CD review by Tony Smith
These 11 tracks conclude with the quaint ‘Tunes from the External Hard Drive’ which arose from a tune writing challenge within the band.
The other tunes are mainly traditional Irish but there is a sprinkling of originals and a few songs.
Overall, the album is well balanced and showcases some excellent musicianship.
Tolka are Robert Hillman (guitar, vocals), Allan Evans (flute, whistle, harp, vocals), Hilary Glaisher (fiddle, vocals) and Cameron Hibbs (fiddle, tenor banjo).
On this album they are supported by Joe Ferguson (bouzouki, bodhran), Anita Hillman (bass, cello, vocals), Andrew McLeod (cajon) and Ania Reynolds (Hammon organ).
They thank their families for support as well as, band uncle, Geoff McArthur, mentor, Andy Rigby, and photographer, Jenna Romando.
All can be proud of this well-presented CD.
The songs are ‘Let Them Fly’ by prominent English songwriter Kate Rusby, given powerful expression by Glaisher’s fine voice, ‘The Bright Side of the Moon’ by Cyril O’Donoghue from an album with Tola Custy and ‘Mendips’ by Robert and Tony Hillman, which is their story of ancestor, Thomas, who migrated from Somerset with his wife and child on the Lady Peel in 1848.
There are a dozen or more traditional Irish tunes gathered in session-style sets, with a few original tunes among them.
The sleeve notes tell of the personal relationships between the musicians and the tunes they have gathered.
‘Tolka Polka’ by Donal Lunny is paired with Hibbs’ ‘Tune for Trevor’ written for supporter, Trevor Voake’s sixtieth birthday, and cleverly including 60 bars.
‘The Crooked Nose’ set includes Hibbs’ note that Cameron means ‘crooked nose’ in Gaelic.
The Galway set, ‘Lively Wagtail’, includes Hillman’s, ‘The Lost Drawstring’.
The set ‘Phascogale in the Freezer’ includes Evans’ tune of that name, ‘The Ranga Princess’ by Glaisher and the traditional ‘Michael Dwyer’s’.
The ‘Broken Pledge’ set features ‘The Providence Reel’ both common session tunes in Melbourne and ‘The Cat That Ate the Candle’ learnt from Donegal group Altan.
The qualities of this album are the outstanding playing of the individual musicians and the fine sense of ensemble they have.
Tolka, the title presumably derives from the river near Dublin, have the obvious ability to pay homage to the traditions while bringing a playful sense of creativity to their music.
We should hear more from them.