Martin Hayes

Under the Moon

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Martin Hayes is a fiddler from County Clare whose sure but gentle touch and deep musical intelligence have combined to produce one of the most satisfying recordings of traditional music in a long time. Accompanied in most cases by only an understated guitar, and in duet on one lovely track with his father, Hayes performs a long set of tunes that range from the familiar ("Rakish Paddy," "The Cliffs of Moher") to the more obscure ("Kilnamona Barndance," "Farewell to Milltown"). What is special about this album isn't so much the material Hayes has chosen, though it's all lovely; instead, it's his unflagging focus on the tunes themselves rather than on his own virtuosity that makes "Under the Moon" both musically inspiring and emotionally rewarding. In a field dominated by fiery virtuosos, many of whom seeming intent on throwing every fleet-fingered ornament possible into every phrase they play, Hayes plays for the tune itself. He interprets and embellishes it, of course, but always in a way that reveals the music rather than obscuring it. There are no barnburners on this album; even the uptempo numbers are played with gentle assurance instead of headlong abandon. When he cuts a note, it is with the quietest, quickest tap of a finger; when he slides into another, it is with the slow, languorous grace of a lover's caress. Yet he never sounds overearnest or academic in his playing, either; he sounds conscientious, not self-conscious. The effect is one of an expatriate speaking after a long exile the native language that he loves, or of a father gently explaining an ancient craft to his child. Stunning. It nearly made me tear up.

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