Out of the Mailbag, Comes Songs and Stories – Give the Gift of Great Music for Christmas

Tara McNeill and Alexander Bernstein, Across the Atlantic,

2023. 12 Tracks

When I last interviewed Tara McNeil in April of 2022, as part of Celtic Woman’s Postcards from Ireland U.S. tour, she spoke of the desire to someday record an original works album with her husband, Alex Bernstein, a gifted and accomplished concert pianist who has performed with orchestras throughout America and Europe and is a faculty pianist at Shenandoah Conservatory.

How the world changes. Someday is here. Tara and Alex finally get to share that album, that dream, Across the Atlantic, with the world.

“What started as something meant to increase our time spent together has turned into much more than that. Across the Atlantic now signifies so much and for that I am especially grateful and proud of the music we have created,” said Alex. “We really hope you love what has come out of a very special project for us!”

Tara shared her thoughts on the release of the album as well:

“We are so excited to share this album with you. It is all our own original music and lyrics that fuses our love of classical and traditional Irish music. We are so proud of what we have created together.

“What I think is amazing about Irish music is that people connect to it no matter where we are in the world. Definitely in America people really relate to it because there are so many with an Irish heritage, but then we go somewhere like China and I think, how are these people feeling this music like we do?

“The thing is, Irish music is all about love, and loss, like leaving home, losing the family and losing loved ones. So much of Irish music is just melody, and these melodies carry much weight and history, and they tell the story without words, so in that way, the universal language is music. People feel that no matter where they are. I think that is why people love our music, no matter where they are.”

By the sea they both love, that inspires such compelling and soulful music, their stories are easily imagined in your own mind.

  1. Rogue – Such a lift to start the album, I look for and hear the ocean’s beat in Alex’s playing.
  2. The Reach – The power, the range and the beauty of Tara’s voice never ceases to move me. Aptly titled, Tara’s voice is showcased in soaring fashion on The Reach
  3. The Current – On land or on sea, currents carry us, to joys and sadness, but here pounding joy prevails.
  4. A Legend Untold – such a beautiful, haunting melody, I kept coming back to this track, and thought of the many legends untold in my mind – the piano and fiddle dance together, forever.
  5. Donegal – Tara’s fiddle and harp may be her most well-known instruments to date, but her voice is fast catching up in due attention. Donegal is just another example of the richness.
  6. A New Season – Like the seasons, the ups and downs, the racing river of our life, we go too far too many funerals to not dance at the weddings – be sure to dance.
  7. Red Morning – It feels like a mad scramble, with no time to contemplate, just keep moving, hopefully forward.
  8. The Swallows – In flight, what do you see? Which way do you choose to go in a wide-open world of possibility?
  9. Where You Are – A more patient contemplation, longing for reunion. I imagine Tara and Alex battling this often as each toured on different continents, hugging their memories until together again.
  10. An T – Oileán – (The Island, or isolated place) The heaviness of the piano and the lightness of the fiddle trade turns and twists.
  11. Lion’s Mane – A sudden jump in pace from An T – Oileán, before returning to the soulfulness of the fiddle played with so much emotion.
  12. Lay Your Head – So beautifully sung, without unnecessary dramatic decoration, the emotion and reassurance embraces the listener with love.

The last line applies to the whole album. What a memorable and masterful debut album for McNeill and Bernstein together.  I will be listening to Across the Atlantic when I need that embrace from the large part of my life that is music. Instagram/facebook @taramcneillmusic.
Facebook @alexanderbernsteinpiano

Runa: When the Light Gets In

2023. 13 tracks

We Irish, at least through my generation, are known for our love of the auld songs, and sing-a-longs, perhaps a bit too nostalgic for the next generation, who are removed from The Troubles, and 1916 memories our parents or grandparents shared memories and stories of with us. The next generation live on a different plane, happier, less concerned about the past and concentrating more on creating their future.

