R2 (ROCKnREEL) – Feb 2012 (UK)
by: Dave Haslam
Although Small Towns And Famous Nights is their first foray into the recording studio, accordionist Alan Kelly, fiddler Tola Custy, guitarist Tony Byrne and flute and whistle player Steph Geremia have an amazing rapport that comes from their many years of performing together on the live circuit. Individually recognised as among the finest exponents of their chosen instruments, when they get together they’re a force to be reckoned with as is evident from the opening notes of ‘Galway Reels’ which kicks off this exceptional album.
Largely instrumental, Small Towns… takes the Irish tradition as a starting point for musical adventure that also visits America, Brittany and Asturias on a collection that ranges from the high-octane ‘Grounded Reels’ to gentler material, including an atmospheric version of Liz Carroll’s ‘Breton Woods’.
Distinguished by their exceptional musicianship and Kelly’s inventive arrangements, particularly evident on traditional set ‘The Dawn Jigs’ and the brooding ‘Birdmaker’, this is instrumental work of the highest order and it’s complemented by three beautifully performed songs. Guest vocalist Eddi Reader lends her distinctive tones to ‘Connemara’ while Geremia assumes vocal duties for the remainder, turning in a great performance on unrequited-love song ‘The Garden’ and particulary on the moving ‘Journey’s End’.
TradConnect – Feb 2012 (Worldwide/Online)
by: Tony Lawless
Not having yet seen The Alan Kelly Gang live, it is now most definitely on my list of things to do. If they work as hard on stage as they work on this their debut album, then it will be an evening well spent. These guys are working, playing, interacting and creating something special in the process and applying the word “Gang” in their name suggest a breaking away from the conventional. The band also include Tola Custy on fiddle, Steph Geremia on flute, whistles and vocals and Tony Byrne on guitar with Eddi Reader and others as guests.
The majority of tunes are relatively modern compositions from people like Frankie Gavin, Vincent Broderick, Máirtin O’ Connor and of course Alan Kelly himself. Their music is a living breathing thing, like I have not heard in some time, with great vitality, mood changes, tempo changes and external influences that seep into the arrangements. Arrangements is indeed an apt word because what they have done here on a number of tracks hasn’t been arrived at in some accidental way. It appears like it has been honed on the live circuit and then reworked in the studio to great effect.
Their music is quite intricate and detailed in its construction with tunes like Birdmaker crossing the border between finely crafted traditional music and orchestral work. There needs to be variety in the our listening pleasures and on Small Towns we have an album that covers a lot of ground and steps a little outside what we would expect. For me and no doubt many fans this is a welcome achievement.
On other tunes such as Breton Woods this is again evident with it’s change of pace and some exquisite playing by all concerned. The music ebbs and flows and builds along a meandering path to its natural conclusion. Lest you forget that these musicians are traditional players at heart, they then drop back into more familiar territory for a set called Grounded Reels. Alan takes the lead with as delicate a touch as ever hitting those high registers in style. Tola Custy on fiddle joins and fades to be replaced by Steph Geremia on flute. Then back they all come building and building.
This is an album that should have mass appeal as it is stepping outside the stricter confines of some of their contemporaries in the approach taken. Golden Pipe is another beautiful track starting out in a flowing and leisurely style where you could envisage a beautiful dancer shimmering across the stage to the mesmeric tones of fiddle, flute and accordion. Song choices are perfect as well including Connemara which is, it must be said a bit more demanding on the listener. A bold choice for the album when no doubt many other easier choices existed. There are influences of Eddie Reader’s previous life in the arrangements, again relatively modern and recently composed tunes to fit with the overall approach taken.
The creation of an album of this quality has opened the door for the Alan Kelly Gang and shows them to be a creative force beyond the confines of what we would consider the traditional album format. It will be interesting to see where they take it from here.
Folk Radio UK – Jan 2012 (UK)
Small Towns and Famous Nights is the début offering of the Alan Kelly Gang. The head honcho, Alan Kelly, is one of Ireland’s busiest musicians. His family history is steeped in Irish traditional music and he has a reputation for gathering the crème de la crème of the folk music world and creating great crowd pulling live performances. His latest tour de force is no exception, they have all being touring together for some time but this is their first step into the studio. The band features:
Tola Custy (fiddle)
Tola Custy is from Co. Clare and also from a background of traditional music. He has toured with many head-liners including Lúnasa, Grada and Guidewires.
