The Irish Times – Sept 2014 (IRE)
by: Siobhan Long
Piano accordions are seldom at the heart of traditional music, their robust bellows often considered too rambunctious for more self-effacing instruments like fiddle and flute. Alan Kelly long ago transformed our preconceptions of this muscular instrument, mining its finer points with a grace and danger that reflected his appetite for risk-taking and intimate collaboration in equal measure. His latest album cocks an ear to the delights of the live session, with an ensemble well-versed in Kelly’s quirky and original interpretations. With guest vocals from Eddi Reader, and the finest flute contributions from Steph Geremia (not to mention bouzouki from producer Manus Lunny and some swinging fiddle lines from Alaisdair White), this is a party looking for a crowd.
Irish Music Magazine – Sept 2014 (IRE)
There is an art to carefully planning an album over time; adding layers of intricacy using tempo, tonal depth and instrumental compatibility, to produce a well-structured, professionally aesthetic sound. There is tonal mastery in that art if you are able to let loose on that constructed plan and trust the gang of musically like-minded, top quality musicians to interact with your vision of play and produce an exciting flow of extrinsic nuance whilst retaining the cleverly orchestrated and sophisticated arrangements that listeners have come to expect. Yes, Alan Kelly has done it again, along with his choice musical gang, with the release of their second album The Last Bell.
The core gang of Kelly with the piano accordion, Steph Geremia on flute, guitarist Tony Byrne and Alasdair White are joined by choice musicians Martin O’Neill, Ewan Vernal, Jim Higgins and Eddi Reader among others, whilst Manus Lunny adds his production skills to the mix as well as his tasteful bouzouki and guitar strings. They set the bar high from the off with the syncopated opening phrase of the Millhouse Reels set at high tempo, mastering the body of sound with defined rhythms and interchanging instrumental focus with ease as they bound through The Ballinafad Fancy and captivate with a creatively arranged Lady Gordon’s.
The soft vocal of Geremia allows the pace to settle as her collaboration with Aidan Brennan, Music Makers, evokes a languidly sentimental call to ‘open your heart and let the music in’ which, as the album unfolds, is very apt advice. The inventive arrangements that weave through even the most simplistic base melody allow the tonal sophistication of each layer of instrumental to breathe and enhance whether it be through the intriguing Hopvotte set or the 7/8 tempo of the Low Flying Polo where the musical conversation ebbs and flows with a gravitational freedom. With a highly driven, well thought out instrumental soundscape along with diversity in the song choices, that includes a strong, sultry vocal from Eddi Reader on The Sleeping Policeman and the enigmatically ethereal title track After the Last Bell Rings steered beautifully by Steph Geremia; the appeal of this new release seems endless.
With the core body of work cleverly constructed and performed with vivid attention to the musical intricacies that abound within; the Alan Kelly Gang have added to that quality with a layer of inventiveness, imagination and ambition. It’s most definitely a winner.
Tradconnect – March 2015 (Worldwide/Online)
by: Tony Lawless
Alan Kelly and his gang have recorded The Last Bell live in order to, as they say “capture the feeling and magic that can only happen when all of us are working together in musical unity and in the moment”. This creates a vibrant and dynamic flow to the tracks that in truth is trademark Kelly. Alan has been producing some outstanding music for quite some time, offering a richer and more diverse template of sounds than many other bands. His gang has varied and this time it includes Steph Geremia (flute /vocal /sax & whistle), Alasdair White (fiddle), Tony Byrne (guitar), Manus Lunny (bouzouki), with guests Ewan Vernal (bass), Martin O’Neill (bodhran), Jim Higgins (percussion), Aidan Brennan/Ian Carr/John Douglas (Guitar) and Eddi Reader (Guest Vocal).
The thundering beat of guitar and bass on the opening Millhouse Reels epitomise the energy that is evident on the album, as well as the way in which they catch that feeling of creative interplay and jostling for position within the tunes. However it’s the detail and inventiveness on tracks like the 7 / 8 time Low Flying Polo by Steph Geremia or the beautiful hop jig Shetland Sky which they pair with the distinctive rhythmic swing of a pair of Gavottes that open up the album. On the vocal side the maturity of arrangement on songs like Music Makers and The Poorest Company which feature the vocal of Steph Geremia are likewise outstanding. The result is a beautifully robust and energetic album from one of the best bands around.
