The Lady's Cup of Tea

The Irish Echo 16 August 2016  (Dan Neely)

“The Lady’s Cup” is a great album with extremely strong music throughout.  MacNamara and Costello have uncovered some really interesting tunes (and versions of tunes!) and they play them together beautifully.  The first track roars into gear like a steam engine, or perhaps more like a steampacket (which happens to be the name of the first tune), and sets the tone for everything to follow.  MacNamara and Costello play with a singular vision, which is something that is apparent and greatly enjoyable on tracks like the reel sets “Leinster Buttermilk / …” and “Mike Flanagan’s / …,” the jigs “Paddy Fahy’s / …,” and the hornpipes “Peacock’s Feather / ….”  There are also several solo features which reveal the nuances in MacNamara’s (“Port An Bhráthar / …” and “John Naughton’s Green Mountain / …”) and especially Costello’s (“The Bunch Of Green Rushes / …” and “Sligo Fancy /…”) music.  Every track is a delight.

“The Lady’s Cup of Tea” is an outstanding album.  The musicianship is top notch, the selection extremely tasteful, and it’s just a joy to listen to.  Trad music fans take note: this is one you’ll want to have! 

Irish Music Magazine October 2016 (Alex Monaghan)

MacNamara’s Clare concertina teams up with her daughter’s fiddle for some unusually low notes here. I mean that in a good way, for these ladies have tuned their instruments down a full tone from the usual G and D to a mellow F and C, giving a very warm and comfortable feel to their playing. Like the old flat sets of uilleann pipes, this extra low register adds resonance and depth to the music, taking the edge off the high notes and emphasising the rich sound of some lovely melodies. MacNamara has never been a speed merchant anyway, and here she exploits a slower tempo to get the most out of classic Irish dance tunes.
Costello’s fiddle is perfectly matched with the concertina, note for note, rolls and cuts and all. Each player takes two solo tracks here, and there are ten duets, but their simple approach never dulls as this pair play from the heart.
It’s surprising how much the drop in pitch adds to the soothing and relaxing qualities of this music, I find myself nodding and smiling to these familiar tunes, rocking gently to the slow sway of Geraldine Cotter’s piano accompaniment, and settling into the slightly softer style which goes with the diminished attack of the flat keys. Mary and Sorcha have really found a comfortable groove with this low–pitched recording. The Lady’s Cup of Tea is served just right, a brew to savour at a time when there’s no reason to rush.

Note for Note

Boston Irish Reporter February 2015

'MacNamara is one of the most eminent concertina players of the past few decades, schooled in the music of her native East Clare from an early age. She has also cultivated an equally important role as a teacher and mentor, particularly in encouraging youths to learn about and play traditional music. More on that later.

MacNamara is one of the most eminent concertina players of the past few decades, schooled in the music of her native East Clare from an early age. She has also cultivated an equally important role as a teacher and mentor, particularly in encouraging youths to learn about and play traditional music. More on that later.

“Note for Note,” her fourth album and first in a decade, is a completely solo effort: no guitar, bouzouki, fiddle – not even the ubiquitous “Ringo” McDonagh and his bodhran. As she explains in the liner notes, “solo playing has always been where I considered a musician’s soul is discovered.” The tunes she plays here span her musical life, some from childhood learned in the company of greats like Joe Bane, Martin Rochford and P. Joe Hayes, others from friends and acquaintances of more recent years.

As with her other albums, MacNamara puts the spotlight squarely on the East Clare style: blessedly mellow in tempo and temperament, with little in the way of ornamentation. As that translates to her instrument of choice, MacNamara and other East Clare concertina players often make use of the bellows to accentuate the rhythm of a tune, and also tend to eschew harmonies or chording; instead, they introduce variations in the melody through holding long notes or repetition of short notes.

If it all sounds like a lot of exposition about technique and method, well, yes, there is that. But don’t get the idea that “Note for Note” is a forsqueezeboxers-only affair. This is an opportunity to hear, clearly and without distraction, a regional tradition in full flower – an increasingly elusive thing, what with the trend toward blended styles among many Irish musicians – and in the hands (literally) of a master. It also serves as a sort of minimalist construction of Irish music itself – the guts of the tunes, if you will.

But you know, in the end it really is about the tunes, and these are really quite wonderful. There are some familiar session favorites, like “Rakish Paddy,” “The Rakes of Kildare” and “Tatter Jack Walsh,” but those looking for rarer fare will no doubt enjoy the E-minor jig “The Chapel Bell,” which MacNamara plays in C minor and then D minor – “good, dark East Clare keys,” as she notes; “The Caves of Kiltanon,” a composition by Tulla fiddler Paddy Canny in honor of a local geological feature; a pair of Scotch lilts; or a medley of barn dances, the first of which, “Dúlamán na Binne Buidhe,” has been recorded (albeit in different forms) by famed Galway fiddler Lucy Farr and super-group Altan. MacNamara’s musical soul is well worth the discovery.'

