David Munnelly Band
at the Stone Church,
Newmarket, NH
(22 July 2005)

We'd heard this band was wild, but our first impression upon entering the Stone Church during the belated sound check was that the lads looked rather sedate. Sleepy, even. Two seconds later we were blown away by the first notes from the Mayo box player and his talented band.

David Munnelly hails from County Mayo in the west of Ireland. The region is known for a wilder and freer style of music; Munnelly himself is sometimes called the "Bullet from Belmullet." He plays the accordion with the fury and the passion of the winds sweeping the rugged landscape and the ocean crashing upon the rocky shore.

After the sound check concluded, we took a few minutes to check out the venue. A wooden bar extends along the left wall and tables of various heights and configurations are spread across the floor. Apparently the floor is cleared during rock concerts, while for dinner shows there is seating for about 100 people. It's an intimate and comfortable space with an excellent sound system.

David and his band (brother Kieran on flute, snare and bodhran, Gavin Ralston on guitars, Daire Bracken on fiddle and Andrew Murphy on vocals) opened with "The American Polka" -- five knees jerking in time to the rollicking dance tune. The lads continued with what they termed an "old-fashioned jig" and several barn dances from the 1920s and '30s; part of their magic was weaving the local rhythms with the melody and beats of 1920s swing music.

Cocking an eyebrow at the audience, David said, "We won't tell anyone if ye act uncivilized." After the lively "Charlotte's Reel," he encouraged us to hoot and holler. The party was started!

We particularly enjoyed the swing-influenced songs, most of which can be found on Munnelly's first album, aptly titled Swing. This tour was in support of his second album, By Heck, which includes more traditional tunes and a few songs. While the songs were beautifully performed, especially the cover of Richard Thompson's "The Dimming of the Day," we felt they were a low point of the show due to the slowing of the tempo to a snail's pace; it felt draining rather than rejuvenating.

The second set was livelier than the first, from "Lively Leah" and a set of jigs from Swing to the lovely "Cuckoo's Nest Reels" from By Heck, the Quebecois "Cormier's Reels" and the resounding "Taproom Set." The stones in the floor seemed to vibrate! We drove off through the stormy night with our heads ringing, fingers tapping and heels pounding out the beat, thankful we'd taken a chance on a new-to-us artist.

by Michelle Doyle
28 January 2006

[ visit the artist's website ]