Full Reviews and Interviews
"I first met Randy Clepper at the Cincinnati Irish Festival about 12 years ago, back then he was playing hammered dulcimer and had an extensive repertoire of Irish dance tunes. So it was with some surprise that I put this CD into my player to find that here he has gone over to the bouzouki and the guitar. His band mate John Sherman plays guitar and tenor banjo, so it’s very much a string based sound here, with percussion from guests Pat Foley Jr. on bodhrán and Mark Alan Wade on marimbula.
Of the 13 tracks eight feature reels and there are also are jigs, slides, a barndance and a Galician tune. The duo have gone for variety with compositions that are decidedly neo–traditional such as Farewell to Chernobyl, to the stock session tunes like, Christmas Eve, to well–known show stoppers My Love is in America, Geese in the Bog, and the slide Merrily Kissed the Quaker’s Wife. They also visit a tune that is synonymous with eight string instruments Dave Richardson’s Calliope House. The guitar leads the Rolling Waves jig with a lyrical and resonant bass adding a depth to the lighter dance melody. The New Irish Barn Dance is deceptively simple, with the rolling swagger typical of 1920’s Irish dance music in America. Triplets and trills are sparingly used on the banjo as the bouzouki walks along with a counter point that is worth getting to grips with. The Bunch of Green Rushes is full of minor menace, running in staccato fashion against the bodhrán it builds to segue into The Old Bush. My favourite track is the Miser’s Pockets where the bouzouki and guitar are stitched together in a melody that swings along with a rich undertow of darkness before it brightens up into a driven Bean Ti A Lar reel.
OK, the verdict, I loved the album, I’m a huge fan of both bouzouki and banjo and the duo here play both sensitively and with great authority. The bouzouki isn’t simply restricted to a thundering accompaniment and Clepper’s style is a fine one to try if you are new to the zouk. The tenor banjo playing is direct and forthright, as they say in the USA, Sherman owns the music.
As anyone who has heard Irish music in Ohio knows, it is high calibre without being high velocity, and Clepper and Sherman hit the target every time in this album."
Seán Laffey - Editor, Irish Music Magazine, Dublin, Ireland
First Listen : "Finally Tuned" by John Sherman & Randy Clepper - TradConnect.com, December 9, 2013 (link)
"2013 has produced a significant number of albums with group recording, trio's, duet's featuring strongly. Until now we have not had any fingerstyle guitar albums so this is a welcome addition to the catalogue. We have had a first listen and it's a remarkably accomplished recording. John Sherman and Randy Clepper are two central Ohio-based multi-instrumentalist musicians who perform as a duo on bouzouki, fingerstyle guitar, and tenor banjo. The two have previously recorded solo and with other ensembles, but have (finally) released a duo album, "Finally Tuned", with John on guitar and tenor banjo and Randy on bouzouki and guitar.
The album contains traditional music with with a few modern tunes and one set with Galician and Italian numbers. John and Randy pass the melody duties back and forth on many of the bouzouki-guitar and duo guitar sets. The project is rounded out with tenor banjo sets accompanied by bouzouki.
They refer to the set included below as the Portland Set. It is a set of tunes originally recorded by Kevin Burke and Mícheál O'Domhnaill on their album entitled "Portland": Rolling Waves, Market Town and Scatter the Mud. Randy explains that "John initially put this together as a fingerstyle guitar arrangement and we adapted it to bouzouki and guitar. Though our arrangement is a slightly different setting, the tune order comes from Kevin's and Mícheál's recording and we have a hard time imagining these tunes apart from one another. We perform it as an homage to Mícheál who is no longer with us."
We have spoken to Randy about the recording and will follow up with a more detailed article. For now have a first listen.
Tony Lawless - TradConnect.com, Ireland
Interview with Randy Clepper on his new album with John Sherman called "Finally Tuned" - TradConnect.com, July 8, 2014 (link)
"Last month we posted a review of Finally Tuned the new album by John Sherman and Randy Clepper. They are two central Ohio-based multi-instrumentalist musicians who perform as a duo on bouzouki, fingerstyle guitar, and tenor banjo. They have previously recorded solo and with other ensembles, but have (finally) released a duo album, "Finally Tuned", with John on guitar and tenor banjo and Randy on bouzouki and guitar. The album contains traditional music with with a few modern tunes and one set with Galician and Italian numbers. John and Randy pass the melody duties back and forth on many of the bouzouki-guitar and duo guitar sets. The project is rounded out with tenor banjo sets accompanied by bouzouki.
John Sherman has arranged over a hundred Irish and Scottish melodies for the guitar. He has three solo recordings, "Farewell to the Creeks", "So Inclined", and "Far Green Country", two recordings, "Sounds from the Atlantic" and "Rainbands" with the Ohio-based band Innisheer, an album, "Links", with the Celtic group Silver Arm, and an album of Irish music arranged for two guitars, "Ceol Anam", with the late fingerstylist Carol Barney. John has performed with uilleann piper Todd Denman, and as a regular accompanying guitarist for folk singer/songwriter Tom Paxton, and has opened for the Tannahil Weavers, Phil Cunningham, John Renbourn, and Green Fields of America.
