‘Clan Ranald’ the beginning of Martin’s recorded oeuvre. Recorded while still in their late teens, it was critically acclaimed for its virtuosity, inventiveness and joyfulness. When ‘Clan Ranald’ was released, it was listed by music critic Earle Hitchner of the Irish Echo and Wall Street Journal, as being in the top 20 albums of 2005. It is currently only available digitally.
The Living Tradition
You may as well take your socks off before you listen to this, ’cause they ain’t gonna be on by the time it’s over. Mine were blown off by Trippin’, a pair of splendid reels taken to the cleaners by Martin’s piano box and Luke’s bouzouki. These boys step smartly from the Ulster sound of The Green Fields of Antrim and Dinny McLoughlin’s Fairies of Balmagan to a set of jigs with an Asturian feel, to slow airs, and back again. Compositions by Martin account for maybe two thirds of the melodies here, with a few other contemporary tunes and a handful of traditional favourites. The power of the Donegal fiddle heritage comes through strongly on most tracks, and Ciaran Tourish joins the duo for a few sets. The family background is responsible for several tune titles, including Granny Tourish’s Reel written by Martin, and Francie Tourish’s attributed to a recent ancestor.
The Fortune Teller is a powerful set, a pair of Highlands from Martin’s pen: they could take a bit more snap, but they’re both fine punchy tunes. Bushfire Dreaming is more delicate, a lovely Highland learnt from box-player Máirtin Wilson, followed by three intricate wee reels. The slow air Caonadh Ár Cultúr is a tour de force, a lament by Martin to mark the clamp down on underage musicians in pubs, obviously a terrible loss, evocative and chilling on full-power accordion.
One or two tracks are a little shaky, reminders that this is a debut album, but the majority are rock solid. Stage Fright is ironically one of the most assured, another masterful air and a couple of jigs ending with the Asturian classic Muñeira de Casu. Piper in the Cave and Cavan Cowboys are equally accomplished, tasty tunes and a steady beat for the step-dancers who add their touch. Luke’s solo on Leanbh Mo Chroí is well taken, and Skitatoes forms a suitable finale for this most promising and captivating CD.
The Irish Echo
What a pleasant surprise this CD was when it arrived unannounced. Tourish on accordion and Ward on bouzouki bring youthful vigor, joyful virtuosity, and bracing boldness to the musical tradition in and around Ardara, Donegal.
If one of the names seems familiar to followers of Irish music, indeed accordionist Martin Tourish is related to Altan’s Ciarán of that ilk and, like his better known uncle, also hails from Donegal, though in this case it’s the town of Ballybofey. Though himself born in Cavan, bouzouki player Luke Ward’s father also came from Ballybofey, and unsurprisingly this sparkling debut album draws many of its influences from the northwest of Ireland, not least in the shape of the Donegal fiddle tradition.
Effervescent and musically adroit musicianship thoroughly characterizes Clan Ranald and Martin’s playing of the piano accordion, as opposed to the more commonly occurring button variety, will provide one in the eye for those who feel the instrument is unsuited to traditional music. Luke too offers a distinctive subtlety in his accompaniment, while the judicious employment of Stiofán Ó Brion’s bodhrán and Terry McGinty’s bass on selected tracks adds further depth.
Then there’s uncle Ciarán himself who appears for an inspiring set of tunes aptly entitled ‘The Tourish Set’, particularly as one of the melodies derives from another family member, Francie, and the others derive from the pens of Ciarán and Martin. Guitarist Steve Cooney also pops up for the breezy Ardara Sessions, while Martin’s compositional skills are further to the fore on the delightful ‘The Fortune Teller’ and there’s even time for a couple of step dancers to strut their stuff on Skitatoes.
All told, Clan Ranald is enjoyment personified and marks Messrs. Tourish and Ward as two of Ireland’s brightest musical talents.