Think about it for just a moment and you’ll get it straightaway – Na Mooneys are a family group. There’s four members, all excellent musicians in the Irish tradition, of which at least one – Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – will be a household name among Irish music fans as a leading member of the band Altan. Next in the pecking order as regards fame will probably be Ciarán Ó Maonaigh (Francie’s grandson, but confusingly, I’ve also seen him referred to as Mairéad’s nephew), who’s a member of the trio Fidil – and naturally enough, plays fiddle too. The band lineup is then completed by Anna Ní Mhaonaigh on whistle (she also shares vocals with Maireád) and Gearóid Ó Maonaigh on guitar. There’s also guest contributions from Mairéad’s 13-year-old daughter Nia Byrne (fiddle and vocals) and “Mooney-by-marriage” Ciarán’s wife Caitlín Nic Gabhann (concertina, foot percussion), and the only “non-Mooney” involved, Manus Lunny, the album’s producer, on bouzouki and keyboards.
The music on this record is evidently a proud labour-of-love reflection of the long-term family repertoire; a good number of the selections (like the pair of highlands comprising track 4) are tunes from their native Donegal that they grew up with – both fondly recalled and scintillatingly reworked here, while others are newly composed by family members (a joyous mazurka written by Mairéad for her niece Róise, and a stirring, swinging march written by Ciarán for Caitlín). The joyous excitement of family music-making is apparent right from the first bars of the opening set of reels, and it continues on through later medleys like the Jenny’s Welcome To Charlie set and the Biddy From Sligo jig-set. The slow air Geaftaí Bhaile Bhuí is lovingly done as a fiddle duet by Mairéad and Ciarán; they also treat us to an animated pair of highlands (track 7). The disc also contains four songs, of which Máire Mhór is particularly uplifting. However, the songs also embrace my only (admittedly minor) reservation with the entire disc – that the pair of songs which include Manus’s keyboard in their scoring do feel to be of a lower voltage and less immediately involving, despite the high quality of the musicianship (whereas the keyboard drone on the reel The Morning Dew fares better in counterpoint to the fiery playing). Finally, the disc’s “extra” track, the fifteenth hole if you like, is a highlands-and-reel medley recorded in 2003 in Co. Donegal for a TV programme, a live session recording which additionally features the father of Mairéad, Gearóid and Anna, the late Francie Mooney leading on fiddle – a fitting memorial indeed. But the whole album’s a cracker.
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