How It’s New York: Caitlín Nic Gabhann has become a Catskills Irish Arts Week regular, and that is a place that attracts great NY players. Right after CIAW, she showed up at 11th Street Bar for a session, a particularly great one.

How It’s Irish: Caitlín is from Meath, and the concertina has that great “nyah” Irish sound.

A version of this review was first published in Irish Examiner USA, August 28.

The concertina is a cool little instrument. It’s like a teensy accordion with buttons; it goes directly into its own little wooden box with nothing having to be taken apart or put away separately, and it makes this wonderful “nyah” sound too. No wonder there’s a “concertina reel.”

What Meath player Caitlín Nic Gabhann does in her solo album Caitlín is demonstrate that it can also be very very expressive.
If you already know and love the instrument, you’ll appreciate her expertise and skills, and the intelligent selection of traditional, original and newer tunes.
If the instrument is new to you, though, you might be surprised at just how pleasant it is to listen to 50 minutes of concertina music.
There’s so much nuance and delicacy that you’ll swear there’s singing on the CD. She makes that concertina sing.

Caitlín, daughter of the great fiddler Mullahoran fiddle player Antóin MacGabhann, and sister of Bernadette, a mighty fiddler, Caitlín first came to international attention as a dancer with Riverdance.

With her curly dark blonde hair, she’s like a dream of an ideal Irish colleen.
She and her sister both have the hair that little girls wear wigs to emulate, and the family talent is off the scale.
She has been All-Ireland concertina champion three times.
She learned dancing from her mother Bernie.

There are tunes she learned from her dad, and an original tune called “A Tune for Bernie,” that she wrote for her mum.We have met her in the Catskills during Catskills Irish Arts Week a few times; last year she launched the NicGaviskey debut, Home Away from Home.The trans-Atlantic band includes both Nic Gabhann sisters, Sean McComiskey from Baltimore and Sean Gavin from Detroit.

So we already knew she was a powerhouse, not to mention a sweet person, but the CD shows her artistry and ownership of the music. She’s joined on the CD by guitar player Caoimhín Ó Fearghail from Waterford, elegantly filling out, backing off, heightening the intricate weaving of the tunes.

The 15 tracks on the album include six of her own.
You can also hear her dancing feet on two of the tracks.
It begins strongly with a set of reels led off by the cheerful “The Rookery,” by Galway flutist Vincent Broderick, and she plays with so much joy that you just have to smile.
These are followed by relaxed yet upbeat jigs, “Mrs. Galvin’s, Coleman’s Cross, and Baitheadh Bhruclais.”

On “Lucky in Love/The Little Bag of Spuds,” the first of which she learned from her concertina teacher, Méabh Ni Lochliann, you hear her hard shoes tapping away.
The liner notes that come with the CD are informative and often funny.

Then the mood changes to one of yearning in Caitlín’s composition, the gentle waltz “Heartstrings.”
It’s catchy and simple yet full of heart, and has you humming it by its end.
“Sunday’s Well” is another waltz that has the swing of country music although it’s inspired by her time in Cork.The reel set that begins with “The Flying Column,” continues with “The Eel in the Sink” and ends with “The Shallow Reel,” is irrepressible.

I’m not usually a huge fan of hornpipes, but the hornpipe set on the CD has made a believer out of me.

As she goes from “O’Flaherty’s” to “The Wily Old Bachelor” to “The Japanese Hornpipe” (which is not from Japan, but is a Donegal tune recorded by John Doherty) are relaxed and somehow, mischievous.

There’s great lift to her playing, and little rhythmic pushes that keep each tune soaring.
I suspect I’ll be picking different favorites each time I listen. This is a CD that has a whole range of colors in a tone of simple fun.

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.