Féileacán na Saoirse
Scroll Music 1401
The Irish-to-English translation of Anna Falkenau’s solo fiddle album is, roughly, “Butterfly of Freedom,” an apt descriptor. It reminds me of Kevin Burke projects in the ways in which tunes are freed by putting composition and emotion at the fore instead of virtuosity. The trick, as Burke once patiently explained to me, is to make the music sound simple and easy flowing – like a butterfly’s flight – even when it’s hard to play. Falkenau does precisely this. Her tone and control are glorious, but the overall feel is that of a late-night session when the bar patrons have left and the remaining musicians are playing for each other.
This collection consists mostly of traditional Irish and American fiddle tunes inspired by the playing of such renowned old masters as Paddy Killoran, Tommy Peoples, and Pádraig O’Keefe, and recent ones the likes of Liz Carroll and Bruce Molsky. Aside from a few well-traveled tunes such as “Sally Coming through the Rye” and “The Jolly Tinker,” though, Falkenau chooses material suited to her quiet and expressive style rather than ones that sound familiar. (Over-familiarity can be a curse on solo projects.) She does let her hair down on several pieces, including “The Coolea Jig” set, the American old-time selection “Richmond,” her tour de force thump-out with bodhrán artist Johnny McDonagh on “The Little Cascade,” and her note-for-echoing-note duet with accordionist Steve Sweeney on the wonderfully titled “The Sporting Pitchfork” set. But among the many things Falkenau does well is mix tempos and moods. “The House on the Hill/The Leading Role” is lilting and smooth, her take on hornpipes “Fitzgerald’s/Bushmills” is stripped down and raw, and the lullaby effect of “Ivan’s Waltz” is enhanced by her tasteful collaboration with harper Holly Geraghty.
One of my favorites, though, was the only original on the album, “Vodka & Chocolate.” Falkenau’s liner notes say that it came to her after a Cork session in which she had been overly imbibing in the aforementioned items. The next morning she fashioned a gorgeous piece that sounds faintly like a Breton an dro. Who says excess is a bad thing?
— Rob Weir