There are times when reviewing is a sheer pleasure. This is one of those moments. Beoga is an Irish five-piece group, four men and a woman, with keyboards, button accordion, fiddle, bodhran/percussion and one member doubling on guitar and button accordion. They were formed in 2002 and this is a recording of a concert to celebrate their first ten years.
It is a generous offering, a CD with the 20 tracks running for 79 minutes, accompanied by the whole concert also on DVD, then running 93 minutes because it includes all the presentations as well, and more than 80 minutes of bonus DVD-material. There are a number of guest musicians as well.
Beoga is firmly rooted in traditional Irish music, but they have brought in lots of other influences as well. At times they sound very jazzy, at other times you can sense they have been listening to rock and pop. They know all the tricks invented by the folk rock groups, and they use them all to great effect in spite being all acoustic. Sometimes the music is as heavy and rhythmic as thing an electric folk could master.
The foundation there is often Eamon Murray’s bodhran together with Seán Óg Graham’s percussive guitar playing. Liam Bradley’s piano chords drives the music forward and on top they have got the virtuosity of Niamh Dunne’s fiddle and Damian McKee’s accordion. The latter has also written more than half of the instrumental pieces.
But do not expect everything to be reels, jigs and polkas. They do some slow song, with very inventive arrangements, often with some of the guest musicians. “Our Captain Cried All Hands” for instance has Trevor Hutchinson on double bass and two female fiddlers adding to the proceedings. Pure beauty, with Niamh Dunne’s voice bringing out the best of that song.
At first a few of the song choices seem odd, like including Rick Danko’s “Home Cooking”, which they turn into a chorus song in the traditional vein. There is also a stompy jazzy “Please Don’t Talk about Me When I’m Gone”, very much Grappelli and Reinhardt territory.
With the instrumentals there are a few surprises. Something sounding very traditional can suddenly turn into jazz, or the other way around, straight numbers unexpectedly get syncopated, and of course you have the standard slow starters turn quick and boisterous.
Whatever they play or sing it is always done with the finesse and expertise you expect from Irish musicians, and with their inventiveness and their willingness to stray from the beaten track this is one of the best Irish efforts I have heard for a long time. I mean, they even get away with a five-minute bodhran solo, making it sound interesting.
I give this top marks, ten out of ten, and urge you check it out. But go straight for the DVD. The music sounds even better when you see them play, and hearing the between-song banter makes you almost feel you were there when it happened.
(Compass Records, 2013)