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Bare Breasted

Johnny B. Connolly blows the mist from Celtic music

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To a less than avid listener, Celtic music can have the nasty habit of sounding all the same. It takes an extraordinary band, song or melody to pierce through all those foggy airs and reels to register as something exquisite and worth listening to.

Johnny B. Connolly isn't a Celtic revisionist or reformer, but there's something about the way he plays the accordion and melodeon that cuts through all of the misty crap to bring forth a crisp, bright rendition of traditional Irish music. This is the music bare-breasted, stripped of all but the passion with which it was originally created. Without all of the heavy mysticism attached to the genre, Connolly's Celtic music is meant to be danced to, laughed to, drunk to and enjoyed wholeheartedly, rather than be set upon a pedestal of heather.

Though only 26 years old, Connolly has been called Ireland's greatest melodeon player. He earned that title playing in the pubs of Dublin and then touring festivals throughout Europe with his cousins (Tom and Eamon Doorley of Dan) before he had turned 16. His lively talent caught the ears of such artists as the Chieftains and Kevin Burke who supported him when he chose to move to America at age 21.

In Portland, Ore., Connolly recorded his first album, Bridgetown, the focus of his current tour. A collection of French and Irish tunes, the disc manages to capture the exuberance with which Connolly performs. On this tour he is joined by Aidan Brennen, a sweetly talented and subtly gentle guitarist who has been performing with Connolly since 1997.

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