Buffalo in the Castle

Claddagh Records **** 

The wellspring of energy bursting forth from this collection is infectious. It's an Aladin's cave of mischievousness that propels it skywards, from the opening trio of tunes melding Antrim and Sliabh Luachra with the fiddle music of Kentucky. Anchored by the flute of Desi Wilkinson, the contagious swing of Frank Hall's fiddle, Mairtin O'Connor's airborne accordion, and Lena Ullman's banjo (with a cocktail of vocals from all, bar Mairtin), this could be Ireland's very own O Brother, Where Art Thou?  The album title is an unlikely amlgam of the Irish (Castle Kelly) and an American Midwest's Hunting the Buffalo. Aside from O'Connor's contribution of a seamless final part to the New England dance tune, The Dancing Bear, this is a pure distillation of Old Time American and Irish traditions: there for the savouring.

Siobhan Long, The Ticket, The Irish Times, Friday, July 31, 2009

**** **** **** **** 


Irish flute and accordion, American old-time fiddle and banjo - several things could have happened, and Buffalo In The Castle is not what you might have expected. Desi Wilkinson and Martin O'Connor have joined forces with Frank Hall and Lena Ullman to explore some neglected areas of mountain music: this is not your bluegrass standards or country hoedown tunes. Much of the material here is modal, with unfamiliar cadences. Some of it is influenced by native American music: until I read the notes, I thought these might be Asian immigrant melodies. John Riley the Shepherd and Indian Two Step are clear examples of this non-Western sound, quite striking to my ears. Other melodies are more typical of the fiddle-led old-time dance music at the heart of bluegrass and country styles: Breakin' Up Christmas, Late for the Dance, Durang's Hornpipe, and the popular Big Eyed Rabbit. The rabbit has a Hare's Paw attached, one of several medleys here combining American and Irish tunes. Lucy Farr's, Castle Kelly, Jackson's Craggy Jig and Jimmy Kelly's Reel all cosy up happily to their New World cousins, and add a modal note or two of their own.

There are several songs too, powerfully backed by front porch instrumentals. Desi sings Courting is a Pleasure in Len Graham's version, and the old American song The Frog's Wedding. Lena's rendition of Forty Four Gun is pure backwoods, while Frank sings along to fiddle tunes such as Breakin' Up Christmas and that darned rabbit. The American approach of combining songs with instrumental breaks is an instant winner for this all-star line-up. This music is fascinating and highly enjoyable. The sound is full, the playing is of course excellent, and the mood is full of infectious fun. Watch out for those modal tunes, though - they might just grab you.

Alex Monaghan, Irish Music Magazine, April 2010

**** **** **** **** 

Album Review Folk

Buffalo in the Castle - Desi Wilkinson, Mairtin O'Connor, Frank Hall, Lena Ullman (Own Label)

Four Stars ****

The links between traditional Irish and American old-timey music are demonstrably apparent. But in-depth explorations on disc, connecting the genres are thin on the ground, so this latest release has to be welcome on that level alone. Trad stalwarts O'Connor (accordion) and Wilkinson (flute, whistle and vocals) team up with devotees of the Appalachian sound; Hall (fiddle, vocals) and Ullman (5-string banjo, vocals) to produce a stirring concoction of deftly played good-time music. Mainly instrumental, the quartet shrewdly manages to place Irish and American tunes and songs together in sets that clearly demonstrate the similarities between the styles and nuances of both traditions. A case in point is the title track, where a two-step from the repertoire of John J. Kimmel, the German/American melodeon player from the early part of the 20 century segues into the grand old reel Castle Kelly and is then followed by an old-timey favourite, Shoot The Buffalo.

Instead of the usual heavy guitar or bouzouki sound that embodies a slew of modern trad recordings, the lithe claw-hammer banjo as an accompanying instrument accentuates the melody lines and in general, compliments the tunes in an unfussy fashion. The strong cultural connection between Northern of Ireland and rural pockets of the US, where American old-time music flourishes is recognised on two songs - The Frog's Wedding, dating back to the 1600's and whose variants can be found In Ireland, Scotland and the States and Courting is a Pleasure, both have relevance on either side of the Atlantic. Fiddle tunes and square dances sourced in places like Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina coalesce with old-style Irish jigs, polkas, reels and songs, to create a warm and delightful record, chock-full of mirth and mischief, underpinned with unapologetic, from-the-heart playing.

Gerry Quinn,  The Irish Examiner, 27 July 2009

**** **** **** **** 

Live Performance Review

**** **** **** **** 


From Le Dauphiné Libéré 16/09/2013, Bourg de Péage, France: Review in French