Irish Times – June 2009 (Ireland)
by: Siobhan Long
Alan Kelly speaks a musical Esperanto that would put the most fluent polyglot to shame. On this, his third solo collection, the Roscommon piano accordionist bathes his generous spirit in Irish, Scottish, Breton and Asturian accents (with the subtlest nod in the direction of Louisana’s Acadian rhythms, too). Intertwined among the multi-ethnic layers of After The Morning are a suite of Kelly’s original compositions, each one a pristine, polished gem in its own right. Eolann epitomises Kelly’s dextrous, light-fingered style and thrives on a beautiful interplay between Kelly’s accordion and Tola Custy’s fiddle. Guest vocals from Eddi Reader and Kris Drever bring a new dimension to Kelly’s sound, but it’s the tunes that set him apart: a composer of substance and he’s a graceful musician utterly at home in his own skin.
Irish Music Magazine – Oct 2009 (Ireland)
by: Alex Monaghan
In relaxed mood, Roscommon accordionist Alan Kelly’s third solo CD is gentler than you might expect. A couple of his own laid-back jigs lead up to The Mountain Top and The Jolly Tinker, but even these toe-tapping reels don’t get Alan’s piano box out of third gear. The first of two languid vocal tracks features Eddi Reader in a modern docuballad with a fascinating historical background, sung somewhere between Barlinnie and Baton Rouge. Skipping ahead, Kris Drever delivers the traditional Nova Scotian miner’s song Caledonia in dark dreaming tones while Alan mimics church organ and blues harp. In between lies a microcosm of After the Morning: Alan’s poignant air Eolann, a pair of old-time dance tunes reinforcing the Louisiana connection, another two Kelly compositions (a Tuscan-inspired waltz and a mildly sympathetic jig), and a second set of Irish reels.
By now the groove is established and you’re happily cruising through comforting and assured musical scenery, not worrying which country you’re in or whether the backdrop is flute’n’fiddle or bass’n’drums. The arrangements are world class, as are the guest musicians, and Ireland is always somewhere in the mix. The final four tracks of After the Morning are a breathtaking voyage up the west coast of Europe. First you’re in Asturias for the virtuoso fiesta dance Jota da Maia, then on to Brittany for the fiddle and accordion magic of Christian Le Maitre’s air Tana and Henri Léon’s swirling dance tune Son Ar Rost, before disembarking back in Roscommon as New Year’s Day ends this recording. Each of the dozen tracks here is a work of art, carefully crafted and polished: no fireworks, no grand gestures, and the accordion isn’t always centre stage, but Alan Kelly is in total control throughout, doing what he does best, and I love it.
Irish Echo – Aug 2009 (NY, USA)
by: Earle Hitchner
August 12, 2009 Within the curious pecking order of Irish accordionists, button box players have the edge over their piano accordion counterparts. The latter still struggle with lingering images of Lawrence Welk and his curdled-champagne ilk, purveyors of music more bubble-headed than bubbly in execution. Players of the so-called Stomach Steinway also operate under the onus of an instrument readily adopted in the days when amplification was scarce or limited and too often regarded since then as loud and intrusive.
But as I’ve stated many times before, no instrument is good or bad. Only its player is good or bad, and admittedly the piano accordion has had its share of bad players. In Irish traditional music, the outstanding exceptions today include Mirella Murray, Karen Tweed, Jimmy Keane, and Alan Kelly. They have demonstrated the capability and musicality of the piano accordion when placed in the right hands — theirs.
From Roscommon town but now living in Roscam, Galway, Alan Kelly found his first piano accordion, a Paolo Soprani model, squirreled away in the turf shed of his piano accordion-playing father, Frank, and the galvanizing piano accordion playing of Silly Wizard’s Phil Cunningham on radio sealed the deal for Alan. “Out of the Blue” was his aptly titled solo debut in 1996, and it helped to recalibrate the ears and perception of Irish traditional music aficionados toward the piano accordion. It is an exceptional recording, and one of the tunes on it is “Fleur de Mandragore,” composed by Michel Bordeleau of the French-Canadian band La Bottine Souriante. Kelly taught the melody to, and recorded it with, fiddler Sean Smyth and guitarist Donogh Hennessy, who then recorded it on Lunasa’s debut album that same year.
In 2000 Alan Kelly released his second solo recording, “Mosaic,” and the touch of Joe Bernie’s saxophone on a track of “Out of the Blue” is expanded on “Mosaic” through the horn playing of Richie Buckley, a saxophonist best known for his work with Van Morrison, and trumpeters Daniel Healy and Mike Nolan. The sound grew larger in keeping with the larger fusion vision of Kelly for presenting his instrument.
But in 2002 Alan surprised many listeners by returning to a more straightforwardly traditional sound on “Fourmilehouse,” the duet album he made with his younger, flute and whistle playing brother John, who had guested on Alan’s previous two solo CDs. Such guest musicians as Jim Higgins on percussion and Rod McVey on keyboards carried over from those earlier albums to “Fourmilehouse,” easily among the best recordings of 2002. (Note of disclosure: I wrote the essay in the CD insert.)
