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30 December 2008

Everyone's doing it, Part 2

We will be posting our blog of the Men & Women of the Year on New Year's Day, but we thought, given that everyone else is doing it, that you might like our pick of the best discs of 2008.
And, have you noticed how, at the end of the year, there is nowadays little or no consensus on what music, movies or books were “the best”. A very healthy sign of diversity.

Martin Hayes & Denis Cahill: Welcome Here Again (Green Linnet)
How do you follow the manic, extrovert exuberance of “Live in Seattle”. By going manically introvert, as on this amazing record from the great duo. “Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere” writes Junichiro Tanizaki in his essay, “In Praise of Shadows”. Here is that reticence, that atmosphere, brought to Irish music. Simply extraordinary.

Carolin Widman, Denes Varjon: Robert Schumann The Violin Sonatas (ECM)
Incredible duo performances that fizz with an improvisatory dynamic. Schumann's music works best when the performers exhibit a control tempered by a wildness that threatens to tear it all apart, which is just what Widman and Varjon bring to this arch-Romantic music.

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson: Lorraine at Emmanuel (Avie)
The orchestra is led by the late Craig Smith, who like Mrs Lieberson passed away too young. Lorraine's voice does for my generation what Maria Callas' voice did for an earlier generation: it haunts you.

Cassandra Wilson: S'loverly (Blue Note)
Twenty years on from her first collection of standards, “Blue Skies”, and we are still listening to that disc. Kind of suspect we will be listening to this beautifully managed collection of standards in twenty years time.

Pierre Laurent-Aimard: Bach, The Art of Fugue (DG)
A great modern pianist goes back through the centuries to find something new to say about Bach's contrapuntal masterpiece.

Garth Knox: D'Amore (ECM)
More duo performances as Knox and Agnes Vesterman range far and wide – from 1605 to 2006 to be precise – through the beautiful tones of the voila d'amore, counterpointed by cello. Exquisite musical truffles.

Toumani Diabaté: Mande Variations (World Circuit)
Not as jaw-droppingly amazing as ‘New Ancient Strings”, but the pulse of the kora as played by Diabaté is profound.

Various Artists: Masters of Tradition (RTE)
You can call us biased, as we were involved with the Masters of Tradition Festival in West Cork for some time, and biased we indeed are. But, just listen to the late Frank Harte and Donal Lunny on “The Lambeg Drummer” and tell us that it doesn't say more about Ireland's politics and passions than anything else you have ever heard.