of "Callan Bridge"
2002 has been a great year for Ireland's Orchard County. Not only did
it see the boys in Orange and White win the All-Ireland Gaelic Football
Championship, but 2002 saw the release of this superb CD by two members
of the famous (and industrious!) Armagh musical dynasty.
To describe this CD as essential is to do it a great disservice. Instead
it's a benchmark for tasteful, fluid and highly-spirited playing by two
of the premier exponents of their craft. Niall (concertina) and Cillian
(pipes, various whistles) have an advantage over many musicians in that
traditional music is central to their family's daily life. But sheer exposure
alone doesn't account for the level of technical expertise which both
men have achieved. Nor does it account for the degree of feeling and drive.
The fact is that both players have a passion for the music that permitted
to only very few. That passion gives rise to a respect for the tune and
a deep appreciation for its effects on the listener that in turn drives
performances which are truly spectacular in their virtuosity.
Highlighting this or that tune or set in so accomplished an album is both
difficult and, frankly, unnecessary. However certain moments stood out.
Such as the album's opening reel set "The Reel Of Rio/All Round The
Room/The Merry Thatcher", which instantly commanded our attention.
Cillian's solo version of An Buachaill Caol Dubh comes highly recommended.
We're willing to stick our neck out here and put it on record that this
is by far the most affecting version of the air which we've heard to date
(and we've heard quite a few pipers play the tune, and to great effect
to boot!). Not to be outdone, Niall gives us an equally moving solo version
of An Buachaillin Ban.
The closing reel set (The Old Bush/The Pretty Girls Of Mayo/The Tinker's
Reel/Miss McDonald) gets as close as any on the album to capturing the
essence of the brothers' approach as a duo. Their instinctive feel for
the direction one or the other will choose to take is much in evidence.
Each has the virtuoso's ability to combine complete and utter abandon
with perfect control. The result is a blistering, yet thoughtful and fresh,
Special mention is due to the various accompanists, John Doyle (guitar),
Paul Meehan (guitar), Caoimhin Vallely (piano) and Donal Clancy (guitar)
who do a lot more than simply ground the brothers' music. The accompaniment
on this fine collection could, indeed, serve on its own as a comprehensive
sourcebook for tasteful, colourful and intelligent backing.
The Sunday Herald (Glasgow), Sue Wilson
Brothers in harmonies
Niall & Cillian Vallely - Callan Bridge (Compass Records) *****
Brothers Niall and Cillian Vallely share one of Irish music's most thoroughbred
pedigrees, having grown up alongside the world-renowned Armagh Pipers'
Club, which their parents, uilleann piper/painter Brian and fiddler Eithne,
established in 1966. Cillian has followed his father's choice of instrument,
and currently works regularly with Lúnasa, while Niall, a founder
member of the band Nomos, is rated one of Ireland's finest contemporary
exponents of the concertina. Hardly the likeliest prospective matching
of sounds, you might think, and yet their first joint recording is of
such joyous quality it'll bring tears of gratitude from traditional music
fans this Christmas. The brothers' telepathically close attunement goes
beyond making their playing sound as one: it frequently makes it sound
as though three or four musicians are at work. Time and again the meshing
resonances of their nimble interplay somehow conjure up a phantom accompanying
fiddle or flute, over and above the unfailingly sympathetic back-up on
guitar (variously from John Doyle, Donal Clancy and Paul Meehan) and piano,
from a third Vallely frere, Caoimhín. Seldom has the concertina
sounded so assertive, or the pipes so melodiously sensitive as in the
resplendent dance sets which predominate here, while both players take
a solo turn in a brace of magnificent slow airs.
Irish Music Magazine, John O'Regan
Cillian and Niall Vallely come from a seldom-recognized
hotbed of traditional music –Armagh. Coming from he musical family
that sired the Armagh Pipers Club the brother’s music has retained
its dynamic spirit and quietly simmering intensity. Having gone through
the band things with Nomos, Niall Vallely nowadays spends playing time
with partner Karan Casey but has also recorded Callan Bridge with his
brother Cillian. Cillian slipped easily into the Lunasa pipers chair vacated
by John McSherry and has been ensconced therein ever since.
When listening to Callan Bridge, tight unified duet work on uilleann pipes
and concertina is the order of the day. The brothers know each others
individual moves but when playing together the twin strands combine like
tightly meshed high tension wire. The reels and jigs explode with kinetic
energy – that we have come to expect but some unexpected deft touches
help make Callan Bridge a great record. Caoimhin Vallely’s piano
strokes on The Humours of Tullycrine underscore the tune until the pipes/concertina
come in and we are talking Bothy Band like syncopation as in their mesmeric
Maids of Mitchelstown. Niall Vallelly’s playing is a model of maturity
tempering the fire that underlined his period with Nomos and his handling
of An Buachilin Ban reeks of sensitivity. Likewise his brother’s
uilleann pipe solo on An Bauchail Caol Dubh also becomes a stand out.
