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Peter O’Loughlin’s musical life is a joy to hear

A Musical Life by Peter O’Loughlin

Visitors to this site may remember that last year I reviewed The Legacy, the third and apparently final collaboration between piper Ronan Browne and multi-instrumentalist Peter O’Loughlin.

Now there is a new O’Loughlin CD, and it’s a keeper: A Musical Life, a 38-track collection that traces O’Loughlin’s remarkable career from the 1950s to this year, is an unfettered joy, the kind of Irish traditional CD that any fan of the music should get immediately.

O’Loughlin’s career as a fiddler, flute player and occasional piper is one of the most important in Irish music: in addition to the three recordings he made with Browne, he has recorded with many of the best musicians to play the music, from fiddlers Paddy Canny, Maeve Donnelly and Aggie Whyte to the quartet that made one of the first traditional Irish LPs, 1959’s All-Ireland Champions (easily one of the 10 best Irish traditional recordings of all time) and has been, in general, a force within the music since that time.

Life traces that journey not through previously released material but through a variety of archival recordings that include informal home recordings, tapes of competitions, and more. We hear him in duets with legends Elizabeth Crotty (concertina), Willie Clancy (pipes) and accordionist Paddy O’Brien, as part of a quartet with fiddler P. J. Hayes, pianist Jimmy Leydon drummer and George Byrt that has all the spark and drive of All-Ireland and, most surprisingly, playing the pipes on five tracks. These may not be the only recordings of O’Loughlin on the pipes, but they are among, at least, the few, and they provide a delightful addition to our sense of his mastery of the music, most particularly on his versions of The Moving Cloud and The Black Rogue.

It is the mix of settings, as well as the sheer genius of O’Loughlin’s playing, that makes this set so wonderful.

As a result, Life joins last year’s last year’s two-CD Master Musician, a look at the career of Eddie Moloney, and 2006’s two-CD The Last House in Ballymakea by fellow Clareman Junior Crehan as absolutely essential looks back at the full careers of some of the most important traditional Irish musicians of the last 60-plus years. In O’Loughlin’s case, the majority – and the best – of the material focuses on the ‘50s and ‘60s. Sure, I would have liked to have as much material on this set as there was on the Moloney and Crehan collections, but much of what is here is absolutely essential, fully the equal of any of the music we have heard from O’Loughlin’s recording career. Get yours now.