fRoots – Nov 2014 (UK)
by: John O’Regan
Roscommon piano accordeonist Alan Kelly has been mixing in important company since the last release from his band The Alan Kelly Gang 2011’s Small Towns and Famous Nights. The band has gelled into a potent unit and now has Battlefield Band Fiddler Alasdair White ensconced replacing Tola Custy, and once more Eddi Reader lends a voice and the Capercaillie rhythm section of Ewan Vernal and Manus Lunny jump on board. Musically, the flair and passion is still there as is the subtlety that puts them apart from many more boisterous Irish acts. The Alan Kelly Gang puts out a united front with no real front person despite having Alan Kelly’s name. The combined sound is best found on Millhouse and Wedding Reels, the latter two full-frontal dance-based sets, and clever rhythm shifts of Hopvotte where Irish and Breton idioms intermingle. The accordeon, flute and fiddle frontline is supple and solidly built, imaginative in the right places and never putting a foot wrong. Vocally the contribution of Steph Geremia is constantly impressive while Eddi Reader’s vocal on The Sleeping Policeman exudes her Scottish brogue while Jimmy Higgins adds subtle percussion. The Last Bell is a thoroughly pleasing set – refined and exciting in all the right places.
Liverpool Sound and Vision – Jan 2015 (UK / Online)
by: Ian D. Hall
Solidarity is not always achieved when disparate forces come together, even if the final purpose is the same; it somehow can seem fractured and split and in the end only half the aspirations and goals are met. This is not the case with the hugely impressive and direct new album from the Alan Kelly Gang, The Last Bell. If anything, more goals are met with extraordinary cheer than if the forthcoming General Election was being fought with a fairness in the media and all prospective members of Parliament were told that their pay was to be reduced to that of nurses.
The Last Bell always seems to be rung with an air of grievance, like a bad tempered bar owner who cannot wait to kick out his regulars so that he can slip into a comfortable bottle himself and yet the Alan Kelly Gang take hold of the time afforded them and show the awaiting world the sense of consistent and interlocked music that is so unified, that it could stand up against the hardest of knocks from any type of machinery going.
The feeling of blissful content is strewn across the entire album and with band members Steph Geremia, Alasdair White, Tony Byrne, Marcus Lunny, Martin O’Neill, Jim Higgins and the sensational Ewan Vernal, as well as the eponymous Alan Kelly, the sound of beauty rolled in a natural lust for life and steady Celtic beat is enough for the ears to dance to a ready tune. The fact that Eddi Reader makes a wonderful appearance on The Sleeping Policeman enhances what is already a great album to take delight in.
With songs, jigs and instrumentals such as the apt January Gales, The Moth & the Exorcist, Low Flying Polo, The Poorest Company and the aforementioned The Sleeping Policeman being included in between the packaging and deferential and sincere music, The Last Bell is not one to fear, it is not the calling of time, but instead just the introduction to the next part of the story, the next round of rightly excitable instruments being played with genuine affection for the listener’s musical soul.
Fatea – Jan 2015 (UK / Online)
by: Paul Rawcliffe
Energy is the word of the day when it comes to the Alan Kelly Gang. There are a fair few traditional Irish bands on the scene but the Alan Kelly Band really breaks out over many others because of the sheer energy they project into their tunes.
Whether it is a fast tune or a slower more relaxed song with vocals you can still feel intense energy and emotion going into the music and that really helps to give goose bumps to the listener. Vocalist and musician Steph Geremia who delights us by taking the foreground for the songs ‘Music Makers’, ‘The Poorest Company’ and The Sleeping Policeman’ has a beautiful voice that works perfectly symbiotically with the backing vocals and music to give us a modern well rounded song.
One of the things I like most about this album is full stretch of variety achieved throughout the album, no tune or song sounds too similar so as to be repetitive, but all have that flare of Irish tradition that brings you to the band in the first place. The entire band complements each other and fit perfectly together as a team.
If you want a more soothing tunes to wind down your day then the Alan Kelly Gang provides for that too, ‘January Gales’ is an extremely soft tune that keeps the previously mentioned energy, but rather than getting you pumped it gently calms and relaxes before moving into ‘The Moth & The Exorcist’ to really chill you out.
Alan Kelly and his band of course choose to finish on a great note with the lively and captivating ‘Frankie’s Reels’ which I believe nicely rounds off the album and leaves any listener with that craving for just a little bit more.
Shire Folk – 2015 (UK)
by: Graham Hobbs
**Selected as one of top 5 albums of 2015 by Graham Hobbs for Shire Folk Magazine**
This is the second album by the Alan Kelly Gang, but the none of its members are strangers to the recording studio and international concert circuit. Maestro piano accordion player Alan Kelly has gathered up Steph Geremia (vocals and wind instruments), Tony Byrne (guitar) and award-winning Battlefield Band fiddler Alasdair White. Then there are some guest appearances by the likes of Ewan Vernal (double bass) and Ian Carr (guitar) and production by Capercaillie’s Manus Lunny. With this amazing line up, it is no surprise they have made a really fine traditional Irish folk album.
