Aidan O’Rourke is a fiddle player and composer from Oban on the West Coast of Scotland. He has toured extensively in Europe and North America from the age of 15 and has made his name as one of Scotland’s most expressive and dynamic musicians.
At 19, Aidan formed Tabache with Claire Mann and went on to record the internationally acclaimed album Waves of Rush. Aidan now performs with the hugely successful Blazin’ Fiddles (Live Act of the Year 2004) and is a much sought after session musician, having performed on over dozens of albums ranging from Runrig to Michael McGoldrick and Karen Matheson.
Commissions have included a piece titled Mantra Alba which welcomed the Dalai Lama to Scotland.
Sirius is his first solo album which evolved from a commission by Celtic Connections in 2003.
Are You Willing?, with Tabache (1996)
Waves of Rush, with Tabache (1999)
Live in Scotland, with The Unusual Suspects (2005) Sirius (2006)
Lightweights and Gentlemen, with Lau (2007) Live, with Lau (2008) Arc Light, with Lau (2009) An Tobar (Navigator Records, 2011)
Big Like This, with The Unusual Suspects (2011) Race the Loser, with Lau (2012)
Hotline (2013) The Bell That Never Rang, with Lau (2015) Sleeper, with Kan (2015)
American musician Abby Newton first brought her cello into the folk music scene in the mid 1970’s as a member of The Putnam County String Band, with Jay Ungar, John Cohen of the New Lost City Ramblers and Lyn Hardy. Her partnership with Scottish singer Jean Redpath introduced her to the music of the British Isles, and they toured the US and Scotland, and made 16 albums together.
Abby’s first solo recording of new and traditional Scottish and Irish music, Crossing to Scotland, brought the cello front and center and included a stellar group of supporting musicians. Her second recording, Castles, Kirks, and Caves, featured 18th Century Scottish traditional and Baroque music, recorded on location in the ancient spaces in Scotland where the music has its roots.
A new trio, Ferintosh, evolved out of those recording sessions, and features Abby, fiddler David Greenberg, and Celtic harper Kim Robertson. Their first CD, Ferintosh, presented a unique sound, described by some as chamber-folk. Abby was the featured artist in an hour-long interview by Fiona Richie on National Public Radio’s The Thistle and Shamrock, and she has also made several appearances on A Prairie Home Companion.
In addition to many workshops conducted in Scotland promoting the use of the cello as both a melodic and rhythmic instrument in traditional music, Abby has also taught at Gaelic Roots, Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, National Strings Workshop and Valley of the Moon Scottish Fiddle School. Abby has been featured on over a hundred recordings by a variety of folk artists including Jean Redpath, Priscilla Herdman, Bonnie Rideout, Al Petteway, David Greenberg and Puirt a Baroque, and the Jay Ungar/Molly Mason duo.
[Biographical information courtesy of the Swannanoa Gathering].
St. Patrick, the revered 5th century saint, patron saint of Ireland and often thought to be the first bishop of Armagh, wasn’t Irish. According to his accounts in the Confessio, he was actually a 16 year-old kidnapping British Isle victim. Pirates supposedly snatched the boy up and sold him as a slave to Ireland. No worries, it ends well as he was returned to his family after six years. But here the story gets interesting. Relying on a vision after becoming a cleric to the Catholic Church, St. Patrick returns to Ireland as a missionary to minister to the spiritual conversion of the people in a land where he was once a slave.
Okay, there’s no mention of this being part of a revenge tour to straighten out those pagans once and for all which is a little sad. Crediting himself with thousands of baptisms, St. Patrick would become one of Ireland’s most venerated holy men and all without an official canonization by a pope. He is also fabled to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland, too bad that Ireland never had snakes to begin with and is most likely to be a metaphor for driving all the pagans out of Ireland.
Now that all of us can rest easy about the snake situation and Ireland and it’s highly doubtful we could get a return visit from the good saint to battle the serpents lounging about in many of our legislative bodies, we’ll just have to drink deep of the day with some fine music. Here are a few new goodies to get your jig on to or to soothe your Celtic soul while you immerse yourself in some green tinted beer.
