Alison Perkins and Nicolas Brown
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Alison Perkins and Nicolas Brown

Ferndale, MI | Established. Jan 01, 2016 | SELF

Ferndale, MI | SELF
Established on Jan, 2016
Duo World Traditional


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All Covered With Moss
Own Label, 15 Tracks, 70 Minutes
This is one of the best fiddle and uilleann pipes albums of the past ten years. It’s long, it’s packed full of big tunes, it is grounded in the tradition, it’s as raw bar as you can get, it’s never flash and it’s marvellous for it. Perkins and Brown are a husband and wife duo, fiddler Alison Perkins from Detroit and piper Nicolas Brown from Fergus, Ontario. That’s a long way from Ireland, but as each track unfolds you’d think they were regulars in Henrietta Street Dublin.
Take The Boys of Galway/ The Curragh Races/The Daisy Field. Brown begins this on pipes, drones burring away; he plays the melody over them and brings in the regulators, then in comes the fiddle on the Curragh Races and both make a jump into neck and neck tight unison playing, galloping along and passing the winning post on one long note.
O’Connell’s Lamentation is one of the longer pieces at 6 minutes. Taken at a walking pace, the pipes and fiddle are in lock step; some players might have cut this tune in half, but Perkins and Brown let it run, using the time to add little variations as the build up to a full crescendo with drones and regulators blazing, it is bold, brave and brilliant.
The title track All Covered With Moss is the second tune in the selection, which begins with an unusual version of Banish Misfortune, slightly more lyrical than is normal with this favourite jig. Banish Misfortune is sourced from recordings of Edward Cronin and is on wax cylinder and All Covered With Moss is from O’Neill’s Music of Ireland, so these could be new to many pipers here in Ireland.
The liners notes are succinct yet they resonate with scholarship. It is clear this duo have consulted archives, listened to early recordings and absorbed the style of some of the finest 19th century players. There are two modern selections on the album, Don’t Leave Me Alone /My Love is On a Train, one of three tracks with accompaniment from bouzouki player Michael Gavin, and The Girl With the Laughing Eyes / The Erstwhile Lover. The Erstwhile Lover was composed by their friend Armand Aromin of Providence, Rhode Island.
Patrick Hutchinson writes in the liner’s introduction that the pair listen to each other and listen to the stations of the tune, and he is so right. From the very first track The Rambler’s Rest, to the final Byrn’s March/Johnny Cope this is music that is as authentic as it comes. If you are learning the pipes or an experienced player this is a must listen album.
Seán Laffey - Irish Music Magazine

"Praise for All Covered With Moss"

"Despite their youth, the performing accent here is unapologetically
old-fashioned. It’s a pleasing quality, underscored by Perkins’ dexterous
and authentically jaunty fiddle and Brown’s keening flat-pitched uilleann pipes and bright, dancing flute... Rousing reels make the most of Perkins’ characterful bowing and Brown’s imaginative interrogation of both pipes and flute. Perkins also sports a low-set voice that sounds securely rooted in sean-nós style on the darkly romantic ‘The Gypsies’. Throughout the release there is a solid sense of ensemble and reciprocity – this is a duo that listens to each other, responding in the moment with structure and spontaneity; blissfully at one in their loose and elastic athleticism." - Songlines Magazine UK

"Duo inspired by O’Neill recordings"

By Daniel Neely

The St. Patrick’s Day season is once again upon us, and hidden within the sparkly green beer-soaked detritus that hurricane “Shenanigans” will surely leave us with is some music that is really quite wonderful. In the player this week is “All Covered with Moss,” the recent CD from Detroit-based husband and wife duo Alison Perkins and Nicolas Brown. Filled with great tunes and strong playing, it’s a truly lovely album of mostly duet music that gets at the music’s sweetness in the warmest of ways.

Perkins (fiddle) and Brown (uilleann pipes & flute) are well known players on the U.S. scene and it is nice to see this new album from them. Its liner notes explain that the album’s music was inspired in part by the partnership between uilleann piper Sgt. James Early and fiddler Sgt. John McFadden, two members of the Chicago police force who worked closely with the great tune collector, Chief Francis O’Neill. That inspiration deepened when the Ward Irish Music Archives in Milwaukee released a CD containing 32 rediscovered turn-of-the-20th century recordings that O’Neill had made of Early, McFadden, and others which were long presumed lost. Perkins and Brown dug into these recordings, took tunes from them, as well as tunes sourced from O’Neill’s books and some they received from friends, and set out on an interesting course that has yielded outstanding results.

Part of the satisfaction here comes from the mix of instruments. Brown is playing a low-pitched “B” set of pipes, which produces a mellow, bubbly sound that blends wonderfully with the sound of Perkins’s violin. Perkins is a brilliant fiddler who sometimes flashes an aggressive drive. Brown is an excellent piper who incorporates smart, subtle touches in his ornamentation and regulator work to yield a smooth, gentlemanly style. The warmth between the two players and their instruments is complemented by the sensitivity each has for the other’s playing. Perkins and Brown are terrifically responsive to each other and together they make a grand duo and a lovely racket.