There is a good mix of four songs and eight tunes, with a nice balance of new material and the fairly well known. The songs are really interesting as they have chosen ‘After the Last Bell Rings’, which was a recent single by Findlay Napier and Chris Sherburn, written by Findlay and Boo Hewerdine. There is also ‘The Poorest Company’, a poignant song by Drever, Mccosker and Woomble. Both are beautifully sung by Steph, but just when you don’t think it can get any better along comes the distinctive voice of Eddi Reader with John Douglas’s ‘The Sleeping Policeman’.
The tunes are very varied and include an intriguing set in 7/8 time called ‘Low Flying Polo’ written by Steph. The other tunes are made up of reels, jigs, gavottes and marches, so everybody should be happy. I would be surprised if there are many better albums of this type in 2015.
New York Irish Arts – March 2016 (USA/Online)
by: Gwen Orel
I had the good fortune to see the Alan Kelly Gang at Celtic Colours, in Cape Breton, in 2012. I went to the festival with my mom. I’d met Alan before, but being shy, kind of acted all journalistic and not-pushing-self-forward. Not Mom. She ran up to them after their set and said “Wow, you were great!” Thanks Mom! Alan always remembers her and I’m delighted because it makes it personal, which is sort of a thrill, because let’s face it. (Mom: “I love him.”)
Simply: The Alan Kelly Gang is one of the best Irish bands playing today. They were good when they started in 2007 as the Alan Kelly Quartet, and with “The Last Bell” they cement their place as As Good if Not Better Than Anyone.
What a delightful mix of Kelly’s wizardry on the keyboards, smart arrangements of tunes, and yearning, catchy songs.
Do you rate songs on your iTunes? Because you’re going to end up averaging at least four stars.
The line-up on the latest album which came out in 2014 (2015 in the U.K.), shows the band at their best. It’s sequenced beautifully too, so upbeat jigs morph into a pensive song, then we are brought back up again. In this day of “shuffle” and mix not that many artists think about that anymore. But they do.
The current line-up of the band is Alan Kelly on accordion, Steph Geremia on vocals and flute, Alasdair White on fiddle, Tony Byrne on guitar, and Manus Lunny on bouzouki. Guests include Eddi Reader, Ewan Vernal, Jim Higgins, Martin O’Neill, Ian Carr, John Douglas, and Aidan Brennan.
A number of the tunes have winter-related titles– the joyful “Snow Reels,” mellow “January Gales”– and this is the perfect music to have on when you’re trapped inside due to the snow piling up outside. It’s both soothing and energizing. The album was recorded live in two sessions, and the comradeship and intuitive synchronization shines in each tune.
The album begins with a sprightly set titled “Millhouse,” traditional and allowing the piano accordion to shine. “Music Makers,” a lovely song by Geremia and Brennan, that brings out the full richness in Geremia’s voice. “January Gales” begins with a jazzy double bass strum. It’s an original march from Kelly, and one of the best tracks on a great album. In the next track, “The Moth and the Exorcist,” a saxophone– yes saxophone! (hello, Andy Lamy, you’re not alonein the reed trad world!) carries the melody of the first tune, composed by Kelly, and then we go into the trad jig “Up Sligo.” The sound of the melody on sax is just gorgeous.
The title song, “After the Last Bell Rings,” a song by English song-writer Bob Hewerdine, beautifully led by Geremia, has a country vibe to it. It captures that moment of possibility and question that happens at the end of a great pub night. And the harmonies are just gorgeous.
“The Wedding Reels” begins with an off-beat percussion beat before it turns into traditional reels. There’s a bit of Breton on “Hopvottes” (the “vottes”) is a giveaway. Eddi Reader sings a jazzy “The Sleeping Policeman,” a song by John Douglas, that would sound right at home in a downtown restaurant at brunch. It’s a sea shanty with swing.
The reels that close the album collectively titled “Frankie’s Reels,” show off the band’s trad chops. The first tune, “Frankie Drains,” is by White, and his fiddle sounds catchy, effortless. Geremia’s limber flute playing, and Kelly’s effortless and clear precision to perfection are highlighted in the second tune, “Major Moran’s,” by Kelly, the guitar drops away and you hear the two of them on a melody, in perfect synch.
If you’re looking for an intro to contemporary trad Irish music as a gift this St. Patrick’s Day season, this is the one. The combination of jazzy riffs, gorgeous singing, and expert trad makes this a perfect album for newbies. For oldbies, it’s just going to make you smile.