Under the Arch Records has released The Alt by John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy and Eamon O’Leary. This sweet Celtic folk CD doles out dulcet tunes like “Lovely Nancy,” “One Morning in May,” “The Geese in the Bog/Covering Ground” and “Cha Tig Mor Mo Bhean Dhachaigh.” Wrapped in a backdrop of guitar, bouzouki, mandola, flute and whistle, listeners will find this a pleasing collection of tunes as this trio of musicians and vocalists evokes the Celtic spirit with mellow ease.
Canada’s 2014 Celtic Colours International Festival has out the 16-track compilation Celtic Colours Live Volume Two that is sure to be a fan pleaser. Listeners get a dose of Vasen’s “Fanny,” We Banjo 3’s version of “Shove the Pig’s Foot a Little Further in the Fire/Fine Times at Our House,” Maeve Gilchrist and Nic Gareiss’s “The Sandhunter,” Sharon Shannon and Alan Connor’s “Blackbird: Padraig O’Keefe’s/The Happy One-Step” and Sharon Shannon and Natalie MacMaster’s “Jean’s Reel.”
If that weren’t enough there’s also Mary Jan Lamond and Wendy MacIssac’s “Hoireann o Rathill iu o,” David Francey’s “Torn Screen Door” and Beolach’s extended combo of “Prayerful Hymn/Traditional Strathspey/Golden Anniversary Strathspey/The Way to Mull River Reel/John Morrison of Assynt House/The Pibroch of Domhnall Dubh Reel.” Delicious and expertly worked Celtic Colours is a delightful blend of traditional and new tunes to celebrate Celtic music.
For a change of pace Celtic Cross has put out Saoirse’s Heart. Opening with a rock back and a rap section on title track “Saoirse’s Heart,” this kick ass group moves into more familiar territory on “Monster” before lapsing into the country inspired “Jameson Johnny.”
Saoirse’s Heart is a mixed bag with poppy additions of “Land’s In My Blood,” the rock edged “Water’s Edge” and the folksy bluesy “Best Days.” Keeping to the Celtic flavor, Celtic Cross is fresh and bold.
Fiona Joy Hawkins’s 600 Years in a Moment on the Little Hartley Music label is a quietly lush recording captured by rich piano work, sumptuous vocals and sensuous violins, as well as a whole host of instruments from around the world like a Hopi drum, a Hungarian tarogato and an African udu cleverly incorporated to create a global Celtic sound that is familiarly exotic.
Keeping to an overall restful mood, 600 Years in a Moment moves through elegant tracks like “600 Years,” “The Journey,” “Gliding” and “Captured Freedom.” Soothing and charming, 600 Years in a Moment is more for quiet Celtic contemplation rather than drunken bar rowdiness.
Appel Rekords has on tap Turas by the group Shantalla. Rich in the Scottish, Celtic and folk traditions, Turas is all the quick, bright and best of the Celtic tradition. Meaning journey in Irish, Turas offers up acoustic bright work with “The Braemar Poacher,” “Johnny Doherty’s,” “Marching in Jig Time” and “Fair & Tender Maidens.”
Shantalla is comprised of the talents of guitarist and bouzouki player Simon Donnelly, fiddler and viola player Kieran Fahy, singer and bodhran player Helen Flaherty, guitarist Joe Hennon, Uillean piper and flutist Michael Horgan and accordionist and whistle player Gerry Murray. Stunning and electrifying, this is one of those CDs you don’t want to miss.
Our friends at Putumayo have a sweet little compilation out this year with Putumayo Presents Celtic Café. Rounding up a bevy of Irish and Scottish singer/songwriters, Celtic Café includes Dougie MacLean’s “Are Ye Sleepin’ Maggie?,” Capercaillie’s “Him Bo,” Manran’s “An Eala Bhan,” Calum Stewart’s “Looking at a Rainbow Through a Dirty Window” and Battlefield Band’s “Tramps & Hawkers.”
With the recordings The World in My Mind and The White Rose already under his belt, George Donaldson has his CD Road on tap for this year. Intimate and smoothly wrought, Road offers up tracks like “Ordinary Man,” “Bright Blue Rose,” “The Leaving of Liverpool,” “How Long Will I Love You” and “The Town I Loved So Well.”
