Reviews of Randal Bays' recordings
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Dig With It - Reviewed in Fiddler Magazine - December 2009
My wife Claudia and I had the distinct good fortune to have been able to hear Randal and Dave play at the tiny Swingside Café in Seattle a few years back. It was a joy to hear such an artistic, heartfelt performance. Both Randal and I are fans of the Russian bow grip, now somewhat out of vogue, but used to great effect by the great classical violinist Jascha Heifetz and others in the early part of the last century. In capable hands, this grip allows for both great power and extreme subtlety. Both are much in evidence on Randal’s latest CD project, Dig With It, available on the NewFolk label.
Randal First played trumpet, then classical guitar, but flipped when he heard Kevin Burke fiddling in a Portland, Oregon pub on a rainy night way back in 1978. Some thirty years later, he has matured into one of the finest Irish fiddlers one could ever hope to hear. The aforementioned Russia grip gives him a passionate, centered sound. He has superb bow control, with none of the thin, wispy tone that sometimes plagues Irish fiddling.
Dig With It finds Randal dueting with the supremely supportive guitarist Dave Marshall, of Vancouver, British Columbia. Dave, working out of the DADGAD tuning, offers up backup that it never heavy-handed and always tasteful. Some of the tunes played here are drawn from cylinder recordings made around 1905 by Chief Francis O’Neill, author of the famous O’Neill tune book. These recordings, long thought to be lost, were re-discovered in 2003 in a Milwaukee attic. Other tunes are pulled from a wide range of sources, including rare tapes and Randal’s own hand-written session transcriptions. In addition, Randal contributed two original compositions to the CD and his son Willie composed one, on which he plays guitar.
Nice, clean recording and extensive, informative liner notes make this CD a really excellent package. Both Randal and Dave are strong and accurate players, never fussy or overly academic. Their sincerity and dedication to this rich tradition are obvious. Listen especially to the way the Irish slow air “The Bold Trainer, O” breathes.
In case you were wondering about the unusual title of this CD, “Dig With It” is a phrase that is part of a poem, entitled Digging, by Seamus Heaney. In it, a son speaks of his grandfather and father’s prowess with the spade. The son’s tool, however, is the pen. The poem concludes,
Rest assured that Randal Bays and Dave Marshall are truly digging with it. I highly recommend this CD. - Paul Anastasio
Dig With It - Reviewed on Irish Philadelphia Magazine - October 2009
Nobel Prize winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney knows that unlike his father and grandfather, he is no farmer. His often-quoted early work ‘Digging’ is meaningful for Randal Bays, whose own working man father “had a hard time watching his son go down the road towards the life of a musician.”
Randal is an American fiddler who has mastered the genre of Irish traditional music to a point where he now plays as well as any native. He has a number of successful recordings to his credit and has played and toured with many of the great names of the music, like fiddler Martin Hayes, button accordionist James Keane and guitarist/singer Daithi Sproule.
Randal’s amazing skill at the Irish style has been honed by more than twenty-five years of fiddling and listening, and the sharing of many a late-night session with the finest traditional musicians. Last winter Randal sat down in the studio again and recorded "Dig With It", an impressive collection of jigs, reels, hornpipes and marches, and two beautiful slow airs.
The opening track on this thoroughly enjoyable CD, "Master's Degree March," is an original composition, as is the reel "Friday Harbor." The remaining tunes are mostly traditional, or every bit as good as traditional, having been originally crafted by the likes of legendary tunesmith Ed Reavy, fiddler James Kelly, and East Galway fiddler and accordion player Tommy Coen.
"The Blue Whale" is the work of Willie Bays, who appears on that track with his proud father. The accompaniment on the CD is tasteful and unobtrusive throughout, supplied by Canadian musician Dave Marshall (guitar, tenor banjo). Randal himself displays not only his great prowess on the fiddle, but also his talent on the guitar and harp.
