By Zac Leger

winding_clockEnda Seery is a young whistle and flute player from Co. Westmeath in Ireland. I had first heard Enda's playing through a few MP3 samples I had stumbled across online and later met Enda through Facebook and inquired about a copy of his CD for review. He kindly and quickly sent out an album and what a lovely album it is, too. Entitled The Winding Clock, I have to point out that this CD has one of the nicest graphic designs of any album I have seen recently, featuring several whistles protruding from an old style wind up watch (see the accompanying picture) and nicely drives home the idea of time as a common facet of Irish culture and traditional music. This is not an album of driving dance music or bawdy songs but rather a carefully crafted work by one of Ireland's finest young whistle players and tunesmiths. Indeed, the album features many of Enda's pieces (including the title tune). A gifted composer, his tunes have that wonderful quality of feeling very new and very old at the same time. He has great feel for catchy melodies that still feel very much a part of the tradition and I did my first listen of the album without consulting the liner notes in an attempt to see if I could discern which tunes were his and which were older tunes or by other composers. More often than not I was wrong in my guesses which I think speaks to how well Enda has sprinkled his tunes in amongst better known session chestnuts and recent compositions by other musicians.

The first set starts out with a leisurely but expertly controlled version of The Roscommon Reel on D whistle, before picking up in speed (though never losing a stately since of control). The set ends with another session favorite, Castle Kelly. Sandwiched casually between these more common tunes is April Sunshine, a tune written, according to Enda, for an uncommonly warm April in Ireland. I think that it is the hallmark of a great composer when you don't want the tune to end (and as a musician you gain an instant desire to learn said tune). All of Enda's tunes struck me this way and there are a lot of them on this CD. In fact, this album is packed full of nice tunes, all played in Enda's signature style; never rushed or spun out at a million miles an hour, but with a deep, mature grasp of melody, tone and ornamentation. Like many of the tracks on this album, he is joined by guitarist John Byrne and Colin Hogg on the bodhran (Irish frame drum).

The Winding Clock set contains three jigs, all Seery's compositions, and begins with the eponymous tune of which Enda writes in the liner notes "because I tend to lose track of time when playing or composing!" The jig lopes along with its own innate sense of timing and direction and you definitely get the impression of time lost and gained, flowing in and out of memories of sessions, players and music. The set than moves along into The Ballybrown which allows a bit of sunlight into the track before slipping back into a minor feel with Ber's Favorite. The whole set of tunes is helped along by John Byrne's well paced guitar playing; always nicely propelling the tunes forward without ever feeling pushy.

enda_seeryFonn an tSruthain ("Tune of the Streams") is an air played on Bb whistle and was Seery's first composition, written for his home town. First composition? You would never know it, not with this beautifully desolate piece. He then slides effortlessly into a jig, Friday's Finest, written in honor of his Irish language students in his day job as a secondary school teacher. I looked in the liner notes to see who played keyboards on this track and discovered it was Enda himself. Like his whistle playing, his piano accompaniment is deceptively simple sounding but carries with it deep breadth of expression and taste and it is one of many highlights of this remarkable CD.

Enda's siblings also play music and on The Fly in the Porter/Willie Coleman's, he is joined by sister Siobhan on fiddle and brothers Ciaran and Padraig on button accordion and fiddle, respectively. It is a great track of pure traditional music, with Enda also doubling on piano.

There is a measured sweetness to Enda's playing that is less about punch or flash and more about allowing the beauty of the tunes themselves to shine through. One of my favorite tracks demonstrating this is the The Slopes of Benbulben/Eamonn McGivney's, a set of tunes listed as hornpipes, although in Enda's style they translate more as flings or slowly paced reels to my ear. This is not the bright, sharp attack at high speed that a lot of whistle players might choose, but rather a conscious decision to let the tunes tumble out in a carefully constructed manner, allowing the music to breath and exist in a very natural sounding state. I should also add that this allows for ease of picking up these tunes by ear for traditional musicians and this fact alone makes this album an invaluable resource for all of the tune junkies looking for new additions to their repertoires. A shout out should also once again be given to John Byrne's guitar accompaniment, which carries this track along perfectly.

The Ferbane Legend begins with the jauntily haunting tune by Ferbane, Co. Offaly musician Tony Kenny and continues into Only for Barney, a tune Enda played during the 2009 Senior Whistle competition at the All Ireland Fleadh Cheoil, before finishing with another Seery composition,The Roaring Calves (a tune which I plan to learn myself, partially for the lovely bounce and melodic sensibilities and partially because of the fantastic name)! Enda once agains backs himself on piano and the simplicity of keys and whistle is all this track needs.

Carmel Mahoney Mulhair/The Congress Reel presents two more oft played tunes (the first a composition of famed Galway accordionist Martin Mulhair) featuring Colin Hogg on the bodhran. I will admit that my feeling initial about Hogg's drumming for much of the album is that it is a bit flashy and "busy" for most of the tracks it is accompanying and the bodhran and Byrne's guitar never seem to quite gel on the tracks where they appear together, which can be occasionally distracting from the brilliant whistle playing. However on this set, Hogg is able to play unconstrained and tinkers around with the rhythm nicely, adding interesting double timed hits and offbeat rhythms that showcase how exciting the duo of melody and bodhran can be.

Cailin na Gruaige Baine is a gorgeous slow air played on an Eb whistle (a higher pitched instrument that can be quite piercing in many circumstances but in Seery's hands has a charming, mellow tone) and which was learned from the playing of Irish-American whistle and flute player Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies fame. Indeed, for fans of Joanie's playing, Enda has much of the sweetness and melodic mastery of Madden's whistle style.

On the whole this is a very fine album of music from one of Ireland's most gifted young composers and musicians. Where many young players would use their debut solo album as a way to best showcase their statements on traditional music, Seery has chosen a different path, preferring to blend his tunes with other traditional works and to present them in an unhurried way with little to no "modern" influence or flash. This allows his music and playing to stand on their own in a way that really reflects his talents well. At turns, thoughtful, quirky and inspiring, The Winding Clock was very obviously a labor of love for Enda Seery and it is certainly an album worth losing track of time over, again and again.

The Winding Clock may be purchased at CD Baby.

Zac Leger has toured, performed and taught music all over the U.S., Canada and Ireland, and currently resides in Los Angeles.  He has won numerous medals on various instruments from both the U.S. and Ireland, and is one of the few Americans to hold a prestigious All-Ireland medal on the uilleann pipes. Zac has recorded on over a dozen albums and has played, recorded and performed with numerous world-renowned musicians, including Eileen Ivers, Jamie Laval, and the Irish-based show “Celtic Crossroads.”