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 album s 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.
Alan Kelly Gang performing Journey’s End at Brunswick Music Festival, Melbourne Australia, March 2011
After The Morning set at Celtic Connections – LIVE from the Fruitmarket – filmed for BBC Scotland 2010 (not on album)
Small Towns and Famous Nights is released on Black Box Music 24 Oct 2011.