Album Reviews


On this page, we present occasional short reviews of albums which particularly feature the bodhrán.
Needless to say, the copyright applies to these articles as to everything else in these pages.


Pure Bodhrán

[Pure Bodhran Album cover] Pure Bodhrán is a compilation album, in fact a two CD set, featuring 19 of the more infamous bodhrán-players from as far back as 1927. It is a graphic demonstration of how bodhrán playing has changed over the years up to 2000.


Mance Grady (self-titled) [Album cover]

Mance Grady, performer, drummaker, and instructor, has issued his first album. Grady gives us a tour through his percussion skills accompanied by a diverse group of top musicians: Jimmy Noonan and Michael McKinley on flute, Chris Turner on harmonica, Roger Burridge and Tina Lech on fiddle, Noel Scott on accordion, Bill Crozier on mandocello, and Hughie Purcell on guitar and vocals. The album focusses on Grady's bodhrán work, but leavens the mix with bones, congas, and djembe.

I enjoyed the album. Grady follows the music closely, demonstrating impressive technical proficiency in rhythm, tone, and pitch. Several times, I was struck by the beauty of his rhythmic embroidery. I especially enjoyed the contrasts he created by introducing other percussion into Irish traditional music; I thought his conga work was particularly inspired. My personal taste runs to a somewhat lighter and sparser style than Grady uses in most of the cuts, that supports and enhances the music rather than leading it and sometimes overpowering it, but throughout the album, I was impressed by his virtuosity.

Anyone who loves Irish percussion will enjoy this album. Any bodhránist who wants a catalogue of technical skills is not likely to find a better example. The album is privately published, available from Grady at his concerts or at home: 94 Angell Road, Cumberland, RI 02864, phone (401) 333-2293, e-mail


Dance to Bright Steel, by Distant Oaks [Album cover]

Distant Oaks, a San Francisco-area band playing Celtic and Early Music, released its first album, Dance to Bright Steel in 1994. The band is led by Deborah White on vocals and guitar. Her powerful voice sets the tone for the band, whose style draws inspiration from Steeleye Span and Silly Wizard. She is backed up by an intriguing ensemble, including Kevin Toney on bodhrán.

I've only heard a few selections from the album; those ranged from British Isles folk music squarely in the Steeleye Span style to traditional Irish tunes. These cuts -- Glasgow Peggy/Red-haired Boy; The Blacksmith; and Geordie -- prominently feature Toney's bodhrán work. Toney displays considerable skill at the bodhrán. His rhythms are generally enhancements to the music, and he shows good pitch control in his solo after Geordie. The solo didn't seem to flow from the song as well as one would hope. I felt Toney was over-playing the drum throughout these pieces. When struck lightly, the bodhrán sings; when hit too hard, it thumps. Toney may have aimed for the latter sound: His drumming is also miked with lots of reverb, so they might have wanted a particularly dull, thumping sound to complement their high, light-sounding instruments. But I missed the delicate interplay of percussion and melody that the bodhrán can achieve.

The album can be ordered from the band.


Reviews of other albums in which the bodhrán is not so prominent are here.



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Josh Mittleman

Last updated 30 Sept 1999