Review: Alan Kelly Gang’s “The Last Bell” is necessary

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How it’s New York: The Alan Kelly Gang have been seen at the 11th Street bar and their upbeat sound has a coverreal NYC energy. And New York musicians, including Don Meade and Anna Colliton, helped with the recording.
How it’s Irish: Alan Kelly is Irish, of course, as is TK and TK.

Alan Kelly Gang

The Last Bell

12 tracks, 45 minutes
alankellygang.com

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.

1410917708A 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.

 

 

 

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