Higgins and McVey join Tola Custy on fiddle, Jim Murray, Ian Carr, Donncha Moynihan, and Gerry Paul on guitars, and New York-born Stephanie Geremia on flute as guest instrumentalists on Alan Kelly’s new solo album, “After the Morning,” which also features two songs. In the past the singing of Eddi Reader and the music of Fairground Attraction, the band in which she first came to notice, left me unimpressed. I found them porous and thin, with no there there, to borrow a famous quote from Gertrude Stein. But on Alan Kelly’s new album, Reader’s singing has never sounded more persuasive and engaging than on “I Hung My Harp Upon the Willows,” a song by John Douglas (who plays guitar on the track) about a momentous walk in the woods by Robert Burns, who was plagued by self-doubt, and Richard Brown, who boosted his confidence. The setting for the song is countryish, and Kelly plays the accordion with a harmonica feel (some believe all accordions are glorified harmonicas) as Reader sings with an Emmylou Harris-like clutch in her voice. It’s a winsome, winning track. Less satisfying is Kris Drever’s interpretation of “Caledonia,” not Dougie MacLean’s famous song but a traditional ballad from Cape Breton Island about Glace Bay’s Caledonia Coal Mines. Taking on a song indelibly covered in 1988 by the late Tony Cuffe on his solo album “When First I Went to Caledonia” is a tough task for any vocalist, and Drever deserves credit for singing a slightly different melody here. Even so, his singing tacks toward the torpid.
The rest of Alan Kelly’s “After the Morning” is an unqualified triumph. His extraordinary skill at performing Irish traditional music on the piano accordion can be heard in “The Mountain Top / The Jolly Tinker” reels and especially “Bill Hoare’s Reel / The Rookery.” They are stirring, standout tracks infused with Kelly’s drive and dexterity, each in perfect balance with the other, full of nuance, grace, and, where desired, grit. Kelly also performs six of his own tunes, and he is unquestionably a talented composer. His jigs “After the Morning / The Night Owl” convey a captivating, breeze-buoyed ease. His slower piece, “Eolann,” named for a nephew, draws its unfolding appeal from contemplative contentment. “Siena” is a Kelly waltz named for a city in Tuscany, and the lighthearted, lissome swing of the melody shifts into a kinetic jig he wrote, “Her Broken Leg.” The remaining Kelly tune on the album is “New Year’s Day,” which the composer admits was written “while I was in a reflective mood.” It is yet another lovely melody, almost an etude in the way he flexes his fingers on the piano accordion keyboard.
Variety in repertoire is an Alan Kelly hallmark, and his new album reflects it. “Sally Ann’s Reels” are old-timey-flavored tunes placed in an Irish traditional idiom, and the interplay between Kelly on piano accordion and Ian Carr on guitar is nimble and infectious. From Asturias, a region in northwest Spain, comes “Jota Da Maia,” a tour de force showcasing the full, ripe range of Kelly’s fingerwork and imagination. The hypnotically moving style and music of Brittany surface compellingly in “Tana” and “Duet Mat Oc’h,” composed respectively by former Kornog and current Celtic Fiddle Festival member Christian LeMaitre and Herri Leon, as well as in Leon’s “Son ar Rost” tied to the traditional “Gavotte Montagne” and “Dans Loudieg,” three Kornog staples.
Over the past 13 years Alan Kelly has played the piano accordion magnificently on three solo albums and one duet album, and his memorable stint in the ensemble put together for the late Johnny Cunningham’s music in the Mabou Mines stage production of “Peter and Wendy” only enhanced his reputation. Kelly is not merely one of the best piano accordionists in Irish music. He is one of the best accordionists. Period.
His superb, self-issued new album, “After the Morning” (cat. no. BBM 004), is available from www.blackboxmusic.ie.
Maverick – Feb 2011
by: Jeremy Searle
Outstanding set from acclaimed Irish piano accordion player.
Purely, or almost purely, instrumental albums have to work a bit harder to capture many listener’s attention because, no matter how much the playing may be admired or the feet tapping, those people prefer songs to tunes and stories to notes. Irish piano accordion player Alan Kelly’s third solo outing is one to make converts of such people though. Some tracks are traditional, some self-penned and some covers, but all are played as well as you can imagine them being played as Kelly has an unsurpassed feel for his instrument. What really sets this album apart though are two things: the sheer joy and enthusiasm he and his accompanists have for the music, and the breadth of influences he brings to bear. Kelly takes Irish traditional music as his base but adds Breton, Asturian (a Celtic region of Spain) and even some American ‘old timey’ influences and the result is as good an Irish folk album as you could wish for.
There are a couple of songs: I Hung My Harp Upon The Willows, written by John Douglas of Trashcan Sinatras fame and sung by his partner Eddi Reader, and the traditional Caledonia, where Kris Drever provides the vocals. The former is an adjunct to Reader’s accliamed setting of Robert Burns poems to music, as it recounts the story of Burns meeting with and encouragement from the sailor Robert Brown, and reinforces the theory that Reader is at her best on other people’s albums, while the latter sees Drever bring real pathos and sadness to an oft told tale. On many another album both of these would be standouts but here they just maintain the astonishingly high standards of the rest of the music. Truly a remarkable work.