Ghosts of early Altan and Bothy Band cruise through this UK outfit's second album. No bad thing. Plenty of luscious flute, fiddle and concertina interludes mixed with Anglicised balladry of the Carthy school of interpretation. Focused and accomplished, this is dignified Anglo Celtic music of the first order.
Nicky Rossiter, Irish Music 2008
This lovely album classes itself as, "a collection of traditional tunes and songs from Britain and Ireland", and it opens with John's Reels which they credit as collected from John Brewins of Brighton. There's a location for such a set you don't often see. In fact it is great to have an album that shows that England can have a good influence on our music and that many good tunes originate in settings other than the Celtic fringe.
I love the pairing of Spailpin Fanach and Hamilton House on this album. The playing on both is superb and uplifting to the spirit. Great as the instrumentals are, I love a bit of the vocals and on The Neat Little Bunch of Rushes the band show that they are well capable of this as well as the playing. The song is little known but is well representative of the older euphemistic writing. The band members are also adept at a bit of composition and display this ability on the beautifully titled Starling on the Wall. The other vocal offering is The Banks of the Sweet Primroses that brings us back to the old days of the folk clubs when these story songs were in great vogue. The CD closes with a set the band say they brought from the United States and it is a beautiful closing set for a lovely album. Having greatly enjoyed this collection of fourteen songs and tunes I feel that this band would be even better in a live performance but failing that get the CD.
Tim Readman, Penguin Eggs (Canada) 2009
There are Celtic music bands everywhere these days, it seems - even in
Southern England! Five multi-instrumentalists make up Blackthorn Band,
contributing flute, whistles, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, fiddle,
accordion and more. There's some good tune sets here, including John's Reels
and Lad o' Beirnes/Branholm. The songs are good, too.
Fergus McClelland gives us a fine version of the ubiquitous spouse drowning
song, in this case entitled Johnny Sands, and very well delivered it is,
too. Another highlight is The Neat Little Bunch of Rushes, made famous by
Nic Jones, with its thinly disguised sexual symbolism. This is a very
pleasant melodic recording that won't change the face of folk music, but
will keep those Celtic music fans down south entertained for years to come.
Danny Moore, Rock n Reel 2008
Hobgoblin Records doesn't release many recordings, concentrating on quality rather than quantity. Blackthorn Band is a five-piece, built around the core talents of Fergus and Mannie McClelland on bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and Anglo concertina and bodhran respectively. On The River That Runs Below there's a fluidity and deftness of touch throughout, with the flute work of Sarah Mooney particularly of note on 'Spailpin Fanach/ Hamilton House' as is the exemplary performance of fellow flautist Philippe Barnes, especially within the seamless musical torrent that is 'Lad 0' Beirnes/Branholm'.
The band gel exceptionally well on a set of Shetland tunes, with Fergus McClelland's industrious mandolin picking helping to lay the foundation upon which they collectively excel. They seem most at home on the Irish-based material, with'The Starling On The Wall' set featuring a wonderfully impressive demonstration of the potency of Barnes's flute sound and fiddle of Alex Percy, whilst their rehearsal favourite 'Evening Star/Junior Crehan'slReavy's No. 9' sees Blackthorn Band shimmer in heady yet subtle fashion.
David Kidman, Netrhythms 2008
The second album from these inexplicably undersung Celtic music specialists-par-excellence surpasses even their accomplished, well-received 2003 debut Far From Home. With an infectious musicality that’s born out of many years’ combined active service to the music business in various roles, the five members of Blackthorn together conjure a constantly bright, fresh and scintillating sound, one that’s uniformly confident in all departments. Led by strong flute and whistle work (courtesy of Philippe Barnes and Sarah Mooney respectively) and bolstered by assured guitar and bouzouki rhythms, the breezy front-line textures are also inventively contrasted with fiddle (Alex Percy), concertina (Mannie McClelland) and occasional banjo and mandolin from bouzoukist and co-founder Fergus McClelland, with some nicely syncopated jazzy bass adventures to knit it all together in a thoroughly credible ensemble sound. In fact, all of the band members are multi-skilled as instrumentalists (no fewer than three of the five play guitar). As regards material, the band’s stock-in-trade comprises tunes from all over Britain, with a natural (and perfectly reasonable) slight emphasis on Irish, along with the occasional self-penned item; all are intelligently realised and played, both with a real flair for clarity and variety of internal texture and a lively yet unassuming approach to maintaining momentum throughout a set. In addition to the tune-sets, Fergus also turns in honest and upfront performances of three songs from the tradition, including the infrequently-heard The Neat Little Bunch Of Rushes; Sarah joins him later, on Banks Of The Sweet Primroses. Present-day bands playing Celtic repertoire don’t come much better than this, and their musicality has an even greater impact for its not thrusting its expertise in your face.
