The Seven Suns

By John McSherry

  1. Damhsa Na Síog
    Wandering Spirit
    The Green Spears
  2. The King Of Dal Buinne
  3. The Atlantean
  4. Carrowmore
  5. Sunrise At Bealtaine
  6. The Air Of Sunset Land
    The Snow Crystal
    The Quickenbeam
  7. Steal The Piper
    The Sunflower
    The Golden Mean
  8. The Whisperer
  9. Naoise’s
    The Seven Suns
  10. The Cloghogle
    The Boyne Waves
    Jackson’s Favourite

Three comments

Re: The Seven Suns

I agree with a comment made on here a while ago about the ULAID album.

Namely, that some of these McSherry tracks are all sounding too similar, and not compelling me to listen again. Tripswitch and Idir are the best I reckon [ and of course his influence on the debut Lunasa album], and I suspect that it’s because on them he uses mostly trad material and not newly written stuff. As Donal Lunny said to me once, as we finished a huge set of standard reels in a sesh of about 60-70 players: ’ They’re the old favourites for a reason" And that’s the only thing Lunny ever said to me, because I was cheeky enough to plonk down next to him when everyone else in the room was too shy to.

Come to think of it, I’m similarly disappointed with the latter Lunasa albums. I listen and go " Meh , don’t need to listen again" Now why is that ?

But of course the playing can’t be faulted. McSherry is simply a genius

Re: The Seven Suns

I’m inclined to agree in part with Fliúiteadóir. The thing that was genius about Tripswitch was that each set felt like a new discovery, with a distinctive feel about it, and the ‘foreign’ tunes were brilliant selections too. The Spanish 5’s in particular. There’s a nice nod to Kornog in the bonus track too.

I don’t think the new copositions are necessarily bad, or even mediocre, taken in isolation, but in a normal cd, there’d be tunes from yea many composers, and so by contrast this naturally feels a bit homogenous. One person’s reels are going to sound much the same as each other, typically.

It’s hard bloody work making a CD. As I have found out. And once you’ve recorded one, there’s an implicit challenge to up the ante, to do something new when you record a second one. I can only imagine the plight when you’re a stellar musician with a big rep. .. you’ve got to do something a little different to your competition .. (cough).. erm,.. contemporaries.

I’ve listened to it twice through, and the playing is tasty. So that’s good. Whether it grows on me remains to be seen. Let’s see if i still am selecting it to listen to in a week, or a month.

(As for the Lunasa CD’s.. there should be a discussion somewhere, but I think the differences lie in the changing lineup and a format that was stagnating rather than the new compositions. New musicians basically having to conform to the same way of playing as their predecessors. Not quite square pegs in round holes, but that’s the idea.)

Re: The Seven Suns

I don’t normally comment in discussion threads such as this, but I thought I’d throw a few thoughts into the mix after reading the comments here. 🙂

Regarding the idea of "classics": yes, there are classics. But once upon a time, they were new tunes. I think McSherry’s tunes are as solid as many "classics", and some are superb. Any musical tradition needs its innovators, and McSherry is certainly one of them, not just in arrangements of traditional tunes, or integration of "non-traditional" instrumentation, but purely in relation to his compositions. We, the listeners of right-this-second are not the arbiters of what becomes a "classic". Time tells that tale. Ralph McTell said that a tune had to be at least 50 years old before it was truly a folk tune. So, by that notion, there’s a lot of weathering on tunes of the past 10 years to be done.

Regarding sounding similar: really? I shouldn’t have to explain much here, but I will just for the sake of it. To begin: a great many "classics" sound similar. And a large number of "not-quite-classics" and "almost classics" sound similar to each other. Considering that many of these tunes archived here are written for monophonic 2-octave instruments, similarity is inevitable. And one of the things that sets a player like McSherry, or Spillane or Keenan or O’Flynn apart is their signature style. On first listen to these players, a listener will just hear "pipes". Upon reaching a certain level of familiarity, the differences between players will become apparent. Thus, any of the tunes on this album by McSherry would sound different if played by any of those other players. And that’s before shifting from pipes or whistles to flutes or fiddles. Compare the McSherry tunes "The Wavesweeper" (on "Soma") with "The Atlantean" (from "The Seven Suns"); in playing, both are instantly recognisable as "McSherry", but in compositional terms, they are day and night (in terms of chord choices, melodic clusters, and so forth - not merely in terms of tune form and time signature).

Personally, I preferred McSherry’s previous solo outing, "Soma", to this one. In fact, at first, I wasn’t keen on "The Seven Suns" at all! However, "The Seven Suns" is a grower. It takes a little while for it to sink in. I think there are a number of reasons for this: firstly, the arrangements are somewhat more complex and dense. Secondly, the mix is a little bit too "compressed"; if it was a bit more "open" and "spacious", the arrangements would be more immediate in the listener’s ears. However, I think what is interesting is McSherry’s approach to the idea of an album. Rather than merely a set of tunes he likes, laid out in a complimentary order of play, he has attempted to create a concept. Whether he has succeeded or not is up to each listener to decide. At this point, I think he has succeeded. While there are traditional tunes alongside new compositions, the album flows as a whole. It has a beginning, middle and end.

As for the playing of all involved, it’s superb. A player of McSherry’s level is an artist, and while it might seem that players like that feel they have to "up the ante", they do: but not for the reasons others seem to be getting at here. Artists of a high calibre, generally speaking, are restless souls. They strive to create something new. And while every experiment might not be a success (there’s a reason that "Best of" albums exist even for the greatest artists in any genre of music), they are important for keeping the music a living and breathing entity rather than a dead thing on a museum shelf. And, as often as not, a great number of failed experiments are inspiration to other great musicians to try the same experiment slightly differently, and where their predecessor failed, they might succeed. For this reason alone, artists like John McSherry (and his contemporaries, Michael McGoldrick and Brian Finnegan) are to be treasured. Even their rare failures are important for the music as a whole. And, for me, "The Seven Suns" is no failure; quite the opposite: it’s a roaring success!