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Josephine Marsh Band 

"I Can Hear You Smiling"    JMB003 2002
Reviewer: Ian Clarke
RATING:   * * * * *

Given the popularity of Sharon Shannon, I'm surprised more people haven't heard of Josephine Marsh. Maybe it's lack of PR, hype or the right breaks but hopefully the Josephine Marsh Band will achieve the success they deserve following the release of the excellent "I Can Hear You Smiling" album. It speaks for itself.

Featuring 10 sets of tunes, from a variety of traditions but mainly Irish, including some impressive originals, plus 3 songs from guitarist Tommy Carew, the album has great style, energy and balance.

The blend of instruments is interesting and fresh, the bubbly button keyed accordion in tandem with ex Lia Luachra member Declan Corey's tinkling mandolin or resonant bouzouki, anchored by the subtle rhythms of Carew on guitar and deep warm pulse of Paul O'Driscoll's wonderful double bass.

The tunes build nicely and thought has gone into the arrangements. The first track starts simple with The International Reel as an orthodox box/mandolin duet and gets a marvellous lift when first guitar and bass and then the marvellous snare drum of Mick Kinsella pick up the pace with foot tapping urgency.

The Clucking Hen set is a brace of lovely original Josephine Marsh hornpipes, delicately played.

Carew then delivers a super version of Stan Rogers' "The Lock Keeper". His voice is a rich baritone reminiscent of Sean Keane but with more subtle phrasing - not unlike the enigmatic John Spillane. The arrangement is thoughtful and very sympathetic to the wistful theme.

Josephine picks up the pace then with her own brilliant Jigermyster set where she is joined by brother Pat (of Calico and Moher fame) on bouzouki, finishing with a flourish on old favourite "The Connacht Man's Rambles).

For the next set of beautiful Breton tunes Mick Kinsella joins the JMB again - this time on harmonica and there is a full heady sound for the swirling dance set.

Another Marsh original "Maria's Jig" serves as a lovely intro to Carew's next song - a JJ Cale composition, although it has an old folky feel. Once again perfect arrangement and Corey's mandolin is a delight.

And Declan’s mandolin takes centre stage on the following set of reels “The Abbey Leix”, the little instrument rips through a series of exhilarating acrobatic stunts with the kind fancy fret work to make lesser players despair. It is a tour de force party piece that showcases a remarkable talent.

The Egg set, two jigs and a reel, keep the pace fresh, this time the full band plus Kinsella’s snare drum which again is very effective without being intrusive. Marsh’s original tune nestles comfortably between (newly laid?) Tim Goddard and Paddy Kelly compositions.

The pace is slowed to waltz time for O’Shea’s which heralds a fantastic French bouree with a graceful melody.

Tommy Carew adds value to the much covered “Eamonn An Chnoic”, sung here although commonly played as an air. Again the arrangement is uncluttered; mandolin and keyboards fill out the background against Carew’s distinctive voice.  

Then we’re in the home straight for the last two sets, first O’Carolan’s “Mrs Judge” paired with a curiously entitled jig “Herman the German” and the closing trio reels “The Old Forge”, the first two composed by Josephine, which finish the CD with a real live flourish.

A first class debut from a band who should become a household name in Irish Music and whose playing is uniformly excellent. Credit must also go to PJ Curtis for very sympathetic production that captures the band’s live sound and the unquestionable pleasure they take in making their music. A joy from start to finish.