Donal Clancy and John Doyle add clipped percussive guitar accompaniments
that anchor the music yet lift it to new energy levels. Sunnyside and
Rio display the tightly knit duet work while sparing bravado for a thorough
and intense workout, and the throttle is finally let out on Malfunction
Junction and Ms McDonalds’ where its all systems go. Callan Bridge
is an album packed full of choice highlights –its an exhilarating
ride in other words .
The Herald (Glasgow), Rob Adams
Best known respectively as the concertinist with the much
missed Cork-based group Nomos and, currently, singer Karan Casey, and
as the uilleann piper with Lunasa, the Vallely brothers recorded this
brilliant CD of new and rejuvenated jigs, reels, hornpipes, and airs on
both sides of the Atlantic in breaks between their touring schedules.
Nobody who recalls Niall's uncanny synchronicity with fiddler Liz Doherty
in Nomos will be too surprised to learn that the same breath-taking characteristic
is also a feature of this partnership. There's marvelously expressive
solo playing from both brothers, too, and crackingly energetic but always
deferential accompaniment from guitarists John Doyle, Paul Meehan, and
Donal Clancy and younger Vallely brother, Caoimhin, on piano, on a recording
that bristles with vigour and clearly inherited musicality.
The Galway Advertiser
Armagh Brothers Niall Vallely (concertina) and Cillian
Vallely (uilleann pipes) have joined forces to release one of the freshest
traditional albums of the year. Cillian is best known as a member of Lunasa,
and like Lunasa's albums Callan Bridge has the same clean, modern
production, which thankfully does not hinder the communication of the
brothers' pure feeling for their music. Callan Bridge is a collection
of mostly old tunes, which the brothers breathe new life and vigour into
thanks to their telepathic understanding of each other's skills as on
the brilliantly arranged and performed 'The Humours of Tullycrine'. There
are a number of newly composed pieces, all by Niall, which are of a high
standard, particularly the terrific 'The Singing Stream', the album's
most buoyant and up-beat track. Both brothers take a solo slot, the best
one being Niall's ' An Buachaillín Bán', a Waterford tune
composed for Bonnie Prince Charlie, with Niall's playing capturing all
the courage and tragedy of the Young Pretender. Just a pity it isn't longer.
Callan Bridge is an object lesson in how to breathe
new life into old tunes and how new ones can sit easily alongside them.
It's a joy from start to finish.
The Irish Times, Siobhán Long
This is drawing room grandeur mixed with muscular belly
punches to the solar plexus. Callan Bridge conjures the oddest
of reactions to its catholic repertoire, with its haughty defiance of
accepted notions of how sounds should meld within the tradition. Niall
and Cillian Vallely, siblings and scions of the Armagh family that seems
capable of populating virtually every traditional outfit this side of
the Bothy Band, deliver a gorgeous herringboned collection of original
and ancient tunes. Niall (ex-Nomos) tiptoes his concertina in between
the air pockets of Lúnasa-member Cillian's pipes with enviable
agility. Magnificent tune titles (Malfunction Junction) collide
with spirit-shocking original pieces such as The Singing Stream; they
lift and separate and then merge as though pleats and regulators had emerged
from the one gestation. Glorious.
Armagh brothers Niall and Cillian Vallely come to this
album with impeccable pedigrees in traditional Irish music. Cillian is
part of the acclaimed Lunasa, while Niall works with partner Karan Casey,
as well as having been a founder of Nomos. 'Nuff said. But this experience
is only part of it (as is the fraternal communication they bring to the
project); the sheer quality of the playing (tracks were recorded in the
U.S. and Ireland) puts much of today's Celtic output in the shade. The
older pieces stay well away from the tried and true, and mesh seamlessly
with originals like "The Singing Stream." Niall shows the possibilities
of the concertina in a small group, making it sing gorgeously, while Cillian
demonstrates why he's one the great names in a new generation on the uilleann
pipes. Together they renew the old while adding to it, on a disc that
should bring them plenty of attention within true Celtic circles.
The Irish Herald, Dave Soyars
The brothers Vallely of Armagh, Niall on concertina and Cillian on uillean
pipes, are both stunning instrumentalists. They share an ability to make
instruments not generally regarded for their subtlety sound equal parts
beautiful and intense. Niall is also the husband of former Solas singer
Karan Casey, and composer many of the tunes here.
His Muireann’s Jig,(for their daughter) is spirited and fun, but
with a haunting undercurrent. Cillian bends and holds notes to beautiful
effect on the air An Buachaill Caol Dubh, and a reel set called Malfunction
Junction.after a corner in Montana has such a strong sound that it’s
hard to believe it’s merely a trio. Neither plays with the harsh
sound that can sometimes come from the hands of lesser players, and Cillian
also plays the low whistle with understated grace. The accompanists are
wonderful as well, including, John Doyle and Donal Clancy, two guitarists
(previously and currently, respectively) of Solas. As a recording it’s
fairly standard, the usual quantity of jigs and reels with the occasional
march or air; basically a recorded session, albeit a lively one with virtuoso
players. Both have great taste and ability, and Niall as a composer is
particularly worth keeping an eye on for the proverbial future developments.
