by Susan Gedutis Lindsay, Boston Irish Reporter
Chulrua — The Singing Kettle
Chulrua (pronounced cool-ROO-ah), translates from the Irish as “red back,” and was the name and distinguishing feature of the favorite wolfhound belonging to ancient Irish hero Fionn MacCumhaill. It’s also the name of the musical trio fronted by button accordion player Paddy O’Brien, with fiddler Patrick Orceau and guitarist Pat Egan.
The Singing Kettle is Chulrua’s third album, and features beautiful and instinctive duo work on a rake of traditional tunes. Their playing together is stellar; it’s like listening to a conversation between old friends, backed throughout by the no-nonsense rhythm guitar of Pat Egan.
The recording features unusual versions of familiar tunes as well as a number of less-often-heard pieces, reflective of the enormous repertoire for which O’Brien has become well known. A native of County Offaly in the Midlands of Ireland, O’Brien now makes St. Paul, Minnesota his home. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant to record and annotate 500 dance tunes—a small fraction of his repertoire. Like O’Brien, fiddler Patrick Orceau is an avid student of the old masters and a virtuoso fiddler in the Clare and East Galway style. Originally from France, he has toured extensively in Europe and North America, and taught at many respected Irish traditional music schools. Though they live in cities thousands of miles apart, they think alike musically, according to O’Brien.
“Patrick and I are on the same page about the music—we respond to the same musical instincts. We like the music played not overly fast with a lot of expression and we have a particular taste in kind of tunes we like to play together. We’re very close as musicians and we think very much the same way.”
Most of the tunes selected for this recording are from the southwest of Ireland, mostly from East Clare, West Clare, and North Tipperary. Among the thousands and thousands of Irish tunes, there are varied degrees of recognizable melody, so O’Brien and Orceau chose catchy tunes with their listeners in mind.
One of the most interesting on the recording is also O’Brien’s personal favorite, a colorful take on the wellknown jig “The Gander at the Pratie Hole.” Originally a piper’s tune, Chulrua’s version here was influenced by the wildly experimental—in Irish traditional terms—Tommy Potts, a Dublin-based fiddler who passed on to the Big Session in the Sky in 1988. While O’Brien lived in Dublin, he was a neighbor of Potts and this version of the tune, O’Brien says, is inspired by learning the tune Potts-style—with melodic variations that suggest a different underlying harmonic vocabulary. Typically a two-part tune, the version here is played as a three-part tune, though the “third” part was played by Potts merely as a variation. “My version is kind of half from memory and half from my own feelings about the tune. I made up what I could not remember and just ended up making that third part.” The way they play the tune is not the way one would recognize it necessarily, and includes a number of subtleties that give the tune unique color. “That give you an idea of the way we think of the music,” O’Brien says. (Shanachie Records)