Review: Mixing the Punch – Irish Gazette

by Jim Tarbox
The Irish Gazette, March 2012

Although he’s recorded a ton of music, including a pair of hefty collections totaling some 1,000 traditional tunes, this is technically only O’Brien’s second “solo” recording, hot on the heels of last year’s The Sailor’s Cravat. And it is, as you might expect, a sterling set of traditional music played by a master—pure and simple.

Joining forces with Portland (Ore.) pianist Teresa Baker and fellow Offalyman and squeezebox player Felim Egan, Saint Paul’s master of the two-row button accordion here presents thoughtful and engaging tunes that perfectly set the mood. It’s “easy listening” in its most complimentary sense.

The composer of 50 original tunes, O’Brien has compiled some 4,000 tunes over his 50-plus-year career. Conventional wisdom has it that he “carries” 3,000 of them in his head at any given time—I don’t know that I’ve listened to that many songs in my lifetime! Of the 17 tracks on this set, mostly jigs and reels, it’s the slow air “The Flight of the Wild Geese” that made me sit up. It’s the stand-out tune among them all, and will make even the most skeptical listener of the button accordion nearly swoon.

For his many years of championing of traditional Irish music, O’Brien was named this year’s recipient of the prestigious TG4 (Irish language television) Gradam Ceoil honor for composition. He will join five other winners at Limerick’s University Concert Hall March 24. And to cap it all off, he reportedly is working on an autobiography. There will be no shortage of background music for that read.