The Cork Examiner (Ireland) has called Randal Bays "a rare beast, a master of the fiddle", while here in America Fiddler Magazine says he is "among the best Irish style fiddlers of his generation." Randal has clearly earned recognition on both sides of the pond as a musician of uncommon talent. - Frank Dalton
Dirty Linen Magazine (US) April, 2001 - Review of "The Salmon's Leap"
I'm really surprised that the work of fiddler Randal Bays isn't better known. Few players have his subtle and warm touch. His playing is light and fluid yet still has a sense of power and passion. He's simply a joy to listen to. All the tracks but two (which were taken from a live concert) were recorded in his home and retain a comfortable, relaxed feeling. With the exception of the slow air that closes the recording, Bays is backed by either guitar, cittern, flute, or piano, and on the live tracks he is joined by accordionist John Williams. The tunes are a mix of traditional and self-composed, along with a couple of O'Carolan pieces. There are also two solo acoustic guitar pieces that show he's as good a guitarist as fiddler. This is traditional music, pure and simple, the way it was meant to be played.
Fiddler Magazine (Nova Scotia, Canada) - Review of "The Salmon's Leap"
Over the years, Randal Bays has quietly but methodically become one of the best fiddlers working in the Irish tradition in America. His latest CD, The Salmon's Leap, is a collection of old tunes and modern compositions in the old style that were recorded over the course of a year in his home studio. Bays is joined on these 16 tracks by a variety of musicians, including accordionist John Williams, pianist Dave Marshall, and guitarist Gerry O'Beirne, who adds a tropical touch to the proceedings by playing ukulele on the title track. Bays is a gifted composer, and tracks such as the haunting slow air "Lament for the Great Forests" and his various jigs and marches show that he has learned to write tunes that hew to the traditional styles, while still retaining a personal sound. Not only is Randal Bays a fiddler of rare talent, he is a fine guitarist as well, and his thoughtful readings of O'Carolan's tunes "Maurice O'Connor/Carolan's Welcome" beautifully capture the blind harper's spirit. His nimble fingers are driven by a passionate heart, and that gives the music on The Salmon's Leap a clarity that all fiddlers aspire to, but only the very best achieve. (With guests John Williams, Leo MacNamara, Gerry O'Beirne, Dave Marshall, Stanley Greenthal, Joel Bernstein, Dan Compton, Duke Whitehead)
The Irish Voice (New York), - Review of "The Salmon's Leap"
The climate in the Pacific Northwest has a great resemblance to that of Ireland. Maybe that has something to do with the proliferation of Irish traditional music in Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon, two cities with a great wealth of local and imported talent.
Fiddler and guitarist Randal Bays of Seattle is one of the best players in the region (or in the country for that matter). Still best known to many for his beautiful guitar accompaniment on fiddler Martin Hayes' early recordings, Randal is himself a marvelous fiddler. He proved this on his first solo disc, Out of the Woods and on Pigtown Fling, a duet album with harmonica player Joel Bernstein. He proves it again on his latest disc, The Salmon's Leap.
Randal's fiddling can be compared to that of such contemporary Irish-born masters as Martin Hayes, Kevin Burke and James Kelly. He's got the technique and the taste to merit mention in such company, and if you like their recordings, you'll like Randal's. Extra added attractions are duets with ex-Solas button accordionist John Williams and harmonica ace Bernstein, as well as two finger-picked guitar solos.
Folkworks Magazine (US) - Review of "The Salmon's Leap"
"The Salmon's Leap" is a pure gem, an essential find for lovers of Irish traditional music and stands proudly with similar albums and artists from Ireland. I would highly recommend this CD.
