Celtic Artists page

Trad & Folk
Artists and Albums

Hello! This page is part of an opinionated overview of Celtic and British folk music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... This is not meant to be taken as a "definitive" resource, but rather as a record of some of the music which has caught my interest. I am always looking for more good music to explore, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.

This page covers the letter "O"

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Paddy O'Brien "Stranger At The Gate" (Green Linnet, 1988)
A fine set of accordion instrumentals, with Daithi Sproule adding guitar or piano on several tracks... This is mostly the kind of manic, unrelenting Celtic instrumental stuff that I sometimes find a little irritating (though, obviously, it is very ably performed!) but there is also a lovely song, "The Wounded Hussar," sung by O'Brien's wife, Erin Hart, that breaks things up and caught my ear. Well performed, but not my cup of tea.

Paddy O'Brien/James Kelly/Daithi Sproule "Traditional Music Of Ireland" (Shanachie, 1995)

Paddy O'Brien/Jamie Gans/Daithi Sproule "Snug In The Blanket" (Black Tea Tunes, 2004)

The Occasionals "Live From The Music Hall Aberdeen" (Greentrax, 2000)

The Occasionals "Back In Step: The Complete Scottish Ceilidh Dance, v.2" (Greentrax, 1996)

The Occasionals "Footnotes: The Complete Scottish Ceilidh Dance" (Iona, 2002)

The Occasionals "Reel Of Four" (Greentrax, 2004)

The Occasionals "Down To The Hall" (Greentrax, 2006)

Robbie O'Connell "Close To The Bone" (Green Linnet, 1982)
(Produced by Tom Phillips)

A native of Waterford, singer Robbie O'Connell emigrated to the United States in 1972 and certainly added a welcome presence to the Stateside trad scene. His mother, Cait Clancy, was a sister in the fabled Clancy family and her siblings were the Clancy Brothers of folk revival fame. On his debut album, which was recorded in Massachusetts, O'Connell brings a wealth of Irish folklore to the table, including the delightful comedic song, "Bobby's Britches," based on a family legend about the time a young Bobby Clancy fell asleep on the river shore and had the tide take his pants out to sea, as well as several songs written by O'Connell but fitted to the traditional style. He's a lovely singer, with the lightness of tone that make many Irish voices so compelling, with a strong, direct sense of melody that is mirrored by the sweet but simple musical backing. Tommy plays a variety of instruments in tandem with O'Connell's guitar and mandolin, his wife Roxanne O'Connell singing harmony, and producer Tom Phillips adding a bit of synthesizer. This is a richly rewarding album, a fine example of Green Linnet's best early releases. Highly recommended.

Gerry O'Connor "Time To Time" (Mulligan Music, 1991)

Gerry O'Connor "Myriad" (Compass, 1999)
Modernized Celtic instrumentals and new acoustic tunes from Ireland, played with the banjo as the main lead . Mostly this is nice; it's upbeat and involving, and not overly crossover-y or manic. There are some tunes that bear the stamp of the Bela Fleck school of folk-fusion, but the more straightforward tunes are still pretty good.

Sinead O'Connor "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" (Capitol, 1990)
A gorgeous and powerful album. Admittedly, Sinead is not the most "trad" of all Irish performers, but the keening-fiddle-meets-funky-drummer of "I Am Stretched On Your Grave" is a work of sheer brilliance. The same goes for the rest of this album, from the sombre folk-twee of "Black Boys On Mopeds" and "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance," as well as the Enya-worthy chirrups of "Three Babies," and her brilliant version of Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U." Not that this album doesn't have its weak spots, notably the dork-pop of "Jump in the River" and the wrist-slitting emotional hyperbole of the opening track, "I Feel So Different..." Yet the clunky, overwrought moments are also part of the album's charm, a tangible umbilical line back to indiepop roots that would have been all-too easy to forsake, as global stardom engulfed her. [And just for the record, I don't subscribe to the whole "and then she went off the deep end!" version of the Sinead story -- I think it's plain to see that she was a strong-willed and passionately intelligent person, capable of purposefully ticking off the whole universe, if she felt like it. And obviously, she did. If any of us grew up female and rebellious in a place with such tight social control as Catholic Ireland, we might be tempted to pop off a bit, too, once we were handed a megaphone loud enough to broadcast our frustrations to the rest of the world.]

Sinead O'Connor "So Far...The Best of Sinead O'Connor" (Capitol, 1997)
Although there's an overabundance of her more cluttered work on here, this disc is worth picking up because it has both "Stretched On Your Grave" and "Heroine," the first (and most gorgeous) single she made, singing on a soundtrack album scored by U2's guitarist, the Edge. That was the first song of hers I heard, back in 1986, and it was love at first trill. What a voice.