The Road showcases Mr. Donaldson’s charmed vocal along the lines of the singer-songwriter vein of Celtic musical tradition.
One of the standouts this year that all the fans surely will be clamoring for is Altan’s Widening Gyre out on the Compass Records label. Surely, Altan, with 35 years in the business and recordings like Gleann Nimhe/The Poison Glen, Harvest Storm, Blackwater and Local Ground, is the gold standard in Irish music. The hearty musical fare of Widening Gyre offers up such goodies that it’s difficult to not go all gooey and swoon.
Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, Widening Gyre gets a clever Americana and bluegrass boost with Compass producer and co-founder Garry West and some friends like Darol Anger, Alison Brown, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Tim O’Brien.
While there’s not a stinker in the lot, fans should check out “Maggie’s Pancakes/Piobaire an Cheide/The Fril Deal,” “No Ash Will Burn,” “White Birds” with Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Tin Key/Sam Kelly’s Jig/The Gravediggers” and “The House Carpenter (Gypsy Davy).” “Cúirt Robin Finley” and “Samhradh (Slow Reel)/Aniar Aduaidh (Jig)/The Donegal Jig” make this a must have recording.
Let’s say you have Celtic Thunder, Act Two, Voyage, Voyage II, It’s Entertainment!, Heritage, Mythology and/or Holiday Symphony and you are just dying for more. Well, luck would have it the Legacy label has just put out the Very Best of Celtic Thunder.
With twenty tracks on this very-best-of CD, Celtic Thunder get “Heartland,” “Danny Boy,” “Hallelujah,” “My Land,” “She Moved Through the Fair” and “Seven Drunken Nights.”
The Irish folk band Kila has just released their 10th studio recording Suas Sios. With previous recording as Handel’s Fantasy, Gamblers’ Ballet, Luna Park and Tog E Go Bog E, Kila has stepped out with fancy free Suas Sios.
Wildly original and infectiously quirky, Suas Sios kicks Celtic music in the pants with the raucous title track “Suas Sios,” only to make us year for more with offerings as “Mac Lir,” “Jigs,” “Rachel Corrie,” “Am” and “Fainne Or an Lae,” not to mention the kickass cover art by Dutch artist Marije Braakman. Definitely a treat!
Currently on a U.K. tour to promote her latest, Sarah McQuaid has hit the streets with Walking Into White. Soulful and intimate, Walking Into White is singer/songwriter Ms. McQuaid’s follow up to her When Two Lovers Meet and the Plum Tree and the Rose.
Shot through elegant guitar lines, Walking Into White blossoms with offerings such as opening “Low Winter Sun,” before giving way to lovely tracks like “Where the Wind Decides to Blow,” title track “Walking Into White,” “Jackdaws Rising” and “Leave It for Another Day.” Ms. McQuaid closes out Walking Into White with a graceful rendition of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”
Valley Entertainment has released Liz Madden’s Legacy. Enchanting listeners with her crystalline vocals, this Irish-American singer/songwriter thrills with inspired interspersed Gaelic chants against the English vocals.
Backed by acoustic guitar, Ms. Madden makes the most of this recording by keeping the sound folksy and simple. But it’s far from simplistic with the musician, arranger and producer Fionan de Barra of Clannad, Moya Brennan and Riverdance fame, not to mention some guest performances by Joanie Madden of Cherish the Ladies and Eamonn de Barra. Legacy lays bare the goods with “Will You Go Lassie Go,” “The Night Visiting Song,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Wayfaring Stranger” and the expressively stunning “Grainne’s Lament for Diarmuid.”
The group Tempest packs a punch on The Tracks We Leave on the Magna Carta Records label. Incorporating Celtic, Scandinavian and other folk traditions, Tempest offers up some rousing numbers on The Tracks We Leave that are as rich and rewarding as they are addictively fun.
Plying listeners with quirky twists and turns, Tempest wows from the opening “Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin,” title track “The Tracks We Leave,” before dipping into upbeat romps like “Vagabonds” and “September Jig.” Other notable goodies include “Fog on the Bay,” “The Brown Coffin” and “The Leitrim Set.”
