Artisan Row is a newish quartet bringing together four well-respected figures from London's traditional Irish and folk scenes: Conor Doherty (guitars, vocals), Elma McElligott (sax, flute, low whistle, backing vocals) along with husband-and-wife team Pete Quinn (piano, keyboard, backing vocals) and Karen Ryan (banjo, mandola, fiddle, low whistle) who had performed together in The London Lasses. All four musicians have known each other for many years, and all but Elma appeared on Karen's 2012 solo CD The Coast Road, while she plays with the current incarnation of the aforementioned Lasses.
You might therefore reasonably expect that the close intertwining of musical relationships hitherto results in a similarly close-knit yet fluid quality to their combined music-making in the context of Artisan Row - and so it proves. There's a gentle strength in the understated yet solid ensemble work, and the individual musicians clearly feel no need to prove their technique or virtuosity but remain content to let the music take them wherever. The Artisan Row take on the tricky Balkan tune Chetvorno Horo is scintillating and enervating without sounding like showing-off, with some interesting harmonic interactions provided by supporting piano and guitar chordings. That tune's companion piece, Macedonian Oro, might on initial acquaintance feel, at least by comparison, a touch heavily accented, but the virtues of this approach become clear as the track progresses. It's also one of a handful of tracks on which Conor plays electric guitar - and very stylishly too.
As well as being able practitioners of the instrumentalist's art, these musicians are also able tunesmiths, taking traditional form as a springboard for invention as on the sparkling opening reel set. The three-part Tommy Peoples composition The March To Kinsale is very persuasively done too, with just flute, fiddle and keyboard drone, and provides another demonstration of the locked-in teamwork these players have at their command. They've a flair for intelligent and interesting combination of instrumental colours too, as on the interweaving of banjo with piano (on the jig Paul Godden's). The disc also includes a couple of toe-in-the-water forays into bigger-band territory, with the addition of guest musicians (bass and drums) on the jig Helvic Head and the closing reel-set, the former tune also bringing in James McMillan on trumpet (James is also responsible for the keen production of the whole album).
Conor takes the lead on the disc's four songs, which include two settings of different sections of James Joyce's Chamber Music sequence (Sleep Now and Dear Heart) and a sprightly rearrangement of a song from Conor's fine 2014 solo album The Savage And The Tender (Monk McClermot's Farewell To Articlave). The final song is the more familiar Mary And The Soldier, which, like the two Balkan dance tunes, pays unashamed homage to the inspiration gained from Andy Irvine.
Wild Winds is a particularly spirited example of adventurous and sophisticated music-making from a group of simpatico musicians who don't need to shout across the hall to convince you to trust them in their journeyings. Much to be recommended.
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