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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

Kevin Burke in Concert, 

(a Green Linnet Records release)

by Ryan Thomson

This live album was recorded in front of an audience in 1998 in Portland, Oregon during the course of two concerts. It was recorded on site by Irish fiddler Martin Hayes who brought along his recording equipment. I can't help but imagine that Kevin Burke, a master fiddler in his own right, was influenced in his playing and choice of tunes at those concerts by the presence of Martin Hayes, one of the major players on the Irish scene today.


This encounter provided the spark for some exceptional sets of jigs reels, and hornpipes. Most of the tunes are played solo with the inclusion of some duo fiddling by Kevin and Martin and the inspired guitar work of Dublin guitarist Aidan Brennan.


Kevin plays his own versions of tunes made popular by other master players, and acknowledges their influences in his own playing. An example is the E minor reel Doctor Gilbert in which he names his primary source as Michael Gorman, although, as he mentions in the liner notes, the tune is more often associated with Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman. Another is a free form version of the 3 part slip jig, The Butterfly, which was written by Dublin fiddler Tommy Potts. Kevin experiments with good effect by using various rhythmic and melodic variations on this beautiful melody.


I've been interested in following Kevin Burke's work since I studied fiddle with him at the Augusta Heritage Center in the 1980's. Unlike many traditional musicians he feels free to venture beyond the musical heritage of his culture. I once observed him watching an old timey American string band playing a southern tune at a square dance. He went off in a corner away from the dance floor and unobtrusively took out his fiddle. 


I moved closer so that I could hear him work on picking out the melody by ear, until after a few times through the tune he had figured it out on his own instrument. He's interested in sampling tunes from many different cultures. In keeping with that spirit, he includes on this album the tune Itzikel, which is one of many tunes used in the "frailach" tradition of Yiddish dances.


Other tunes in this collection include: Bonnie Kate, Jenny's Chickens, Kitty O'Shea, The Beare Island Reel, The Cottage Groves, Maudabawn Chapel, Tandaragee, Out with Boys, The Mountain Road, McFadden's Handsome Daughter, Walshe's Hornpipe, The Old Torn Petticoat, The Bank of Ireland, two jigs from Sean Ryan, Roll in the Barrel, In the Tap Room, The Earl's Chair, The Blackbird, Lucy Campbell, and The Jolly Tinker.

Written by Ryan Thomson, 1999

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