Sinead O'Connor "Sean-Nos Nua" (Vanguard, 2002)
Sinead's first album of all-Celtic material is admittedly a bit on the sleepy side, but lovely nonetheless. I think given the brilliance of 1990's "Stretched On Your Grave," it's disappointing that she wasn't more daring -- or even more varied -- with her arrangements, and that this album has such a same-y, mid-tempo feel to it. Still, she has that same old gorgeous voice, and though this disc flirts with the synthy sugariness of contemporary Celtic-New Age material, it also certainly gives O'Connor her Irish trad propers. She knows her stuff. I'd love to hear her do more trad material -- maybe something slightly less controlled and perfectly-produced next time around? Either way, I'm all for it. By the way, Christy Moore guests on one track, a duet number called, "Lord Baker."

Michael O Dhomhnaill - see artist profile

Al O'Donnell "Al O'Donnell" (1972)
Solo stuff from one of the members of the legendary Irish band, Sweeney's Men...

Al O'Donnell "Al O'Donnell 2" (1978)

Old Blind Dogs "New Tricks" (Lochshore, 1992)

Old Blind Dogs "Close To The Bone" (Lochshore, 1993)
Innovative, yet solid, modern Scottish trad that branches out into several directions and musical modes. The band's a bit showy, actually, if truth be told, wearing their virtuousity on their sleeve, while flitting gleefully about through a variety of styles. Fortunately, they're also really, really good, and capable of playing soulfully as well as energetically. Lead singer Ian F. Benzie has a bit of a Nic Jones about him (which is a very high compliment in my book), and fiddler Jonny Hardy adds a mournful, magic touch to several tunes. This is particularly rich and rewarding album, well worth checking out!

Old Blind Dogs "Tall Tails" (Lochshore, 1994)

Old Blind Dogs "Legacy" (Lochshore, 1995)

Old Blind Dogs "Five" (Lochshore, 1997)

Old Blind Dogs "Live" (Lochshore, 1999)

Old Blind Dogs "World's Room" (Green Linnet, 1999)
Honestly...? It seems like they were in a bit of a rut with this one, with a few too many monotonous instrumentals, notably stuffy vocals, and some fusion-y production that didn't sit that well with me. I mean, they're still a fine band, but this isn't my top choice of their albums...

Old Blind Dogs "Fit" (Green Linnet, 2001)
Quite nice. There are a couple of tunes where the pop influences edge towards the cloying, but for the most part, this is a lovely album... I like the vocals, the mix of fiddle and flute, their sense of where the balance between tradition and innovation lies... Sure, they'd be better off without the occasional conga drums, but other than that, what's not to like? Recommended!

Old Blind Dogs "The Gab O Mey" (Green Linnet, 2003)
A soft-edged, pop-tinged trad album, which, despite the presence of conga drums and other dubious percussion touches, successfully walks the fine line between the shrillness of "real" trad, and the synth-drenched excess of other modern crossover bands. For the most part, these Scots make pretty straightforward, enjoyable music -- it's maybe just a wee bit too sugary for me, but I'd still recommend this record to just about anyone looking for a nice, listenable new Celtic folk album. It's quite lovely, with flawless, soulful playing and several good tunes, particularly the vocal track, "Lads O The Fair." Worth checking out. (PS - you might enjoy checking out the band's website, for more info.)

Old Blind Dogs "Play Live" (Green Linnet, 2005)
A fine live Celtic set from this new Scottish supergroup, mixing lightning-fast musicianship with moments of quiet grace... The audio mix seems a bit muffled at times -- surprising in this day and age -- but nonetheless, the band never sounded better. Their piper, Rory Campbell, deserves special praise, solidly anchoring the group in their roots, while providing a deft, nimble playfulness, while many of the vocal tunes are also quite haunting. If you like Celtic trad, you'll want to check this one out.

Old Blind Dogs "Four On The Floor" (Compass, 2007)

Old Blind Dogs "Wherever Yet May Be" (Compass, 2010)
(Produced by Old Blind Dogs)

This top-flight Irish trad band takes a crossover-y turn, with hints of jam-band rock, Paul Brady-esque soft-pop, a smidge of country and bluegrass (with a dash of dobro on several songs) and a general sense of softening those craggy Celtic edges. It's not quite my kind of trad-folk, but listeners who are looking for bands that are breaking out of the confines of the old-school jigs'n'reels sound will probably appreciate where these guys are headed. Solid performances; just a matter of whether you like the style or not.

The Oldham Tinkers "Oldham's Burning Sands" (Topic, 1971)

The Oldham Tinkers "Best O' T' Bunch: Back Street Songs Of Lancashire" (Topic, 1974)

The Oldham Tinkers "For Old Time's Sake" (Topic, 1975)

The Oldham Tinkers "Sit Thee Down" (Topic, 1977)

The Oldham Tinkers "That Lancashire Band" (Topic, 1978)

The Oldham Tinkers "A Fine Old English Gentleman: The Best Of The Topic Years" (Pier Records, 1999)

Old Swan Band "No Reels" (Free Reed, 1976)

Old Swan Band "Old Swan Brand" (Free Reed, 1978)

Old Swan Band "Gamesters, Pickpockets And Harlots" (Dingle's Records, 1981)

Old Swan Band "Still Swanning... After All These Years" (Free Reed)

Old Swan Band "Swan-Upmanship" (Wild Goose, 2004)