Randy Clepper plays Irish traditional music on Irish bouzouki, fingerstyle acoustic guitar, tenor banjo and hammer dulcimer. He performed as half of the duo Begley’s Braes with Scottish harpist Christine Fraser Ramsey. Besides traditional Irish music, he performed as part of an eclectic hammer dulcimer group Hammer On!. Through connections with his Hammer On! bandmate Dan Landrum, Randy performed with the Chattanooga Symphony, with members of the Yanni World Tour ensemble and with aerial dance troupe Project Bandaloop. He has also recorded a solo instrumental album of traditional Irish music, “Within a Mile”, and an album, “Hammer On!”, with the band of the same name.
When we spoke to Randy recently he confirmed that “the project started out initially to be a solo traditional album with a few guest musicians. I knew John from playing sessions around Columbus and from his book of tunes arranged for DADGAD guitar through Mel Bay Publishing back in the '90's.” he said. “It felt a little presumptuous of me to approach John about playing on the recording since I learned a lot of my early DADGAD fingerstyle skills from his books. However, he was gracious and interested in performing and recording together as a duo, and what was to have been a solo project quickly was set aside in favor of a team effort."
On the recording itself he confirmed that they wanted a very traditional feel for the album. Most of the tracks were recorded simply, in a room together with no click track or overdubs. A few tracks were recorded separately. All but one of the tracks were recorded in their home studio and were later mastered by Tom Boyer of GBS Records in Columbus, Ohio. “We wanted the feel of just two musicians sitting in a room playing together” he said. “The first tune set we recorded, Moving Cloud and the Mason's Apron, was done in a single take. We thought, the rest will be easy. It wasn't, and with a day job, family and other life events often taking priority, the project proceeded to stretch out over several years. During that time, Pat Foley, who played bodhrán on the recording, moved from Columbus to Milwaukee, and so we had to arrange recording time around his schedule for when he was in town. In the meantime, however, John's and my playing became tighter over time as we continued to perform as a duo."
"Most of the tracks were recorded simply, in a room together with no click track or overdubs"
On the structure of the album itself Randy states that "many of the arrangements on the album involve handing the melody back and forth between the two of us. With both instruments (guitar and bouzouki) capable of doing double duty as melody and accompaniment, it makes this an artistic option. Part of the challenge initially during the recording process was making these transitions seamless in terms of balance and volume. Over time as we played the tunes together more, we found that it just became part of our playing style and that less was required in the mixing process."
The tune selections for the album are a combination of popular session tunes and tunes from other players whose music they admire. The set we referred to in our recent album review is called to the Portland Set is a set of tunes originally recorded by Kevin Burke and Mícheál O'Domhnaill on their album entitled "Portland": Rolling Waves, Market Town and Scatter the Mud. John initially put this together as a fingerstyle guitar arrangement and they jointly adapted it to bouzouki and guitar. “Though our arrangement is a slightly different setting, the tune order comes from Kevin's and Mícheál's recording and we have a hard time imagining these tunes apart from one another. We perform it as an homage to Mícheál who is no longer with us. We also love Michel Ferry's tune, "Farewell to Chernobyl" and have a lot of fun with it and "Tam Lin" together in a set. John likes to use his Led Zeppelin chords on that set."
Like ourselves Randy and John haven't found many examples of melody-based guitar-bouzouki recordings in Irish music. “We wanted to stay true to the genre” Randy says, “even though this particular combination of instruments carrying melody is less common. Both of us draw our musical inspiration from non-fretted instruments. John has played fiddle and Highland pipes, and has arranged a number of pipe tunes for the guitar. I tend to listen more to fiddle, flute, concertina and uilleann pipe music when learning tunes rather than to guitar or bouzouki, though I do sometimes borrow from tenor banjo playing. Though we use what are common techniques for fretted instrument ornamentation - hammer-ons, pull-offs, and right-hand triplets, our inspiration for how these techniques are applied come mostly from other instruments."
Both feel fortunate to live in a city with an active Irish music scene. “Columbus has a cadre of Irish musicians and a good session scene” Randy says. “We have some stalwart musicians here that work hard to keep the music going and folks engaged. We benefit as well from having the Dublin (Ohio) Irish Festival here, which brings in great traditional players from Ireland and across the US."
On Marketing and Distribution they are excited about the opportunities of distributing digitally in addition to CD sales, and of marketing via social media. “Some of our earlier projects were only or primarily CD-based with reliance on email lists and newsletters. We're very pleased so far by the amount of interest and support we've received through sites such as Facebook. TradConnect seems like such a great fit for the combination of social media for human connection and artist promotion with the added benefit of a trad-focused audience."
