Donal Hinely

Ghost Fiddle Suite

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With an arsenal that includes a guitar, a harmonica, and a case full of wine glasses and brandy snifters, Texas native Donal Hinely would seem to be the quintessential troubadour lush, but it's not the constant need to imbibe that fuels the artist's glassware consumption. The glasses are molded to a sheet of plywood, filled with varying levels of water to achieve a two-and-a-half-octave range, and eloquently brought to life by one of the few practitioners of the lost art of the glass harmonica. The result is Ghost Fiddle Suite, a 17-track collection of traditional and original compositions that displays the amazing range of this ancient folk instrument -- it dates back to the days of Mozart -- and the man who dares to play it. Hinely, who took up the instrument after the death of his brother in 1997, is not content to deliver note-for-note renderings of "Danny Boy" and "Wild Mountain Thyme." His arrangements are tasteful, sparse, and extraordinarily beautiful, making what could have been novelty an exercise in humility. The best tracks are his, especially the gorgeous "Ultrasound," a gentle, circus-like lullaby that sounds like a netherworld Joe Meek and the Tornadoes. There's really not a bad track to be found, and the only hurdle for some listeners will be the occasional fingernails-on-the-blackboard squeak of the instrument itself, but in the end it's impossible not to be won over. Hinely is a true artisan creating within his medium and Ghost Fiddle Suite is like a perfect reproduction of an antique lamp.

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