Traditional Music from East Clare

Irish Times 7th October 1994

'Many musicians over the years have claimed to play "traditional music from East Clare" and now Mary MacNamara has proved beyond any doubt that she must be numbered amongst the very best of them. This is no small achievement when one considers the huge output of superb music from what, in mining terms, is the Klondike of the traditional music world......To single out one track is invidious since every tune is memorable. The playing throughout is excellent and the sensitivity in her playing forever marks Mary MacNamara as a musician of the most refined sensibilities.'


Irish Echo 19th October 1994

'A totally engaging tribute to the ongoing vitality of the East Clare musical tradition this solo album should strengthen Mary MacNamara's place among Ireland's most accomplished concertina players.'

The Blackberry Blossom

Mustrad 16th September 2000

'This is the kind of concertina music which leads you directly to the atmosphere of the intimate session. It would be easy, even, to become sentimental about it in so far as it conjurs music and images, voices and character from those aspects of experience different to the often overtly vigorous, perhaps sometimes vulgar ones, of the concert platform and superstardom. Peadar O Riada, in his introductory notes, flirts with this sentimentality, but there is point in the following observation (my italics). While there are many people playing Irish traditional tunes on instruments in the Irish fashion, in Ireland and around the world, there are few artists playing Irish traditional music today…

The kinds of sounds you hear on this CD are, again, summed up by O Riada: No rush towards cadences or unnecessary speed to create false brightness. No over-flashy ornamentation used to hide a lack of musical creativity. Each tune is played at a pace that gives it grace and space so that the music and message within may out and speak to the listener…

…..Whatever - and forgive the wamberlings…I was trying to suggest just how musical circles in Ireland can operate, sometimes unbeknownst to the current participants - my colours are truly nailed. I find this CD to be a thoroughly engaging example of musical ability and mood which, above all, it is really heartening to say, as Peadar O Riada does, represents a living tradition. If you acquire it and like it don’t hesitate to get hold also of Mary’s first CD for Claddagh.

Open Hearth

Mustrad 30th March 2004

Brother and sister, Andrew and Mary MacNamara should be well known; Mary's two CDs on Claddagh are rightly acknowledged as classics of Clare concertina playing.  Andrew has two tasty solo CDs to his name and two live recordings with his occasional band The Lahawns.  Live at Lena's is a particularly enjoyable record of a New Year's Eve get together in Feakle.  He was also the original box player with the band Skylark.  We got a glimpse of this music on Mary's last CD when Andrew joined for two duets, and it is a great delight to hear more selections for the pair.

In the hands of two accomplished musicians, there is nothing finer than music from County Clare.  It has an ease and comfort with a tremendous rhythm in it that speaks straight to the soul.  Mary and Andrew have a true link to the Clare tradition.  Born in Tulla, their parents were keen followers of the old players and introduced the youngsters to the playing of Joe Bane and Bill O'Malley whose music forms the heart of this CD.  There are familiar strains in the selections here but interesting twists alert the listener to a style and repertoire that is not widely documented.  There was not much of the O'Neill book in Clare in the '50s and '60s, they had plenty of tunes and local settings of their own.  Thanks to their Dad's purchase of a Bush reel-to-reel tape recorder, Mary and Andrew have hours of Bill and Joe's playing to draw on for old tunes almost forgotten.

The opening bars of Joe Bane's / The Green Gowned Lass set the mood for the record.  Box and concertina perfectly synchronised playing a few family favourites backed up by two tapping feet.  The rhythm is contagious, the pace solid and steady - it sounds slower than it really is.  Andrew puts a few left hand chords in to reinforce the beat, Mary drops the octave for variety and the whole record flows sweetly along, transporting the listener to the back room of a bar somewhere in East County Clare.  There is no accompaniment on the record but it is not missed on tunes like John Naughton's Jig where a long lonesome note signals the start of the second part.  The modal nature of tunes like this is more striking without accompaniment.

The Wheatstone concertina and Hohner box blend so closely, it's almost like one instrument.  Andrew in particular seems to restrain his usual exuberance to remain faithful to the way the old players had the tunes, but he loses none of the immediacy or excitement that characterises his playing.  Mary's playing is simply supreme.

More than half the selections are reels with three sets of jigs and a couple of hornpipes, which reflects the typical proportions you would get in a session.  One set of scottishes completes the CD.  Tune names are usually just a reference point so the number of tunes called Joe Bane's or Bill O'Malley's is no surprise, but the tunes on track 6 might be more familiar as a version of The Primrose Lass / Road to Rio than the listed Reel of Rio / Reel of Bogie.

Recorded in The Music Room, Tulla, the sound quality is excellent and Brendan Hearty deserves great credit for capturing it so faithfully.  Sleeve notes are brief but the notes by David Taylor introducing the musicians and a few background comments from Andrew and Mary are enough to put the music in its setting.

Clocking in at just under 31 minutes, this is a short record by modern CD standards but every second is pure joy.  This record already has our vote for CD of the year.