Rating: ***** - Dennis Stone, "Folkworks" Jan. 2001
Looking for a new CD of Irish Traditional Fiddling to throw into the burner? Have you searched the local record shops and overseas web sites for a new find? Nothing much new in that category out of Ireland right now? Look no farther than our own backyard in the Pacific Northwest to find the new CD "The Salmon's Leap" by Fiddler/Guitarist Randal Bays.Randal Bays second solo CD "The Salmon's Leap" is a pure gem in the category of East Clare fiddling. Fourteen of the sixteen tracks were recorded in Seattle, Washington between June 1999 and June 2000. The other two tracks were recorded "live" with ex-Solas accordion player John Williams in September of 1999 in California. The studio tracks feature an impressive line-up of musicians which include Gerry O'Beirne-Guitar and Ukulele, Dave Marshall-Piano, Leo McNamara-Flute, Joel Bernstein-Harmonica, Stanley Greenthal-Cittern, Dan Compton-Guitar and Duke Whitehead-Cittern. The wonderful variety of tracks on this CD contain not only the usual sets of traditional reels, jigs, slip jigs, hornpipes, marches and slow airs, but also original tunes written by Bays, plus three Baroque style pieces by the legendary Irish harpist Turlough O'Carolan. Another obscure Baroque style track included is called "Molly St. George", written by Thomas Connellan Born 1640 ), a Co. Sligo, Ireland harpist and composer who preceded O' Carolan by a generation. Other tracks on this CD worthy of mention are: O' Carolan's "The Princess Royal" where Randal's expressive fiddle is joined by guitarist O'Beirne in a lively, yet reflective arrangement of the famous tune. The traditional set of reels that include "The Shores of Lough Graney" and "Ormond Sound" feature the great accordion-like harmonica playing of Joel Bernstein. Randal is also joined by Gerry on guitar and Duke Whitehead on Cittern for the set of jigs that include "East of Glendart" followed by the famous Tommy Peoples standard "The King of the Pipers." Randal's other musical life as an excellent guitarist is represented on two tracks, the first being a very contemporary and beautifully mesmerizing arrangement of the emigration slow air " A Stór mo Chroí" and the second being another visit to the world of O'Carolan with the tunes "Maurice O'Connor" and "Carolan's Welcome", both upbeat and using DADGAD guitar tuning. Still more tracks to note are the Bays written slip jigs set called "The Golden Gardens" followed by the CD title "The Salmon's Leap", plus another great set called "The First Hard Rain" and "Ryan's Rant." This fabulous CD closes with the thought provoking slow air written by Bays called "Lament for the Great Forests" which commemorates the great Oak forests that once covered Ireland, and the similar destruction to the great forests of the Pacific Northwest that is occurring today. I would highly recommend this CD.
Atlanta Celtic Quarterly - Review of "The Salmon's Leap" (David Marcus), Sept. 2001
A few years ago (in another life it seems) I went to Charlotte, South Carolina to hear the legendary fiddler James Kelly. Someone I had never heard of was with him and I assumed that the concert would be "legendary fiddler plus guitar accompaniment." Wrong, as usual! The concert was mostly two fiddles and several times I was transfixed: the beauty was so deep that I found it hard to breathe. I thought that if the birds outside heard this they would forget to move their wings, and fall out of the sky. It was a concert I will never, never forget. This month I learned a lot more about Randal Bays. I picked up a copy of The Salmon's Leap, a CD released on his own Foxglove Records last year and boy, am I impressed. I bought it four hours from here and listened to it all the way home. And it made the drive a joy, even when I got lost. His playing on the 16 tracks (mostly fiddle, some guitar) is a wonderful combination of careful and relaxed, and the technique behind it all is as good as anyone I’ve heard. He doesn’t exactly sound like any fiddler I know; if pressed I would say that he takes strong elements from James Kelly (the older, pre-guitar sound with scales and notes that aren’t quite the same as a standard classical scale) and from Martin Hayes (the ability to sound so natural that you think he is playing the fiddle with no more effort than he uses for breathing as well as some of that heart-breaking snake charmer sound that Hayes has). Yet I don’t feel comfortable making these comparisons for somehow Bays’ sound is all his own and he seems to carefully tune it for each different cut The tunes were recorded over a year in Bays house in Seattle, a little "off the cuff," he says, as "one by one the musicians dropped by, played through the tunes a couple of times and sat down in front of the microphones." He must have quite a set of microphones at his house as the sound quality is excellent. Like the whole CD, it is both extremely live and extremely quiet, not in the sense of soft, but in the sense of calm. Even when the music is faster and more overtly passionate, it stays tuneful and quiet. Those musicians include Gerry O’Beirne (guitar and uke), Dave Marshall (piano), Leo McNamara (flute), Joel Bernstein (harmonica), Stanley Greenthal and Duke Whitehead (citterns) and Dan Compton (guitar). There are also two cuts recorded in concert with Solas' former accordion player, John Williams. Tunes on the CD include traditional hornpipes, jigs and reels (Green Grow the Rushes, The Maids of Mount Cisco, Woman of the House), airs (A Stór mo Chroí, Molly St. George) and O'Carolan compositions (his Welcome, The Princess Royal) and his own compositions. Bays is a fine tunesmith; he writes well in the old style, especially in the album’s eponymous slip jig and his march, The Ninety Eight, a tune that keeps popping into my head at odd times. This is a first-rate and excellent package of fine music played wonderfully by a musician with extraordinary talent and grace. Combined with the tunes and musicians, this makes it a must-have for Irish music lovers.