Christy O' Leary "Northern Bridge" (Old Bridge, 1997)

Michael O'Neill "Ontophony" (Songlines/Adventure Music, 2006)
Celtic bagpipes as you've never heard them before... at least not unless you've been hanging out around with Vancouver-based piper Michael O'Neill, who stretches the instrument about as far as it can go in a series of ambitious collaborations with multiple bagpipers, and several songs recorded with a three-person taiko drumming team called Uzume Taiko. In musical terms, this is all quite complex and challenging material, not the least because of the fabled shrillness of the highland pipes... That shrillness underscores many of the lofty musical experiments and arcane compositional techniques that O'Neill employs -- but it also may drive many casual listeners koo-koo trying to take this all in without chenching their teeth too tightly. But for folks who are into difficult music or avant-classical/jazz/world crossovers, this could be a fascinating excursion.

Open House "Second Story" (Green Linnet, 1994)
Fiddler Kevin Burke anchors this sharp, winsomely melodic Celtic-crossover album, which was co-produced with bluegrass picker Tim O'Brien, who also adds a few nice licks on the guitar and mandolin. Although it's a mostly-instrumental effort, this group has a light, deft touch that cuts down the normal severity of jigs and reels. The three vocal numbers are all folkie novelty tunes, written by harmonica player Mark Graham -- a faux sea shanty lamenting the rigors of aerobic exercise, and a lampoon of Greek clasical culture(!) Not your standard, haunting, timeless trad ballads, to be sure, but okay the first time or two you hear them. Mostly this album is about the sets, and they are pretty sweet. (Note: "Open House" was originally the title of a 1992 album by Burke; this time around he decided to make the name into a separate band...)

(Kevin Burke's) Open House "Hoof And Mouth" (Green Linnet, 1997)

Peadar O Riada "Amidst These Hills" (Bar/None, 1996)

Peadar O Riada "Winds - Gentle Whisper" (Bar/None, 1996)
Looping, sampling, odd ambient synth touches, and some fine piping and piano from this young Cork native. I know I've said all kinds of nasty things about crossover/fusion artists in the past, but I have to confess, I found this pretty listenable and creatively fertile... Sort of reminds me of Ry Cooder's film scores... nice!

Sean O Riada "O Riada's Farewell" (Claddagh, 1972)
Old traditional Irish tunes, played on the harpsichord, and instrument that lends a distinctly Elizabethan air to the proceedings... Cork native O' Riada, who worked with Radio Eireann and the famed Abbey Theatre in Dublin, came from a strong classical background, and the virtuosity that he brought to traditional music, in his own recordings and with the group Ceoltoiri Chualann, helped inspire a new generation of Irish musicians (notably Paddy Moloney, of the Chieftains) to reinvigorate the old repertoire, particularly that of harpist Turlough O'Carolan. This is his last album, released after his death in 1971, at age 40. It's a bit prim, but also quite listenable, with tunes written (or published) in the 1700 and 1800's, with much of it sounding like English music written at roughly the same time.

Sean O Riada "Mise Eire" (Soundtrack) (Gael-Linn/Shanachie, 1959)
This disc gathers the music to three soundtracks that Sean O Riada scored in the 1950s and '60s -- Mise Eire (1959); Saoirse (1960) and An Tine Bheo (1966), as performed by the RTE Symphony Orchestra.

Sean O Riada "O Riada" (Gael Linn, 1995)

Sean O Riada "Ceol Na Nuasal" (2000)

Sean O Riada "O Riada Sa Gaiety" (2009)

Sean O Riada "Plearaca An Riadaigh" (2009)

Sean O Riada "Ceol an Aifrinn/Aifreann 2" (2009)

Orison "Orison: Celtic And Contemporary Instrumental Music" (Gourd, 1988)
Mellow, New Age-y instrumental music, with guitarist William Coulter and several SF Bay Area cohorts... Coulter's later albums would be released under his own name...

Aidan O'Rourke "Sirius" (Compass, 2008)
Originally released in 2006, this is the solo debut from the fiddler for the Scottish trad trio, Lau. Fusion-jazzy pop, not unlike that of America's Bela Fleck, though with instrumentation that stems from Celtic trad, rather than Appalachian folk. Some of it is quite forceful, with snare drums dominating several tunes; there's a poppy vibe on a lot of the tracks, although there are also softer, more lyrical passages throughout. It's not quite my cup of tea, but Celtic modernists might really dig it.

Beth Orton "Trailer Park" (Dedicated, 1996)

Beth Orton "Best Bit" (EP) (Dedicated, 1998)
Beth Orton "She Cries Your Name" (EP) (Dedicated, 1999)

These inter-album EPs certainly contain some of Orton's best work, magical, smoky moments

Beth Orton "Central Reservation" (Arista, 1999)

Beth Orton "Daybreaker" (Astralwerks, 2002)

Beth Orton "Comfort Of Strangers" (Astralwerks, 2006)

Beth Orton "Pass In Time: The Definitive Collection" (Astralwerks, 2003)

More Celtic/Brit Folk Albums -- Letter "P"

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