TITLE: CARRYING THE TUNE

ARTIST: KEVIN CRAWFORD

LABEL: BALLYO RECORDS

RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 2012

By Zac Leger

Kevin_Crawford_-_Carrying_the_TuneIn 1989, a young man from Birmingham, England moved to Ireland in order to concentrate more fully on his passion for Irish traditional music and most specifically, on the wooden flute. Instilled with a love and appreciation of Irish music and culture from his Irish-born parents, he quickly settled into the local session scene and a few short years later released his first solo CD. That young man was Kevin Crawford and the CD entitled simply, 'D' Flute Album, quickly became a classic of the Irish trad genre and required listening for Irish flute players worldwide. Crawford went on to join the band Moving Cloud, with whom he toured and released two albums. In 1997, he was asked to join the band Lunasa, replacing departing flute player Michael McGoldrick. Crawford's addition to the then up and coming supergroup marked a turning point in the band's sound and he has remained a driving force in the group's arrangements over 7 albums as well as their frontman in concert. In 2001, he released In Good Company, an album of duets with favorite fiddle player friends, and in 2009 he collaborated with fellow Lunasa bandmate Cillian Vallely for On Common Ground, a duo album featuring Crawford on flute and Vallely on uilleann pipes. During this time, he continued to refine and expand his playing and the many years spent on the road and in the studio are highly apparent on his most recent offering, released in February of 2012. Carrying the Tune marks Crawford's first return to the true solo album format since 1994s 'D' Flute Album and the wait, while long, has been more than worthwhile. Teaming up with Irish guitar phenomenon John Doyle, Kevin Crawford proves once again why he is one of the top Irish flute players in the world, and why he continues to be such an influence on the current generation of young Irish musicians.

Originally intended to be a Teetotaler's album (a trio comprised of Crawford, Doyle and fiddler Martin Hayes) the project was quickly revised into a solo album when schedules conflicted. Mostly recorded over the short span of a few days, Crawford and Doyle recorded their tracks together live and then picked out what they felt to be the best performances of each track for the album. Later some additional bouzouki, guizouki and mandola were added by Doyle, along with some flute and whistle overdubbing from Crawford and some additional rhythm work from Mick Conneely on bouzouki and Brian Morrissey on bodhran. For the most part the overdubs are spare and this combined with the short recording period and rich, warm production value gives the album a lovely intimacy that is often lacking in the great wealth of trad albums now being offered.

The opening set of reels, titled McHugh's/Michael Murphy's/The Humors of Tullycrine, immediately dispels any uncertainties about what kind of an album this is. Crawford and Doyle are in top form as they effortlessly plow through a set of reels featuring Crawford on the Eb flute, soaring above Doyle's driving, syncopated guitar. Indeed, perhaps in a nod to his original 'D' Flute Album, there is not a bit of 'D' pitched flute to be found on this recording, replaced by C and Eb flutes and D, C and Bb whistles. These differences in pitch from the usual concert D flute allow Crawford and Doyle to play with some interesting textures and tunings for the accompaniment instruments which further adds a very different vibe to the proceedings.

2 Days, the second track, consists of two slip jigs written by Kevin and originally pitched as a set to Lunasa. Vetoed by the band, the version here begins with some gorgeous textures set by Doyle on bouzouki and guitar with Crawford playing whistle and later layering in flute on the second tune. Lucky, Lucky Day, the second slip jig in the set, is a stunning tune that I predict will be making the Irish session rounds in the very near future and the tight, tasteful playing and chordal progressions make this track worth the price of the album alone.

Autumn's Apples/Cormac O'Lunny's/Paddy Sean Nancy's is a light, straight ahead set of reels showcasing the two musicians' obvious delight in playing together as the flute and guitar call and answer one another through one tune variations after the other. How many of these little bits of the musical "conversation" were planned out and how many were happy accidents in the studio we will probably never know but it is a wonderful track that nicely showcases two master musicians at the height of their craft.