Steph Geremia (flute & vocal)
Steph Geremia hails from New York but now lives in Ireland where she has rapidly built a reputation for her gifted flute playing. She has been in great demand and has toured with many bands including the Chieftains.
Tony Byrne (guitar)
And finally, Tony Byrne who hails from Dublin, he has his name on numerous sleeve credits and has been kept incredibly busy supporting the likes of Danu, Sharon Shannon, Michael McGoldrick, Gerry O’Connor, Paul Brady and Julie Fowlis.
Of course, no Alan Kelly album would be without guests and Small Towns and Famous Nights sees slots from Eddi Reader who also guested on his 2009 solo After the Morning. Also appearing are John Douglas of the Scottish band Trashcan Sinatra, singer and songwriter extraordinaire Boo Hewerdine, Kevin McGuire and long term collaborator Jim Higgins.
The bulk of the tracks are instrumental and sprinkled amongst them are three very fine songs. The Garden is a song written by reknowned American bluegrass and roots musician Tim O’Brien. It has a french waltz inspired opening, a nod to the wide and varied influences that weave through their music. Steph Geremia provides ample magic with her sweetened vocals and is one the albums highlights. Steph makes a second vocal appearance on The Journey where she demonstrates her ability to sing with a natural ease that is perfect for this album. Connemara is a song by John Douglas and features Eddi Reader on vocals and Boo Hewerdine on guitar. The song was inspired by stories passed down about John’s Connemara heritage. His great uncle, Colm Keane, was one of the many people that Seamus Ennis collected songs from on behalf of Alan Lomax. Those early recordings are a great heritage source for Irish traditional singers and musicians.
The larger instrumental offerings have a drive and energy that will keep the chill out of the coldest winter night. The opening Galway Reels kicks off with Alan’s accordion holding court with flute accompaniment from Steph Geremia before Tony Byrne takes the reins providing the energy and acoustic percussion, Jim Higgins later steps in to take over on bodhran. There is a natural flow to all their playing on this album. It comes from playing live sessions together over a long period of time. All those flourishes and embellishments are as much about knowing your fellow musicians and making that interplay work as well having a respect for the tradition which they all clearly do.
There is a nice mix of tempo and pace from the heady mix of reels to the more sedate opening air of Golden Pipe where Tola Custy’s fiddle playing really shines before the quickening pace is announced by Alan Kelly and Tony’s accordion/guitar combo reels. The album ends on Lollie’s Waltz, a beautiful piece that is dedicated to Alan’s grandmother.
Small Towns an Famous Nights is not the full on energy kick you might be expecting after seeing their live performances but it is a perfect celebratory mix of a long partnership with some of their favourite songs, airs, jigs and reels that the have featured whilst touring far and wide… despite being a studio recorded album it has that live feeling and possesses a warmth and vitality that makes it a winner in our books.
Acoustic Magazine – Dec 2011 (UK)
by: Paul Strange
Blending contemporary and traditional Irish music, The Alan Kelly Gang’s debut album has an assured confidence, lively swagger and infectious passion that’s hard to ignore. There’s plenty to savour here: high-quality musicianship, driving instrumentals, delightful reels, bouncy jigs and delicate ballads. Piano accordionist Alan Kelly is clearly a talent. Taking centre stage on many of the tracks, he’s supported by Tola Custy (fiddle), Steph Geremia (flute, whistle, vocals) and Tony Byrne (acoustic guitar), while guests include Fairground Attraction’s Eddi Reader and former Bible frontman Boo Hewerdine. Highlights are the blistering opener ‘Galway Reels’, the punchy ‘Hopalong’ the commercial ‘Connemara’ and the elaborate ‘Dawn Jigs’. Some tracks are a tad dreary, but otherwise it’s top-notch.