If you’re looking for some hard-edged, kick dirt in the face Celtic music for St. Patrick’s Day, you might want to check out the San Francisco-based, Irish rock band The Shams and their latest EP One and All. This rock-centered, rebel-souled group kicks out with offerings like “Sunset Paddy’s,” “Go On Home Boys,” “Not Bothered” and “Drinks Are On Me.” With a razor edged punk feel it’s only fitting that end the EP with the blistering “Sick To Death.”
ARC Music has a lush two-CD set titled Discover Music from Ireland. This compilation has tracks by Florie Brown, The House Devils, Sean Talamh, Noel Mcloughlin, Golden Bough and Kieran Fahy. Some of the goodies include “Humours of Ennistymon/Monaghan Jig,” “The Collaraine Jig / Sharks’ Favourite / Far from Home / Maids of Mt. Cisco,” “Song for Ireland,” “The Hills of Connemara” and a stunning rendition of “Molly Brannagan / Jennie’s Chickens / Drowsey Maggy” by Pied Pipers. And if that weren’t enough there’s also Cunla’s “The Lament for Ten (People),” “Lament for Eoin rua/ Caislean An Oir” and Maidhc Dainin O Se’s “An Buachaillin Ban/Eibhlin Og/The Dainty Dish Before the King.” Certainly, a mouthful after a couple of pints.
Let me end this with a sweet little Irish blessing for your St. Patrick’s Day.
May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!
With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner it’s once again the season to wrap yourself in the warm green glow of some fine Celtic music. Whether you are refreshing your Celtic collection with the latest releases, golden oldies or those quiet gems that might have passed you by, World Music Central has some fine picks for your listening pleasure.
First up are two wonderful CDs that fans might have missed but should be on everyone’s St. Patrick’s Day playlist. Sweet Liberty, release in 2004, and Blackthorn: Irish Love Songs, released in 2006 by Susan McKeown are two gloriously sparkling CDs full of that heartbreaking Celtic loveliness that is Ms. McKeown’s trademark.
Luna Park by the group Kíla, released in 2003 on World Village, is another one of those CDs that might have gotten lost in the shuffle, but is delightfully rich Celtic fusion. Drawing on Celtic, folk and world influences, fans will enjoy the genre interplay on such tracks as “Glanfaidh Mé,” “Wandering Fish” and “Maith Dhrom.”
Real World has just released the soundtrack I Could Read the Skywith Iarla O’Lionaird. Best known as the lead vocalist for Afro Celt Sound System and previous solo recordings Invisible Fields and The Seven Steps to Mercy, I Could Read the Sky is the evocative soundtrack to director Nichola Bruce’s movie I Could Read the Sky, based on the photographic novel by writer Timothy O’Grady and photographer Steve Pyke.
No Irish collection would be complete without the classics and if you are talking classics you are talking The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. The live recording Reunion with such great tracks like “Isn’t It Grand Boys,” “Whistling Gypsy Rover” and “Red Haired Mary” will have fans kicking up their heels in sheer delight. The Rising of the Moon: Irish Songs of Rebellion and Come Fill Your Glass with Us are two more classic recordings by Tommy Makem and The Clancy Brothers that no collector should be without.
New Irish music albums were released in recent weeks in time for Saint Patrick’s. Celtic music fans will enjoy: The Incidentby Irish band Beoga that describe itself as a "trad band on anabolic steroids"; Double Play by fiddler Liz Carroll and guitarist John Doyle; the self titled album The Green Fields of America, a band led by the legendary Mick Maloney; and the relatively recent Woman of the House by Irish American band Cherish the Ladies.
We hope we’ve filled your cup with some fine Irish picks and wish you a rowdy good time on St. Patrick’s Day.
Most folks know by now that “Celtic” and “Irish” are not synonymous. Still, it doesn’t hurt to get an occasional reminder that ancient Celt tribes settled all over Europe, establishing a culture that paved the way toward the Celtic music that has become so well known. This Rough Guide includes sounds from Canada, Spain, France, Scotland, the USA, Wales and, oh yes, Ireland. Quite a sharp selection it is, rife with artists who embrace tradition as well as those who nudge it just a bit and those who really take it and run with it.
