(Newgrange Records, CD)
I'll confess to knowing little about Vermont musician Sarah Blair. But as it's the week of Saint Patrick's Day and she's just released a CD of traditional Irish fiddle, Flower of the Red Mill, I figure it's a fine time for a review. I should also admit that I'm hardly an expert in this style of music - hope some of that fabled Irish luck rubs off.
One thing's for sure: The lass has chops. Blair's playing, which is sometimes augmented by tasteful acoustic accompaniment, is crisp and well articulated. Her trills are fine indeed, and most cuts sound perfectly tailored for step dancing.
The disc features jigs, reels and slow airs. Blair's instrumental gift imbues each with a sense of intimacy; her runs are playful when need be, mournful where appropriate.
Flower opens with "The Crooked Road to Dublin/The Crib of Perches," both jaunty reels which also feature spry acoustic guitar. The songs are both traditional Irish numbers that have been rearranged by Blair and her engineer/accompanist, Colin McCaffrey.
"Lament for the Yew Trees" is an elegantly maudlin number composed by Irish piper Chris Lanegan. According to the album's liner notes, Blair first heard it performed by Canadian musician/luthier David Papazian. Her own version is sweet, indeed.
Equally moving is "Droimeann Donn Dilis," another slow air performed on solo fiddle. It's one of the shorter tracks, but I enjoyed it enough to hit repeat, well, repeatedly.
Another winner is "An Paistin Fionn (The Fairheaded Child)" The liner notes call it a hornpipe number, and the lovely instrumental duet is perfectly agreeable.
No matter how nimble the playing, I eventually began to feel dizzy from the musical cross-weaving. Maybe it's because the fiddle occupies a high register; these ears aren't built for bagpipes, either. Still, there's no doubt that "The Gospel of Mother/Ducks on the Millpond" is an alluring piece of work. To my ears, Blair sounds best when accompanied by acoustic guitar, as she is here. The extra rhythms give her playing an inspired sway that truly brings these antiquated tunes to life.
You don't need to be an expert on Irish music to enjoy Flower of the Red Mill. Sarah Blair has certainly made a fan out of me.