By Kevin Carr

Morning_Star_-_Marla_Fibish__Jimmy_CrowleyDouble strung instruments have not been staples of Irish music for very long, perhaps only becoming popular since the late sixties and early seventies, spread by the likes of Johnny Moynihan, Andy Irvine, Donal Lunny and Alec Finn, but they have become emblematic of the resurgence and ensuing worldwide commercial success of traditional and folk music. Today, bouzoukis, mandolins, and octave mandolins, citterns, blarges, mandolas and mandocellos are found in folk groups across Europe and in the USA. Despite this success it is rare to find a recording that features only such instruments. Jimmy Crowley, Irish balladeer par excellence, and early adopter of the bouzouki, and Marla Fibish, San Francisco Bay Area based mandolin wonder, have released an album that is all double strung, all the time. And it is magnificent. Featuring the Gibson A model mandolin Marla was given by her grandfather, her mandola, and Crowley's bouzouki, mandocello, mandolin, and Dordán (a mighty bouzouki like creature with a deep and powerful bass), this recording captures the power, the rhythmic intensity, the heavenly harmonics and the sheer joy that flows from these instruments, when in the right hands. Marla and Jimmy are old friends, having toured and played together over the course of some years, and shows by this duo are always a delight.

In the liner notes they write that the project was conceived in 2009 and recorded over three days in 2010, by at the studio of the genial genius, Jim Nunally. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during those three days, because, from the sound of things, a grand time was had by all.

The first cut, Humours of Bandon/A Fig for a Kiss/the Dusty Miller, opens with ringing mandolin, full of the mysterious resonance that one hears in the mandolin up close. Nunally captures the balance of rich tone and drive that marks Marla's playing. The bouzouki enters and the orchestra is complete. That these two can take well known tunes out for a spin and show us harmonic and rhythmic vistas that we haven't seen before speaks to a profound well of love and understanding for the music.

The Morning Star/Trip to Cullenstown(Phil Murphy)/Good Morning to Your Nightcap set gathers steam and reminds me of late night magic sessions, when tunes alight and have their own way with musicians who have spent hours and years becoming receptive to such visitations.

Eleanor Plunkett shows how evocative and emotional a mandolin-mandocello duet can be. Crowley's solo bouzouki piece, Sliabh Gael gCua Na Féile (The Bright Mountain of the Cuckoos), caused me to rethink my former belief that fiddles and pipes were the only true voices for slow airs. It is simply stunning in its depth and power.

With The Saucy Polka/Nelly , Jimmy and Marla show how two mandolins dance together, with polkas from Crowley's home turf in the deep south of Ireland. We can see the sparks flying off the floors, and hear the laughter in the notes.

There are several original tunes here, Marla's The Adelphian Waltz, which has a wistful, transporting sweep to it, and Crowley's The Dunedin Jig/Honeymoon Island set, which starts achingly, but beautifully slowly, and picks up force like a gathering wave to end the album on a sweet satisfying note, leaving the listener with a smile of contentment.

This album really is a must for all who are interested in the mandolin family of instruments, in Irish music in general, and in exquisite duet playing. The twentieth century saw Irish music incorporate the banjo, the accordion, the concertina, the guitar, and large and small double strung instruments into its palette of voices. With this recording we experience fist hand how the ancient and mighty stream of Irish traditional music flows through and adapts itself wonderfully to such a new type of instrument, through the skills of two players who have devoted years of heart and soul to its service.

Marla Fibish and Jimmy Crowley will be appearing at the Coffee Gallery Backstage (2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, CA 92675) on Thursday, October 27 at 8:00pm.

Kevin Carr has a touch of musical attention deficit disorder; he plays with Wake the Dead (Celtic/Grateful Dead folk orchestra), Hillbillies from Mars (folk fusion dance band with roots that show), Les Tetes de Violon (Quebecois fiddle band), Charanga (Galician style big band) and Confluence (Irish and Original, with a full complement of family members). He also maintains and plays a large stable of bagpipes.