“Performer, Composer & producer of the highest calibre.”
Banjo albums are hurtling hot’n’heavy from mixing desks, hell-bent on alternatively canoodling with and bludgeoning listeners into submission. Mícheál Healy is still a teen, but his playing wisely favours subtlety over precociousness. Steve Cooney accompanies and assists with arrangements, and Healy siblings Sinéad, Darragh and Gráinne add delicious daubs of colour on piano, harp, accordion and bodhrán. One of Healy’s strengths is his ability to temper his playing so that the melody speaks for itself. Here, tunes breathe free, nowhere more deeply than on The French Waltz, where pinprick precision is threaded lightly through the backbone of a delightful tune. This is a wide- angled debut, with a hint of compositional skills on three tunes: whispering of a musician with a weakness for spectral melody lines and high octane workouts. michealhealy.com
***Siobhán Long The Irish Times
Banjos, banjos, banjos… is what I discovered in the last edition of FolkWorld. Here is another album, this one played by an Irish young-gun from County Mayo who knows all the tricks like the back of his hand. One piece, a reel titled “Rhythm & Rhapsody” was written by himself and is a wild, hypnotising finger-exercise which is just within what the folk-police can still accept (i.e. borderline folk – almost a different genre). Other than a short trip to France, Mícheál Healy stays within the typical Irish musical forms: fast reels, swinging jigs and hornpipes. His siblings contribute just for a short time on piano, harp and bodhrán, only Steve Cooney’s guitar has a permanent presence.
Apart from traditionals there are compositions by Tommy Peoples, Máirtín O’Connor, Charlie Lennon and others. The tune “Salt Wedding”, a slow reel by Nico Browne and wedding piece from Stephen Greenhorns‘ play “The Salt Wound”, shows a different side of Mícheál, here he exchanges the forceful banjo with a chirping mandolin. In addition the two concluding pieces “Boardwalk Reel” and “Pleckin’ About” show Mícheál Healy as a talented composer.
Folk World Germany
2012 has been recognised by IMM as an outstanding year for the banjo. Notably, there have been a number of significant recordings of high quality banjo music, and this album from Mícheál Healy sits comfortably alongside each of the other new releases of this year. Hailing from Castlebar, Mícheál comes from a family steeped in traditional music. He has won several All Ireland titles in solo competitions, as well as winning the coveted senior duet title in 2009 along with his brother Darragh. A multi-talented instrumentalist, he was crowned world bodhrán champion in 2007, and holds a teaching diploma in piano from the Victoria College of Music in London. Mícheál’s virtuosic style is deeply rooted in traditional music. The traditional repertoire performed such as ‘Come West Along the Road’ are executed seamlessly, whilst newly composed tunes from artists such as Carl Hession, Tommy Peoples and Kieran Hanrahan are successfully added to the mix. He plays with a lively, vibrant energy, displaying his technical mastery of the instrument. Ornaments are pristine – these are executed with flair and conviction. There’s a rich banjo flavour to the overall taste of this album, ably assisted by Mícheál’s siblings Sinéad, Darragh and Gráinne on piano, harp, button accordion and bodhrán. This recording reflects Mícheál’s style as a polished performer with flair and gusto. His versatility is evident in modern, progressive tunes such as the self penned track ‘Rhythm and Rhapsody’. ‘The Salt Wedding’ showcases Mícheál’s prowess on the mandolin. Although Mícheál is only 19 years of age, his music speaks with a maturity well beyond his years. His musicianship is flawless; there’s an infectious sense of rhythm evident here which makes one want to get up and dance! The effortless flow of the tunes is tastefully accompanied by the legendary Steve Cooney on guitar throughout. The album is beautifully presented in a colourful digipak case. Mícheál’s creative production skills are also to the fore in this wonderful debut album. Currently based in Limerick, one can expect to hear much more from this bright young talent in the future.