Irish America Magazine, Don Meade
It’s been a good year for Armagh, with the men of
Ulster’s smallest county taking their first-ever All-Ireland football
crown. The release of this duet album from Armagh brothers Cillian and
Niall Vallely (pronounced Killian and Nile VAL-luh-lee) is one more good
reason for celebration in the Orchard County. Cillian is a member of trad
super-group Lúnasa and one of Ireland’s very best uilleann
pipers. Older brother Niall, who founded the group Nomos and now tours
with singer Karan Casey, is one of the most original and virtuosic concertina
players in the history of Irish music. Their collection of solos and duets
features many rare musical gems, including some of Niall’s many
original compositions and interesting older tunes culled from the pages
of 19th-century manuscript collections. (Compass)
Irish America Magazine
Easier to find and get your hands on will be Callan Bridge,
the first recorded pairing of Niall and Cillian Vallely. Niall is on concertina
and Cillian on pipes and whistles. Lots of great guest musicians make
this a wonderful piece of business available on Compass Records in the
States. These two have been quietly legendary in the trad field for years,
and many have awaited this album eagerly. It is here and it is terrific.
Niall & Cillian Vallely - Callan Bridge (Compass)
Wonderful fraternal pairing on concertina and uillean pipes from two of
the strongest players in Ireland. Nothing to prove, just the sheer joy
of the music and the family heritage, balanced with six originals. Some
of the strongest Irish music to come down the pike this year, a true instrumental
Niall and Cillian Vallely are brothers who have not only
inherited a prestigious musical heritage from their family, but have established
interesting reputations for themselves. Recording together for the first
time as a duo, Callan Bridge brings the brothers piping and concertina
playing to a selection of original instrumental tunes, as well as a number
of "lost" tunes. The boys grew up in Armagh, learning music
from their parents Brian and Eithne Vallely, founders of the Armagh Pipers'
Club. Niall earned a degree in music in Cork, where he formed the band
Nomos in 1990, in addition to his own projects he also tours extensively
with life-partner Karan Casey. Cillian has been active among traditional
music circles in New York City, and is a member Lunasa, as well as having
been involved with Whirligig. Both brothers have an impressive history
of collaboration with leading Celtic artists as guest players.
With this sort of activity, it's not surprising that this instrumental
album rises above the pack. It's lively, extremely precise, quick, and
contains some great tunes. Niall Vallely shows himself to be a promising
composer writing within the Irish tradition, as well as a wonderful concertina
player; and Cillian is no slouch on the uilleann pipes. Combining these
with a selection of tunes drawn from what the liner notes refer to as
"old manuscript collections" makes for a fresh listening experience.
The brothers are able to turn their long association into a great sensitivity
for each other's playing, another factor that elevates this disc above
the pack. The Vallelys are joined by younger brother Caoimhín Vallely
on piano, as well as Donal Clancy, John Doyle and Paul Meehan on guitar
-- depending on whether the recordings were made stateside or in Ireland.
I particularly enjoyed the set called "Sunnyside," composed
of Junior Crehan's "The High Jig," Robbie Hannon's Jig,"
and Niall's "Sunnyside Jig." Another standout is "An Buachaill
Caol Dubh (The Dark Slender Boy)", a haunting solo piece played by
Cillian, arranged in a version from one of the earliest LP recordings
of uilleann piping by Leo Rowsome. Another great set begins with Niall's
"Once in a Blue Moose" and continues with "Over the Moor
to Maggie." The former was inspired by a shop in Anchorage -- a reminder
that traditional musicians must be able to travel if they're to build
a following! There's lots more great stuff here, and I can't detect a
false note or a wrong turn anywhere on Callan Bridge.
Lovers of Irish music traditions will not be disappointed, and Callan
Bridge will certainly add some welcome new material to even the most extensive
collections. Newcomers to the tradition will get a glimpse of what is
possible within this form, and gain insight into what separates the truly
great from the merely excellent.
You can't await another Lunasa album. You're lucky, here's
ersatz in brothers Niall & Cillian Vallely, siblings from the well-known
Armagh family of musicians. Father Brian and mother Eithne were founders
of the Armagh Pipers' Club. Uilleann piper Cillian made his first steps
with the Riverdance orchestra, and eventually joined Lunasa. Niall, rather
unusual, plays the concertina, erstwhile in Cork's Nomos , and lately
with his partner in life, Karan Casey. "Callan Bridge" is the
place in Armagh both grew up and now came back together - musically: 'Occasionally
we've done bits of gigs together and we had the notion that whenever we'd
get a chance we'd get down and play a few tunes together and make a record.
There have been a number of tunes that we had been playing for years and
we came up with some not necessarily new tunes but old tunes that haven't
really been recorded before. It's a pretty traditional album. It's straight
forward. We both like the classic sets of tunes that you got on the Bothy
Band albums or even further back Michael Coleman. But there are some new
tunes as well'. Caoimhin Vallely (piano) and Paul Meehan (guitar),
Donal Clancy (guitar), and John Doyle (guitar) help out to create a formidable
and classic recording that will certainly stand the test of time. Concertina
duels pipes. Who won? Listen yourself!