Irish Music Magazine – Nov 2011 (Ireland)
by: Alex Monaghan
I last saw Roscommon box-player Alan Kelly play live with this line-up in Dún Laoghaire, just over a year ago. It was a great concert, full of fire and passion, the quartet’s sound filling a large open-air venue with the help of one or two guests. Since then, the gang have been on the road, honing their performances. Www.AlanKellyGang.com has more information on what else they’re up to, but they seem to have put some of their best work onto this CD.. Alan’s piano accordion (no longer a black box – now a work of wooden art) is augmented by Tola Custy’s fiddle, Tony Byrne’s guitar, and the flutes and vocals of Alan’s protegée Steph Geremia. Guests include Jim Higgins, John Douglas, Boo Hewardine, Kevin McGuire, and Eddi Reader. There are three songs, all by American writers. Steph sings Tim O’Brien’s The Garden, a bittersweet lament of unfulfilled love, and the soulful parting ballad Journey’s End: her native Bronx burr cuts through the Galway brogue, giving a mid-atlantic feel to these tracks. She sings like a woman born to it, strong yet unforced, with easy tunefulness and a range of expression. Eddi Reader’s rendition of John Douglas’s Connemara is another ocean-straddling track, an Irish-American ballad sung with Eddi’s own combination of Hollywood and Holyrood.
The lion’s share of this CD is of course the accordion-led instrumentals, the piano box in the hands of a master who understands how to use both those hands to complement the melody. In what is generally a controlled and thoughtful recording, there are a few flashes of fire and plenty of passionate playing. Alan only presents three of his own compositions here, along with one of Steph’s, but he’s in great company: Frankie Gavin, Mairtin O’Connor, Vincent Broderick, Liz Carroll and Bobby Casey all contribute tunes, and there’s equally high quality from the unknown composers of several traditional jigs and reels. Alan’s slip jig Hopalong is lyrical enough to be a waltz, and starts a medley of jigs and reels finishing with a punchy Phil Cunningham tune. Golden Pipe combines Tola’s fiddling on a gorgeous air by Liam Lewis with a couple of grand old reels. Birdmaker starts with lovely delicate fluting from Steph, leading into her own Listmaker in Balkan mood. The music continues to impress with Charlie Lennon’s Dawn Chorus and Niall Vallely’s driving Oblique Jig, all four members fused into a tight wedge of sound. The final waltz for Alan’s grandmother is a delightful piece, underlining the easy grace and skill of The Alan Kelly Gang: beautiful music from master musicians, perhaps not as wild as their live performances but every bit as memorable.
Bright Young Folk – NOV 2011 (UK online review)
by: Mark Dishman
Having toured as a band for many years, the Alan Kelly Gang have clearly made the most of the time to hone their skills. Their debut album, Small Towns and Famous Nights, is assured and rich with musicianship.
The driving Galway Reels offers an upbeat start, tapping along nicely with some nifty guest percussion from Jim Higgins. It’s followed by Hopalong, which showcases Kelly’s lyrical, rhythmic playing well. He manages the trick that all accordionists surely aim for – to make it sound like he’s playing two instruments at once. As the title promises, it quickly hops into a jaunty second movement.
The introduction to The Garden evokes 1920s Paris, before the arrival of the first voice on the album. It belongs to Steph Geremia, proving as nuanced and talented a singer as she is a flautist. It’s a perfectly paced story of unrequited love set to an irresistible waltz, and one of the album’s highlights.
The other notable singer on the album is the estimable Eddi Reader, who pops up on Connemara, John Douglas’s tale of discovering his antecedents were as musically inclined as he is. Aided by Boo Hewerdine’s guitar, it’s evocative and sweet, if a little repetitive.
Guitarist Tony Byrne and fiddler Tola Custy make thoughtful contributions throughout, driving along the group’s mixture of traditional and modern tunes and songs. The band balance styles and tempos well – most fun on tracks where the pace is picked up, like the playful Birdmaker and the intense crescendo of Golden Pipe.
The album ends with two more sober pieces: the life-affirming, post-parting glass of Journeys End, and Lollie’s Waltz, a charming tribute to Kelly’s grandmother who at 94 reportedly “loves nothing more than a good night out and to hear great music”. She won’t go far wrong with this.
Irish Post – Nov 2011 (Ireland)
Small Towns and Famous Nights is the first album from the Alan Kelly Gang.
It stretches from the fierce traditional with tracks like Dawn Jigs and Grounded Reels to denser arrangements that will stretch the imagination of the more conservative listener – check out Birdmaker and Golden Pipe.
The opening track, Galway Reels sets a perfect tone to the band’s pulsey, distinctive style.