Irish Music Magazine
Yeah, Banjo. The timing is sometimes slightly ahead, but that is not unusual for this instrument, which is of course one of the common prejudices. Nevertheless there are some soft sounds as well, for example in the hornpipe-set. Mícheál Healy is still young, you can tell this by the way he plays. However, this which will mature over the years is balanced out by creativity and tune variation. He knows the repertoire of the scene and combines this with his own compositions, accompanied throughout by the guitarist Steve Cooney. A disc with a fancy cover and booklet for friends of banjo music and people who enjoy tunes. For a debut album it’s impressive.
Sabrina Palm Irland Journal Germany
A young banjo whippersnapper from Mayo, currently a student in Limerick, Micheál Healy has a stab at everything from waltzes to whirling modern reels, American polkas to Breton gavottes. He’s good, very good, mastering pretty much all the traditional tenor banjo tricks: triplets, chords, continuo, double stops, rapid fire and quick reload. Micheál doesn’t have the swing or drawl of Gerry O’Connor, but he may have the pace of Brian Kelly: his storming reel sets Rhythm & Rhapsody and La Mata are quick and quirky enough. The gentle air Salt Wedding shows a totally different side of Healy’s music, as he switches to mandolin. Jigs on Pleckin’ About range from the frenetic opening Arctic Winds to the relatively relaxed Flying Wheelchair with brother Darragh on button box. Three of Micheál’s siblings join him for brief spells on this debut CD, adding piano, harp and bodhrán, and guitarist Steve Cooney is an ever-present influence without stealing this young star’s thunder. More varied than most traditional banjo albums, with forays into minstrelsy and modern Americana, this album still sticks mostly to the Irish repertoire: Come West Along the Road, Black Pat’s, The Green Fields of Woodford taken a little too fast, Give Us a Drink of Water, The Rookery, and even The Galway Bay Hornpipe in swaggering style. Pleckin’ About is a great start to what promises to be a very fine musical career. As I always say during the winter months, you can never have too many banjos!
There seems to have been a renaissance in Irish banjo CD releases recently, and a few, to be honest, rely on the battering ram effect that the instrument can have, rather than its inherent good qualities. No problems for Mícheál, however, as he is one of the most sensitive players I’ve heard in a while. The nineteen-year-old from Castlebar also plays mandolin on this album, and in addition to Steve Cooney’s guitar, is accompanied by siblings Sinéad, piano and harp; Darragh, button accordion and bodhran; and Gráinne, harp.
Despite his tender years, Mícheál has already got a clutch of All-Ireland trophies in his cupboard, but on the evidence of this release, the judges must have had a fairly easy job in deciding where to place him. His playing is crisp and clean, giving a bright and lively tone to the tunes, and the arrangements, which he produced himself, allow the other musicians to complement his work with just the right degree of backing. Although he doesn’t shy away from rattling out the high-speed dexterity when called for, he is also able to show the necessary restraint where this is beneficial to the sense of the tune. The mandolin playing on The Salt Wedding also allows us to see his gentler side coming through, where there is fine interplay with the harp.
Most of the material is traditional, but there is a good sprinkling of modern compositions, including a couple of his own, which contribute to the overall feel good atmosphere of this CD. Watch out for the name, as I feel certain that Mícheál has a fantastic musical future ahead of him.
Gordon Potter The living Tradition
Nineteen year old Micheal from Castlebar, Co Mayo, has produced a fantastic tenor banjo album which is perfectly backed by that magician, Steve Cooney, on guitar. The album showcases Micheal’s talents as a composer, having penned many of the tracks himself, and he also plays mandolin on some tunes. His siblings, Sinead, Darragh and Grainne add piano, harp, accordion and bodhran.
His playing is crisp and clean, with a bright and lively tone, and the arrangements allow the other musicians to complement his work with just the right degree of backing. Although he doesn’t shy away from rattling out the high-speed dexterity when called for, he is also able to show the necessary restraint where this is beneficial to the sense of the tune.
The Living Tradition