Seamus Begley & Stephen Cooney: Meitheal | Album Review
Séamus Begley and Stephen Cooney
The release of this seminal album 23 years ago changed the traditional music landscape dramatically – and with the kind of chutzpah not previously associated with our music.
The full-force gale that characterised the coalition of west Kerry box player and singer Séamus Begley and Australian guitarist, didgeridoo player and renaissance man Stephen Cooney tore through the rule book, with a resulting recording that lodged the previously disdained guitar at the rhythmic heart of the tradition.
Cooney married a driving percussive sensibility (beloved of set dancers) with an equally fine-tuned ability to fingerpick his way into the beating heart of traditional airs and songs, revealing their most intimate features with a tenderness that we simply hadn’t heard before.
And so it came to pass that the plaintive, deeply affecting core of Bruach na Carraige Báine was rendered utterly afresh through Begley’s sweet voice and phrasing, and Cooney’s tiptoeing chords that caressed without ever overpowering the lyrical essence of the song.
Cooney’s revolutionary introduction of the didgeridoo was equally spirit-shocking: introducing it to John Brosnan’s added a third dimension to an already richly textured tune. The energy that permeated this recording captured the essence of the duo’s renowned live performances as well, and that remains undiminished all these years later.
Just cock an ear to opening set, The Strathnairn and defy your pelvic girdle not to pursue a 180-degree rotation in unison with its polka, borrowed from the playing of Sliabh Luachra’s Johnny O’Leary.
This re-release coincides with a rip-roaring reunion from a pair of musicians who had not played together for far too long, and has tacked on a bonus track, Coinnle an Linbh Íosa (with words by the late Caoimhín Ó Cinnéide), so that completists get something special to add to their collections.
Back in 1992, Meitheal rapidly assumed the significance of a desert island disc: an indispensable addition to any music lover’s canon, regardless of genre. It packs as much of a muscular punch today – and with its rerelease, makes its acquaintance with a whole new generation.
Second winds don’t come much stronger than this.