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Wednesday, March 28,2001

Kevin Burke

Sweeny's Dream

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A re-release of a recording made by Burke in the Bronx in 1972, Sweeny's Dream displays a raw County Sligo, Ireland fiddle style that embraces swift tempos, raw ornamentation, and a garbled-yet-graceful style. Once a member of the highly influential traditional Bothy Band, the itinerant fiddler-who was born in London, has lived in Ireland, and resides in Oregon-mixes the sweet, piercing power of the violin with understated instrumental accompaniment, most notably the banjo.

The result is a mesmerizing Irish hoe-down perfect for throwing a little peat on the fire, cracking a pub-draught can of Guinness and chatting up old times.

Burke beckons the Anglo-Irish ghosts of the turn-of-the-20th-century Irish Renaissance with Paddy Killoran's "The Humours of Lissadell/Sweeney's Dream." With Alan Podber on backing guitar, the pair of reels invoke W.B. Yeats' Sligo milieu, Lissadell House, and the foundation he and famous Irish revolutionaries like Constance Markievicz laid for future reincarnations of traditional Irish culture. "The Sligo Maid/The Woman of the House/The Sailor's Bonnet," a blending of three Sligo standards, exemplify Burkes' meticulous finger work while "The Mason's Apron/Laington's Reel" blends banjo (Henry Sapoznik), Burke and guitar for an upbeat rhythmic pairing that would fit just as easily on the tattered porch steps of a Tennessee shack as the glamorous green expanse of a rural Irish estate. "The Bunch of Keys/The Girl That Broke My Heart," further emphasizes fiddle work while Sapoznik's banjo pickin' rolls along subtly backing the stirring, melodious mood. Banjo, fiddle and bodhrán meld with 12-string strumming on "George White's Favourite/The Happy Days of Youth/Coleman's Cross," capping off the collection with thicker sound, courtesy of the bodhrán.

While the recording captures the beautiful rosin squeaks, subtle mistakes, and improvisational energy of a small-pub performance-nothing was altered in the studio after the album was recorded with minimal rehearsal-the predominance of the violin is a double-edged bow. On one hand, Burke's reels and solos stir the soul enough to instigate spontaneous jigging, on the other hand, the fiddling should be enjoyed in small doses, lest thy brain turn green.

-P.W. Miller

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