I can’t think of a more joyful band then Runa, who take every stage with energy, soul and a mix of song and dance that is a well-crafted blend of trad, ballad, Celtic rock, and fresh interpretations that never wain. Their joy is sincere, contagious, and released without reservation.

In English or Irish, and even French, their own original songs are mixed with tunes or work that goes back a day or a ways, crosses cultures

From Runa:
Light finds a way in – always.

Even in the darkest hours, there exists a light, a joy, to be found and cherished.
Choosing that joy despite the darkness can, itself, become an act of courage.

We have, humbly, witnessed great courage over the past three years, as people around the world have continued to find goodness, continued to choose joy, continued to seek the light, even amidst their darkest moments. It is only when the sky is at its darkest that we can truly see the stars at their brightest.

We have always felt incredibly grateful to be able to create music together and to share it with all of you. Now, more than ever, we cherish each and every one of those moments together, as bright lights – a sea of stars.

We have loved creating this album and we have put every bit of ourselves into it!
We wanted to celebrate the light that we have found in each other and in all of you. We wanted our joy in every note to be explosive and palpable!

May you join us singing, dancing, celebrating, and always searching for the light!”

  1. O Dheara, ‘Sheanduine (I Married an Old Man) / The Inheritance Polka – Traditional / Fionán de Barra – Advice from the road, the joyful sounding tune warns – Don’t Do It!

2. Indiana – Andy Mitchell song mourning for Ireland, despite the American dream, and leaving for what will always be considered home.
3. Hùg air a’ Bhonaid Mhòir (Celebrate the Big Bonnet) – Traditional, air put to lyric by Julie Fowlis. I’d love to tell you what it is about, but the sing-song lyric and melody must be enough.
4. The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night – Traditional. A fun sing-along tells of the fox on the town (gathering food for his family), pushing his luck in evading the farmer.
5. The Clowns / The Killavil / The Kesh Jig / The Cat Rambles to the Child’s Saucepan – Jake James / Traditional – Forced to move your head to the push of the fiddle, your legs must follow the jigs.
6. La Ziguezon (Smiling Boot) – Traditional – What will the baron get if he frees the woman, whose heart is already given to her warrior love?
7. Jutland / The Lobster / Castlerock Road – Tommy O’Sullivan / Traditional / Damien O’Kane – A beautiful ballad about The Battle of Jutland between English and German navies in 1916 – but really about the heartache for those left morning their dead soldiers.
8. O Mirk, Mirk is This Midnight Hour – Robert Burns – Rebuffed by Lord Gregory, the wanderer seeks rest.
9. The Northwest Passage – Stan Rogers. The trials and enticements for those seeking  The Northwest Passage. Runa also crafted a ship-based video for the song: that I love.
10. Liam’s Lullaby – Written by Fionán, dedicated to Shannon and Fionán’s son, Liam. Fionán is a master at telling a story without using words. I can picture Liam falling asleep to this, his parents love soothing (willing?) him to sleep.
11. Until Morning – Kate Rusby. Beautiful vocals and soul in Shannon’s warm and emotional Until Morning.
12. For All That You Do / In Memory of Coleman / The Flooded Road to Glenties – Jake James / Ed Reavy / Jimmy McHugh – a wonderful, light set of reels, that brought to mind all the gratitude of this season.
13. Ar an dTaobh Thall den mBogha-Sín (Somewhere Over the Rainbow) Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg. (Leagan Gaeilge: Róisín Uí Chuill, Nessa Ní Thuama, Éamonn de Barra). I have never heard Over the Rainbow in Irish before, but Shannon owns this, with moving emotion and soaring hope. Dreams do come true.

Runa is Shannon Lambert-Ryan – vocals, bodhrán; Fionán de Barra – guitars, bass, vocals, mandolin, bodhrán; Cheryl Prashker – percussion, vocals; Tom Fitzgerald – fiddle, mandolin, vocals; Jake James – fiddle.

