two tracks before it, the strangely titled "City of Savannah." This tune, named, it turns out, after the first steamship to cross the Atlantic ocean, is something of a stylistic surprise -- it has the melodic sweetness of a Cape Breton tune, but is unusually harmonically complex and filled with unexpected accidentals and key changes. Coming between traditional sets of jigs and reels, it stands out sharply and offers a nice juxtaposition to the more familiar material. Very highly recommended.

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