Tony Lawless - TradConnect.com, Ireland
Album Review - John Sherman & Randy Clepper / Finally Tuned - TradConnect.com, June 9, 2014 (link)
"We have not been overloaded with fingerstyle traditional guitar albums of late and so this outing by John Sherman and and Randy Clepper is a welcome addition. Its a very accomplished recording of some demanding tunes. It's includes some classic sets such as Rolling Waves/Market Town/Scatter The Mud from the Kevin Burke and Míchael Ó Domhnaill Portland album of the same name. In addition to that you have Christmas Eve, Moving Cloud, I Buried My Wife.., Golden Keyboard and many more. Unlike other albums where you may tire of the standards, here you get to appreciate how a duo on strings might approach them. John and Randy are two Ohio-based multi-instrumentalist musicians who have an established track record when it comes to melodies for guitar. Their instruments of choice on the album are guitar, tenor banjo and bouzouki and they are also joined by Pat Foley Jr. on bodhrán and Mark Alan Wade on marimbula.
It's predominantly traditional music throughout with a couple of modern tunes also included. You can’t fault the exquisite delivery with plenty in the way of texture and emotion. Refreshingly there is little in the way of overdubbing and this in part gives the album the energy needed to sustain it through 13 tracks. It,s a couple of musicians sitting down playing some technically challenging tunes that are firmly rooted in traditional music. The balance of melody and accompaniment work well throughout and the only gripe we would have is the missed opportunity to introduce a reed instrument into the mix on a couple of tracks to provide an alternative anchor on the melody side. Having said that its a fine and finely tuned album that is intricate in its arrangement and delivery and well worth checking out."
Tony Lawless - TradConnect.com, Ireland
Win 5 Traditional Irish Albums - TradConnect.com, September 20, 2014 (link)
"We have 5 albums to give away to some lucky member of Tradconnect. From Goitse's Tall Tales to Runa's Current Affairs. Also included is Sinéad Healy's Shuffle the Deck, John Sherman & Randy Clepper's Finally Tuned and Séan Ó Riada's Port na bPubaí. All you have to do to win the lot is answer the question below. Simply add your answer as a comment to this blog below and your name will go into the draw.
Question : What instruments do John Sherman & Randy Clepper play?"
Tony Lawless - TradConnect.com, Ireland
Dulcimer Players News, November 2002-January 2003 issue
"Randy Clepper is a multi-instrumentalist from the Columbus, OH area and his debut release, Within a Mile, is a wonderful recording of mostly Irish/Celtic tunes with a sprinkling of one Chinese folk tune, one Belgian tune, and one original. Randy plays hammered dulcimer, cittern, whistles, strum stick and guitar. Randy plays all the instruments except the djembe which he leaves to Steve Harris. His hammered dulcimer and whistle playing are melodically prominent but his cittern and guitar playing are equally appealing and really bring the tunes to life. His dulcimer playing is strong and confident and he has a nice way of letting the instrument "breathe" using variations in both tempo and volume to great effect. His arrangements sparkle with originality -- his solo version of Si Bheag Si Mhor is magnificent -- and he has a way of weaving the various tonalities, textures and rhythms of his instruments to belie the fact that he's playing them all himself. Tunes include the Chanter's Tune, The Butterfly, Within a Mile of Dublin/Wind that Shakes the Barley, Gander in the Pratie Hole, Cooley's Reel, Jasmine Flower and Erin's Smile."
Neal Walters - Dulcimer Players News
Regarding a demo recording of Begley’s Braes (Christine Fraser Ramsey and Randy Clepper), March, 2003
“Your CD demo is beautiful! Sometimes I listen to it twice in a row, it's so lively and varied. ‘Logan Water’ is refreshing like a clear stream, with melodies and counterpoint lapping one over the other in growing outward patterns. Surprising is the change in rhythm, dynamics and development of the themes halfway through, finishing in a flurry of well-articulated playing. The angelic voice of Christine brings tears to my eyes in ‘Caledonia.’ Nothing else needs to be said. There is a fun hoedown sound in "Julia Delaney's", but it's much more complex with its nuance of dynamics and layering of sounds. The guitar playing is fantastic! ‘Begley's Favourite’ contains very comforting triplets that wrap around the listener like a warm hug. The guitar has an interesting organic timbre in this piece, as if it were built from a hollowed tree trunk. With the celestial harp, it makes for a delightful piece. ‘Rose in the Heather’ may start out simple, but it quickly proceeds unexpectedly into a whirl of turns and grace notes. It achieves some pleasant, inventive countermelodies with reassuring pedal tones to keep us comfortable. I like the major/minor alternating. There is a sense of otherworldliness in this piece. ‘Erin's Smile’ is delicate. It is a meditation on the inner beauty that shines in our faces.”
Dan Gagliardo - pianist, Logan, Ohio