When the Light Gets In is Runa’s 8th album. You can get this one, and all the others, at, Facebook and Instagram; follow band news there too.

Each song tells a story, and each album does too. I love this story. When the Light Gets In is highly recommended; you will love Runa’s newest work.

Previous Runa columns in iIrish: or cut and paste this link:

Ryan Young, just a Second

2023. 9 Tracks

Words get thrown around, especially in flattery, in music reviews. One applied to Ryan Young has been virtuoso. I do not know many virtuosos, but it seems to me that Ryan Young is joining the great, gifted, and sedulous fiddle players that I have seen perform in person.

Those who reside at another level to me include Eileen Ivers, Liz Carroll, Frankie Gavin, Martin Hayes … It is not a long list, but it is an accomplished one. Both Carroll and Hayes have expressed that they are Young fans too.

Ryan earned a Master of Music degree from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He is well-taught, well-developed, with all the hard work requisite in attaining the degree. Yet the ascent to that higher level after came through a willingness to explore, to innovate, and to learn from those that came in the past, and from those he has met along the way. Perhaps the influences never end, perhaps that openness is where the greatness lifts to the artist to virtuoso.

Ryan has an innate ability to assimilate different influences and different styles of play from his life and learning into his own, unique, emotion-packed, but now recognizable Ryan Young signature sound.

After his self-titled debut recording in 2017, Ryan overcame significant health issues, a confusing and frustrating medical battle involving his left hand. He has now returned to the fore of talent to watch for and never miss in a very crowded talent field.

When your hands don’t deliver what your heart feels, you can easily fall into despair and when an injury puts you further away still, it can feel like an impossible battle,” he said.

Thankfully to music lovers everywhere, Ryan has won the battle, and the awards and recognition are piling up once again for the Glasgow man. May the good health remain always Ryan. In you there is much impact left to give.

Just a Second features Ryan accompanied only by the guitar playing of Craig Irving. Nothing more is needed.

  1. Woo’ed an Married an Á / Fingal’s Cave – a great warmup is a soft sway before
  2. Willie Macrae’s Jig / The Monday Morning Reel – you can feel a lot of emotion in tempo ins and outs of this jig and reel.
  3. The Bird’s Nest / ‘S lomadh Rud Á Chunnaic Mi – a little more haunting, I wonder at the writer’s thoughts as they composed it.
  4. Ben Lomond / Mrs MacGlashan’s Jig
  5. The Fox / Flora MacDonald’s / Little Donald in the Pigpen – I see here the deftness that others far more knowledgeable than me talk about in Ryan’s playing.
  6. The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow
  7. Nathaniel Glows / The Sailor’s Wife
  8. Bang Your Frog on the Sofa / Mrs. McGugan’s Rant / Knit the Pockey – the title alone made me eager to get to this one. I wasn’t disappointed – the uptick in rhythm and speed are a nice pace change to most of the tunes. The frog banging refers to the player banging the frog of his bow).
  9. The Mortgage Burn – A great reason for a party, and a great party tune.

Whether you are a pure trad exponent, or just a music fan who loves great music, Just a Second is highly recommended for the beauty, the gentleness, the approach of warmth that is given to each tune. It is also a chance to listen to a star on the rise.

Find John’s other Out of the Mialbag columns and others  HERE!

This Just In: Tories Again Mock Good Friday Agreement (GFA)

Edited by John O’Brien BRITAIN’S TORIES AGAIN MOCK GFA February 12    Philadelphia, NYC & Washington D. C. Until the 1998 EU-UK treaty known as  the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), Northern Ireland (NI) was a story of despair the British labeled “The Troubles.”  Twenty-five years later the pact has met with

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John O'Brien, Jr.

*John is a Founder and the Publisher and Editor of iIrish, an archivist, spokesman, emcee, Spoken Word presenter and author of five books, (see below) so far.

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