Geoff Ager, Fiddle On 2008
Fergus and Mannie McClelland (who founded Hobgoblin Records over thirty years ago now) put together the Blackthorn Band a few years ago and The River That Runs Below is their second album, largely instrumental in content. Flute, fiddle and anglo concertina form the backbone of Blackthorn's set list, although all five members of the group are adept instrumentalists playing bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, bass, bodhran and guitars in various combinations. The group's settings of traditional and modern folk tunes and songs (including one or two self-penned) are fresh and lively with a wide range of sources including the Shetlands and Ireland, and Scots fiddler Claire Mann's 'Obsessive Island'. Alex Percy and Fergus McClelland provide the fiddles, Philippe Barnes and Sarah Mooney the evocative flutes and Mannie McClelland adds some nifty concertina work. Although Blackthorn Band's music has a very 'rich' sound, it proves the exception to the rule of 'less is more' - when the band are in full flow their instruments weave together seamlessly and the music produced is quite exhilarating and a toe-tapping certainty.
CWR, Folknews Kernow 2008
More Irish music from this talented five-piece led by Hobgoblin founders Pete and Mannie McClelland. They follow their first CD Far From Home with another terrific selection, well judged as to choice and presentation. There's always room for quality as high as this. CWR
Walkin' T:-)M, folkworld.eu 2008
The title "The River That Runs Below" is taken from the song "Johnny Sands": He said, I think I'll drown myself in the river that runs below. She said, I wish you would, you silly old sod, I've wished it long ago. Well, very charming. However, don't draw any rash conclusions. The music is charming. Five years after the Blackthorn Band's debut album (-> FW#30) they offer their follow-up, a collection of traditional tunes and songs from Britain and Ireland. The band consists of Hobgoblin Music founders Fergus McClelland (vocals, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, fiddle) and Mannie McClelland (concertina, bodhran; also member of ThingumaJig -> FW#30), both been active in the traditional music scene for three decades. They have now gathered a group of highly talented young musicians: Philippe Barnes (flute, whistle) has just completed his MA in traditional music at the University of Limerick and also plays with the band All Jigged Out (see CD review above), while Alex Percy (fiddle) and Sarah Mooney (flute) became known with a band called Rocas. Songs included on "The River That Runs Below" are "The Neat Little Bunch of Roses" and "The Banks of Sweet Primroses", the instrumental tunes are a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. For example, "Hamilton House" has been composed by Joseph Reinagle in the 1700s. Therre is Claire Mann's "Obsessive Island" jig and two McClelland originals. The band plays with an energy as if they would have waited for too long to let their creativity come out. The music is flowing just like the river in question, and as I said it's charming and not dreadful music, furthermore, it is outpouring not trickling away.
Andy Norman, Shreds and Patches 2008
Predominantly Irish tunes, it is a well produced and well played mix, All of the musicians play very well.. vocals were surprisingly good, in a Martin Carthy style. Sarah Mooney is however an outstanding musician playing flute. There are lots of nice tunes, no powerful dynamics, just smooth and very well played. If you buy this you won't be wasting your money, and if you see them perform you can be assured of some fine tune sets, by some very fine musicians.
Dave Johns, Folk Monthly 2008
The CD "The River that Runs Below" will be very much appreciated by all of you who love jigs and reels, played with gusto, on a wide combination of traditional instruments. The CD is interspersed with the delightful voice of Fergus McClelland, singing traditional songs in his inimitable Irish style. The mucicianship on this album is excellent.. I can just imagine the atmosphere when this band play "live", with the CD making a great token to take home of a very worthwhile and memorable live gig.
Kevin Ward, Shire Folk 2008
A strong and versatile ensemble..Standout features are the vivacious and arresting flute performances and some good fiddle work. Overall with a wide range of influences, very impressive versatility across the players, there's good rhythmic drive underpinning powerful and dynamic melodies. It's very good music, accomplished playing and authentically respectful to the tradition...
Jim Marshall, The Folk Diary 2008
..it contains an impressive selection of traditional tunes, chiefly from Ireland and Scotland, expertly played on flute, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, concertina and bodhran.. The overall feeling is that they're enjoying what they're doing which is something which doesn't always come across on studio recordings, but it's certainly present here. the instrumentals are punctuated here and there by three songs with vocals by Fergus who, on "Johnny Sands" bears an uncanny resemblance to Martin Carthy..
Massimo Ferro, Radio Voce Spazio 2008
"The River That Runs Below" is a fine and pleasant album, where everything is brilliantly played and arranged indeed, and in fact I immediately started playing it in my radio show of folk & roots music at Radio Voce Spazio, as you can see from the alleged (attached) playlist. More music from that band of superb musicians will surely follow on air in the next weeks of course.
Michele Breeze, Music Maker 2008
This multi talented group of musicians feature Philippe Barnes, Sarah Mooney, Alex Percy Fergus McClelland and Mannie McClelland. The CD opens with a finely played "Johns Reels", Good lively traditional start and sets the mood. "Johnny Sands" sees the vocal talents of Fergus McClelland and is a song he learned from that stalwart of British folk music Martin Carthy back in the days of the Albion (Country) Band. There's some great flute here from Sarah Mooney... Some good harmonies between Fergus and Sarah on the "Banks of the Sweet Primroses". My favourite piece on this CD is "Lad o' Beirnes / Branholm". This set is from Philippe's repertoire, which according top the sleeve notes he had been badgering the band to play...Good badgering Philippe!