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As I am writing this, we continue to be under stay at home and be safe guidelines. The house I normally feel comfortable in and its occupants whom I dearly love are now, at times, beginning to wear. A bright spot which has yet to dull is the daily Irish music or music by Irish musicians available to provide some excitement or soothe the psyche.

There has not been a day that has gone by when you had no music to listen to and enjoy. Informal sessions, mini concerts, casual visits, lessons, replays of gigs, remote jams on Zoom, you name it, it’s out there for you to enjoy. We owe these musicians here in The States, in Ireland, Scotland, and a variety of other locations a huge note of thanks for the minutes of sanity and pleasure they are gifting us at a time they are unemployed. Some have a tip jar on PayPal, or are raising money for a charity, but all are free. It is your choice whether to donate. Please show support by at least listening in and messaging your thanks.

Just prior to the visit of the virulent virus, the extraordinarily talented concertina leading lady, Caroline Keane, was putting the finishing touches on her solo album SHINE. The question became, should it be held to see if the quarantine would be lifted and a celebratory tour to introduce it could be held, or should it be released even though the exposure would be less. Thankfully for us, it has just been released, and what an album it is!!

Caroline was born in London to parents from Longford and Roscommon. She grew up in Limerick, an area music rich, and among a family who treasured and encouraged the tradition. Her mother played concertina, her Granny sang and welcomed musicians into their home. Beginning her relationship with the concertina at 7 years of age, she continually admits she is in awe that she is able to make a living doing something she so loves and enjoys. A double degreed graduate of the prestigious Irish World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick and a now resident of Dingle, Caroline is surrounded by and is a regular participant in the rich traditional music of the area. Sought after as a performer, composer, and teacher, she is well known and respected nationally and internationally. She is a member of the dynamic quartet, Four Winds, and can be found regularly playing with her fiancé, the gifted piper Tom Delaney.

I was first introduced to Caroline’s playing by Fiachra Hayes, Socks in the Frying Pan’s fiddler, who took me to see her play in Doolin. Sessioning with Tom, Cyril O’Donoghue, and Blackie O’Connell, her concertina was the lead of the tune sets. It was immediately recognizable how the music was a part of her. Eyes closed, she looked to be one with the tune, not simply performing it. She’d occasionally open her eyes and give a patron a wink and a smile that warmed hearts better than the fire in the fireplace on that chilly night. I have had the opportunity of experiencing her playing live several times; each has been a pleasure to relish which I hope you can all enjoy at least once in the near future.

Now to SHINE, a generous collection of fourteen sets of tunes, some her own compositions, which will have your toes tappin’ and see you dancing in the kitchen, or as I can be seen doing, using the steering wheel as a percussion instrument to accompany her playing. The concertina can, depending on who is playing it, sound harsh. Others love to drive it hard and move a crowd to a frenzy. Caroline takes this wee instrument with the big sound and creates an ethereal flow that at times lulls you, and at other times inexorably pulls you along on the musical journey she is creating.

Opening with a light and happy set of reels, ‘Charming Lovely Nancy/Sleamhnan Lios Poil/Jazzin’ With Mag Leary,” she has your toes moving with the music from the first measure to its last notes. Her transitions are so seamless that you effortlessly flow from one tune to the next. No matter which of the six sets of reels you enjoy on this album, Caroline is able to give you the speed of the reel you expect, but with a smooth energy that truly pleases.

I love a good hornpipe, and no one composes and performs them any better than you’ll experience as you listen to “The Wine Strand Hornpipe/The Mountain Top.” You can almost hear the dancers stomp of their heels as she puts that special beat in as she plays. Move then to her emotive playing of two glorious waltzes, “Carlisle Bay Waltz/The Waltz of Happiness,” and you will not be able to resist getting up to move to the music that is so stunningly beautiful. Having a good background in the Kerry and Sliabh Luachra styles, you’ll especially enjoy her slides, polkas (I defy you to stay still as you listen to “The Murroe Polka Set…), and jigs.

Accompanying Caroline on her album are Goitse’s Conal O’Kane, Tom Delaney, Gerry O’Bierne, Laura Kerr, Robbie Walsh, Gearoid O’Duinin, Ryan Molloy, Jeremy Spencer and Alec Brown—a group of especially talented musicians.

Shine will, without a doubt, have a future as an iconic album of the Traditional Concertina.

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