Flatwater Fran/Mrs. Jean Cambell BSC is a set of waltzes, performed by Crawford on several overdubbed low F whistles and a low Bb harmony flute. For fans of Lunasa, this is probably the track that is closest in sound to the band's now famous "low whistle trio" arrangements. The first tune is a composition of Scottish accordion maestro Phil Cunningham. The second comes from the playing of Scottish piper Rory Campbell and was originally recorded by the band Deaf Shepherd. I had not heard the tune in years and was pleasantly surprised as it is one of my favorite waltzes, and both tunes are given a wonderful life and quality here by Crawford and Co.

On an album that features primarily flute and guitar, even well played music can quickly become stale if the same formula is repeated over and over and Crawford wisely finds ways to avoid this problem without ever losing the essential momentum of the recording as a whole. I have long said that Kevin is one of the Irish music's premiere air players and on The Dear Irish Boy he takes up one of the big standard pipe airs on the Bb whistle, infusing the tune with his usual sense of melodic taste and emotional clarity. The result is a truly haunting performance, supported by sparse but perfect guitar accompaniment from John Doyle. The two then continue on with a set of darkly rhythmic jigs, The Hole in the Boat/Sally Sloan's.

The Slippery Slope may take my vote for favorite track on the album. Finely textured guitar opens this set of slip jigs with Crawford leaping forward on both melody and harmony flutes. I have always appreciated musicians who, while talented, restrain themselves from the absolute craziness you know they could ascend to if they wished, and instead choose to implement that prowess for just the right moments. Crawford exercises that tasteful restraint here though you hear his energy and enthusiasm bursting at the edges of his music until the track hits the final tune (a traditional Bulgarian 'Horo'). He then unleashes several harmony flutes and, along with Doyle's lush chordal arrangements, builds the track in intensity until the satisfying climax.

Repeal of the Union is a set of reels starting with the eponymous old piping tune before switching into one of the nicest and most interesting versions of the Ivy Leaf I have ever heard. This particular reel is oft played by many pipers and flute players and Kevin presents an interpretation that combines elements of many different versions of the tune while adding in various aspects of his own inimitable style.

Della the Diamond is a set of three tunes written by Crawford, each for a member of his family (mother-in-law, sister-in-law and wife, Tracy, respectively) and it provides a wonderful example of his tune writing abilities. This is one of several tracks that feature bouzouki player Mick Conneely. Conneely plays a Greek bouzouki with 6 strings and his style is very reminiscent of Alec Finn's classic approach to the instrument. You would think that his rolling, old school playing on the bouzouki would clash with Doyle's very modern, syncopated style on the guitar but in fact the two very different accompanists mesh perfectly on this track, providing a sure and measured textural net underneath Crawford's lilting whistle playing.

The Hula Hoop opens with a jig written for a neighbor and snooker rival of Kevin's and it is another example of his gifts for hiding subtle musical 'winks' in his playing. The tune takes some unexpected variational paths, replacing legato phrasing with a staccato phrase here and there and is a testament to the sheer joy and love of playing that is inherent in this album. The set then shifts gear into a reel and churns along to the solid, neatly locked rhythms of Doyle on guitar and Brian Morrissey on bodhran.

The album ends appropriately with the air Ag Taisteal na Blárnan (Travelling Through Blarney) on the low C flute, once again displaying the ease and understanding with which Crawford presents slower melodies. The air is then followed up by one last reel in the form of the session favorite, Come West Along the Road.

Kevin Crawford has said that this album was meant to be primarily about musicality rather than showy technique, and this choice becomes more and more evident upon both first and repeated listenings. The technique and pyrotechnics are there, but they never get in the way of the melody and there is a excitement and playfulness to his music that grabs the listener from the first note. All in all, this album succeeds brilliantly because it takes no shortcuts in how it presents the material. Talented and inventive musicians with a deep respect for their craft and tradition coupled with a simple approach to the arranging and a stellar production make this CD a must have for fans of the genre and for Irish flute players especially.

Carrying the Tune is available through Kevin's website at http://www.kevincrawford.ie

Zac Leger has toured, performed and taught music all over the U.S., Canada and Ireland, and currently resides in Los Angeles.  He has won numerous medals on various instruments from both the U.S. and Ireland, and is one of the few Americans to hold a prestigious All-Ireland medal on the uilleann pipes. Zac has recorded on over a dozen albums and has played, recorded and performed with numerous world-renowned musicians, including Eileen Ivers, Jamie Laval, and the Irish-based show “Celtic Crossroads.”