Geoff Wallis & Sue Wilson,
The Rough Guide to Irish Music
(Penguin, 2001)

It is, of course, impossible to know all that is knowable about Irish music, much less present it in a single book. Geoff Wallis and Sue Wilson come amazingly close to accomplishing that daunting task, however, with The Rough Guide to Irish Music.

The volume is deceptively small, though thick, and it's packed with information. It begins with an explanation of the roots of Irish music, its relation to "Celtic" music -- the terms are synonymous in some circles, antithetical in others -- and the people responsible for keeping the music alive and/or bringing it back into the public's fickle consciousness. Next, an excellent chapter spells out the differences among the many Irish vocal and instrumental styles. Do you know whan "sean nos" really means? Can you identify a reel, jig, slip jig or hornpipe by its time signature? This section will help.

The bulk of the book is devoted to a "who's who" of Irish music, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a reference more complete. After dividing the musicians into loose categories -- singers, groups, families, fiddlers, harpers, etc. -- the book provides concise but thorough biographies detailing their influences and impact on the music scene. Each entry also notes the most influential albums from each band/musician, making it easy for readers to know where to expand their collections.

The book ends with a listing for sessions around Ireland, plus music festivals, schools, media, recommended reading and other resources.

If you have any interest in expanding your knowledge of Irish music and Irish musicians, this is the place to do it. The Rough Guide to Irish Music is a phenomenal package that's useful and well-written to boot. It's compact size makes it easy to stow in a music case or jacket pocket, and I predict you'll find yourself pulling it to browse a lot more often than you'd expect for a reference book.

In short, this book is a winner that belongs in every Irish musician's collection.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 30 May 2002

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