Tradition Magazine (UK) - (by Judith Gennett) Review of "The Salmon's Leap"
Randal Bays is from the Pacific Northwest and plays Irish fiddle and guitar in an elegant, effortless style. The Salmon’s Leap contains some tunes that are traditional, some authored by Bays in traditional manner. The album, though recorded in Bay’s Seattle living room, is a good example of simplicity, of isolating instrument...or instruments yoked together...for the beauty of their own sound. Here the sound is sweet and warm, and though deft, Bay’s playing is never harshly quick. The style has been compared to that of Martin Hayes, whom Bays has backed on guitar, but is not so based on dramatic upward slides and seems more straightforward; the invisible fingers are always moving but the emphasis is on sweetness and richness rather than action.
Perhaps the nicest tracks (sets beginning with “The Ragged Hank Of Yarn” and the deceptively American-sounding “The Gypsy Princess”...based on Kerry fiddling) on The Salmon’s Leap also feature Chicago ex-Solas button accordion player John Williams. Bays and Williams play together as if they were twin brothers, often almost indistinguishable. Bays’ fiddle is also variously accompanied by the guitar of Gerry O’Beirne, and perhaps piano or flute. The piano-assisted dance tunes, for example the Irish “Mary Claflin’s/The Noon Lasses,” sound the most measured and “traditional.” His guitar playing may be heard twice on one slow air, “A Stór Mo Chroí,” and on two O’Carolan tunes, stately and measured, but with a contemporary twist.
Bays compositions for the most part do sound like they’ve leaped from The Emerald Isle rather than the San Juan Islands, but his images are local, for instance he pairs “The Ninety-Nine” about the WTO boycotts in Seattle in 1999, with “The Ninety-Eight,” a traditional tune about the Irish Rising of 1798. Another of his originals, “The Salmon’s Leap, ” closes the album and is a dirge marked by pretty, subtle droning, upslides, and graces. The tune mourns the disappearance of the old forests both in the Northwest and in Ireland.
Sound Quality ****
The Irish Times, Dublin - Review of "House to House" **** (Four stars)
Irish American musicians like Solas’s Seamus Egan have long impressed us with their virtuosity, but we’ve had little exposure to American musicians of an earlier generation whose ownership of the music is as solid as if they were scions of Sliabh Luachra. Randal Bays and Roger Landes conjure a commanding presence on fiddle and bouzouki, looping through an eclectic repertoire on this recording of a quartet of house concerts from Seattle to Massachusetts. Bays’s fiddle is deliciously woody, reminiscent of Padraig O’Keeffe, particularly on the latter’s The Lament for O’Donnell. Landes exerts the lightest of touches on bouzouki, pitching his subtle contribution brilliantly on the set bookended by Delia Crowley’s Reel and Sean Sa Ceo. The occasional foot tap and squeaky chair add to the party atmosphere.
"Out of the Woods" 1997
Randal Bays, fiddle, guitar
"Dazzling...a must for any fan of fiddle or guitar." - Dirty Linen Magazine
"Bays' technical command of the instrument, sure feel for traditional Irish style and superb choice of material make this one of the best American-produced Irish fiddle recordings of the CD era." - The Irish Voice (New York)
"This is Randal's first solo album, and it features both his fiddling and guitar playing. Irish fiddle great James Kelly says " Randal Bays is a musician's musician, who plays at the highest level both on the fiddle and the guitar, and who has spent many years fine-tuning his art to produce this great recording." James Kelly