The pair’s shared stylistic approach allows each a bit of space for individual expression, which contributes to an overall feel of unity in their music. This is aided by a strong sense of rhythm and lift. These are things that are very apparent on tracks like “The Rambler’s Rest / …, ” “Sergt. Early’s / …” (with Michael Gavin on bouzouki), and “The Dusty Miller / …,” where the music rolls out there with seemingly effortless ease. The same can be said about the version of “Banish Misfortune” they play, and yet while the music is sweet, the unusual setting they play, which comes from one of the early O’Neill recordings, makes the track stand out. The same might be said for the polka track “I Have Two Yellow Goats / …” which I also find particularly nice.

Perkins has a solo feature on “Paddy Fahy’s / …” and Brown on “Brian the Brave / …” and both are lovely tracks. Perkins brings a bit of overall variety to the album by singing “The Gypsies,” a song she’s taken from the singing of Cathal McConnell.

“All Covered with Moss” is a lovely album. The fiddle/pipes combination and the high caliber of playing make it inviting to listen to and enjoy. It also makes it somewhat reminiscent of Nathan Gourley and Joey Abarta’s brilliant “Copley Street,” but although Perkins and Brown share the kind of deep sensitivity to each other’s playing that Gourley and Abarta have, their feel for their music is different, producing a lush and intriguing overall effect. This one’s recommended for trad music lovers who have an interest in a pure drop, beautiful, no frills approach. For more information about “All Covered with Moss,” visit Perkins and Brown’s website at - The Irish Echo

"Alison Perkins and Nicolas Brown, “All Covered with Moss” •"

When it comes to Irish music in the Midwest, Chicago and Milwaukee tend to get most of the attention, with Minneapolis a little off to the side. Now comes this Detroit-based duo of spouses to serve notice that the Motor City deserves to be in the conversation. Perkins, who has played in her family’s band Finvarra’s Wren and toured with singer Sean Keane, is a Clare-style fiddler with six Fleadh Cheoil gold medals to her credit; Brown, nourished early on by Seamus Ennis and Willie Clancy recordings, is not only a talented uilleann piper and flutist but a connoisseur of Irish music history.

All well and good to have two musicians of such caliber play together, but Perkins and Brown also embody that whole greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts thing: There is, plain and simple, a real heft to their sound. It has to do with the way Perkins employs double stops, for example, or how Perkins uses the regulators on his pipes (which are in the mellow key of B) – the melody line remains dominant, of course, but there are robust harmonies and subtle contrasts to relish.

Another key to this album is Perkins’s and Brown’s choice of source material, which in addition to the venerable collection by Capt. Francis O’Neill also includes rare recordings of pipes-fiddle duo James Early and John McFadden – members of the same police force as O’Neill – as well as other lesser-known publications. This scholarship has yielded gems like the jig set “Sergt. Early/Galway Tom”; the trio of reels “Boys of Galway/Curragh Races/The Daisy Field”; a very different version of “Banish Misfortune”; and the striking five-part slip jig “The Kitten.” (Michael Gavin contributes a fine bouzouki backing on three of the tracks.)

The chemistry between Perkins and Brown is at its peak on two tracks in particular, the air “O’Connell’s Lamentation” and a march and hornpipe medley, “Byrns March/Johnny Cope.” Both are lengthy in duration, but the cumulative effect of their performance – sometimes playing in strict duet, sometimes individually exploring variations – is by turns mesmerizing and exhilarating. Perkins also demonstrates her singing talent with an a cappella rendition of “The Gypsies,” a Northern Irish variant of “Gypsy Davy/Black Jack Davy” (as well as Leo Maguire’s “Whistling Gypsy”) that has quite a different tone to it than the jaunty versions with which we’re most familiar.

In the CD’s liner notes, Rhode Island-based uilleann piper Patrick Hutchinson describes the interactions between Perkins and Brown as “auditory high fives”; you’ll want to offer them real ones after listening to this album. [] - Boston Irish Reporter




Alison Perkins and Nicolas Brown are one of the brightest Irish music duos in America.

They have been playing music on the uilleann pipes, flute and fiddle together for close to a decade. Since the recent release of their debut album, All Covered With Moss  they have been bringing their close musical partnership to the stage. As individuals, they have performed at festivals and concerts across the North America. Together, they research forgotten settings of obscure tunes and introduce them to audiences with a style that is at once unapologetically old fashioned, fresh, vibrant and spirited. Following the release of their CD, they have brought their signature sound to audiences on tours throughout the country.

All Covered With Moss  was released in October 2016, to much critical acclaim. They have been praised as “one of the best fiddle and uilleann pipes albums of the past ten years.” (Irish Music Magazine), "a duo that listens to each other, responding in the moment with structure and spontaneity; blissfully at one in their loose and elastic athleticism" (Songlines Magazine UK), as well as "a grand duo and a lovely racket." (The Irish Echo)

The two met at the 2007 Goderich Celtic festival, where Alison was performing with the Irish singer Sean Keane. Not long after they began dating, and five years later they got married at a musical barn wedding in Alison’s hometown. Instead of a first dance, they had a first tune, “Johnny Cope”, which is included on their album.

Alison and Nicolas have both taught and performed at many popular Irish festivals across North America, including the Goderich Celtic Festival, O’Flaherty Irish Music Retreat, Michigan Irish Music Festival, North Texas Irish Festival, and CelticFest Mississippi. They have also performed at top concert venues and folk festivals, such as the Ark, Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, Blissfest, and Concert of Colors.

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