Various Artists

Celtic Ceili

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Ceili music is a robustly corny, uncomplicated dance style that has little in common with the epic bardic traditions that have since almost entirely superseded it. It evolved when the Catholic Church, certain that dancing was a tool of the devil and must surely lead to drunkenness and promiscuity, saw to it that ceili bands were heard only at strictly regulated gatherings in public halls. After the outline for an Irish republic emerged during the early 20th century, there was a strong demand for all types of Celtic culture. Ceili bands were a big part of this, and the more intimate accordion and fiddle-based combos once heard at rural celebrations grew in both size and ubiquity. While many people enjoyed shaking a leg to these leviathan orchestras, traditionalists were horrified. Ultimately, Sean Ó Riada's '60s Gaelic revival sounded the death knell of the ceili band. His own ensemble, Ceoltaoiri Chualann, was the forerunner of the Chieftains, and he advocated a return to the Irish language and long-neglected ancestral music styles. The influential musician and demagogue deplored this purely utilitarian style and ravaged it fiercely during his radio addresses. Today, Irish music has moved on, but it has also become more inclusive. These cheerful dance tunes and the much-reviled outfits who played them are now esteemed as pioneers. The reels, jigs, hornpipes, slides, and polkas they hammered out for dear life are heard here performed by the original artists. The sound quality may be uneven, but the fiddles, accordions, and drum kits ring out in all their festive, unrestrained glory.

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