Ireland’s Kila and Scotland’s Capercaillie, for example, have long specialized in spurring Celtic foundations along with added global textures and grooves, and both have solidly representative tracks here.
Likewise, Shooglenifty (also from Scotland), Galicia’s Mercedes Peón and sprightly Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster show how effectively varying degrees of modern electronic textures can judiciously be thrown in.
More along purist lines are pieces by Llan de Cubel, Bohola, Niamh Parsons (with an a capella song guaranteed to make the world around you stand still) and relative newcomers Flook, but everything here is really quite good.
With some strains of Celtic music having reached and seemingly passed something of a trend-fueled saturation point on the global scene, it’s still refreshing to revisit how uniquely satisfying the wider-ranging sound of it can be. Whether this disc comes across like a new revelation or an old friend, it’s consistently pleasing.
Two tunes on Cape Breton fiddler Natalie MacMaster’s latest recording, Blueprint succinctly describe the power behind the 30-year old musician’s feisty gift. They are “Touch of the Master’s Hand,” based on a poem by Myra Brooks Welch; and the love song, “My Love, Cape Breton and Me,” which ends the recording. The first tune cites, “From the room far back a fair-haired girl came forward and took the bow. Then she wiped dust from the old violin and tightened up the strings. She played a tune so pure and sweet you could hear the angels sing.” I would bet that Natalie could also transform a tired old instrument into the stuff of angels.
Natalie’s cousin Bob Quinn wrote the second tune for MacMaster’s marriage to fiddler Donnell Leahy that took place on October 5, 2002. Quinn’s 18-year old daughter handled vocal duties at the wedding and on the recording. The song which was recorded in Halifax and produced by Natalie and her husband, speaks of the simple things in life and also about returning to one’s roots.
Natalie’s roots go deep into the heart of Canada’s Cape Breton. She was born into a fiddling community and is related to fiddling royalty, yet she relocated to Ontario after her wedding, giving the song a lasting poignancy.
The remaining 12 tracks were recorded in Nashville, Tennessee with “new acoustic” producer Darol Anger at the helm and embellished by an array of stellar bluegrass talent. MacMaster teams up with Bela Fleck (banjo), Jerry Douglas (dobra), Victor Wooten (bass), Alison Brown (banjo), John Cowen (vocals), Sam Bush (mandolin), Bryan Sutton (guitar), Edgar Meyer (Arco & Pizz bass) and her regular band mates to create a masterful marriage between traditional Cape Breton repertoire and new grass. They even toss in a few bluesy chops and jazzy bits here and there. However, besides this rich line up of musicians, what strikes me the most is being able to hear joy welling up in Natalie’s heart when she performs.
Her musicianship boasts both technical brilliance and absolute soul fullness that shouts integrity. If only there were more Natalie MacMaster’s in the world, I believe we would live in peace.
The tracks on Blueprint range from the pastoral “Eternal Friendship” to the tricky “Devil and The Dirk” with its alternating fiddle textures (staccato and sweet lyrical) and everything in between. Natalie’s fiddle kicks into gear on Gravel Shore then the musicians take turns at solos while building off of each others’ creative impulses. I am surprised to find Swedish guitarist Roger Tallroth’s (Vasen) “Josefin’s Waltz” on this recording, yet a few similarities between Swedish traditional music and fiddle music of the Americas do exist. Bela Fleck chips in Bela’s Tune and Natalie pays homage to her parents with the romp, Minnie & Alex’s Reel.
The musicianship is extraordinary on this spirited disc. Natalie plays straight from the heart and expertly turns musical phrases. She has toured the world and shared stages with such luminaries as Carlos Santana, Luciano Pavarotti, Alison Krauss and The Chieftains. And now she stars in her own show, accompanied by some of the hottest bluegrass musicians. Certainly her latest recording is a blueprint for success, but it also a CD filled with longing for one’s home. Whether or not you make your home in Cape Breton or elsewhere, finding your way home will be less complicated after listening to this heart-felt recording.
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