Mick Moloney, a native of County Limerick (Ireland) has been living in the United States since 1973. He holds a PhD in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania and currently teaches at New York University in the Irish Studies Program at Glucksman Ireland House.
Moloney has recorded and produced over fifty albums of traditional music and acted as advisor for scores of festivals and concerts all over the United States. Additionally, Moloney has hosted three nationally syndicated series on folk music for American Public Television; acted as a consultant and performer on the Irish Television special Bringing It All Back Home and was a participant, consultant and music arranger of the PBS documentary film, Out of Ireland.
In 1999 he was awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and in 2002 authored Far From the Shamrock Shore: The Story of Irish American History Through Song.
His Compass Records release highlighting the songs of old New York, McNally’s Row of Flats, won the best traditional music album of the year award from The Irish Echo in 2006 and in 2007 was featured on NPR’s Fresh Air.
There’s always a bit of a letdown when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. Instead of celebrating a culture filled with the Celts’ vibrant art and mythology, grand writers and even grander musicians, I get goofy leprechaun graphics, cheap, green beer specials and dreadful Irish brogues hawking everything from Celtic-inspired party favors to get lucky sweepstakes.
The general theme, whether it is a car dealership sale or your local St. Patrick’s Day parade, seems to dictate everything be painted bright green, decorated with dippy looking leprechauns and the occasional fake pot of gold. Now, I’m okay with taking on faeries, because little people with wings flying around are just wrong. Get a fly swatter or a can of Raid because I’m pretty sure faeries are carriers or rabies or Lyme disease. Unfortunately, much of the music doesn’t get much better with cheap knockoffs of pub bands or the not quite Enya singers. The good news is that I can do a little something about music with a few suggestions for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Tara Music has re-released Fuaim by Clannad. Hailing from County Donegal in North West Ireland, this is the real deal in Celtic music. This reissue allows listeners to revisit Clannad’s early years and wallow in the goodness of “Na Buachailli Alainn,” “La Brea Fan Dtuath,” “Strayed Away” and “The Green Fields Of Gaothdobhair.”
Speaking of re-releases, Real World Records has pulled some goodies off the shelves for reissue like Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball. Guess as the founder or Real World, Mr. Gabriel has got a fair amount of pull. While more of a world music fusion project than a strict Celtic recording, Big Blue Ball slips in some offerings like “Deep Forest,” “Rivers” and “Altus Silva” that are well worth snagging.
Pulling some other gems from the shelves Real World has reissued Anatomic, Seed, Volume 1: Sound System, Volume 2: Release, Volume 3: Further in Time, Capture 1995-2010 and Pod all from the Afro Celt Sound System catalog. Again, there’s a good deal of musical cross pollination with other genres, but don’t overlook tracks like “When I Still Needed You,” “Beautiful Rain,” “Mother,” “Drake,” “Seed,” “Nevermore,” “The Other Side,” “Colossus” and “Go on Through.” The Afro Celt Sound System sound remains timeless.
This Day Too: Music From Irish America by Terence, Michael and Jesse Winch has a friendly Irish bar feel. Out of the Washington, DC area, the Winch brothers get some help by way of fellow musicians and singers Patrick Armstrong, Tina Eck, Eileen Estes, Brian Gaffney, Conor Hearn, Seamus Kennedy, Nita Conley Korn, Zan McLeod, Brendan Mulvihill, Connor Murray, Dominick Murray and Madeline Waters. And just by the names, that’s a whole lot of Irish. This Day Too: Music from Irish America offers up tracks like “The Wonder Hornpipe/Austin Tierney’s/The Thunder Reel,” “Lally’s Alley/Cat’s Tail & Gravy,” “Earl’s Chair/The Green Groves of Erin/Sailor on the Rock” and “In Memory of Michael Coleman/Hughie’s Cap/Forget Me Not.”
Arc Music has put out Celtic Mystery with tracks by artists like Ron Korb, Altan, Noel McLoughlin and Golden Bough.
Real World Records has another reissue on tap this year with Martyn Bennett’s Grit. This was a stunning release and time hasn’t diminished it in any way. Fierce and explosive, Grit is razor-edged fusion that astonishes as much as it entertains. You should check out tracks like “Blackbird,” “Chanter,” “Why” and “Ale House.”
Looking for something on the sweetly folksy side, you might want to check out Midnite String Quartet’s Celtic Heartstrings out on the Roma Music Group label. There are some sweet string versions of “The Blood of Cu Chulainn,” “The Irish Rover” and “Carrickfergus.”
This year seems to be the year of the reissue and as luck would have it Robin Williamson’s Glint At The Kindling/Five Bardic Mysteries/Robin Williamson reissue is out this year. Tracks off the Glint at the Kindling featuring Mr. Williamson, as well as Sylvia Woods, Chris Caswell and Jerry McMillan or better known as the Merry Band and tracks from his 1985 spoken word release Five Bardic Mysteries sports such tracks as “The Road the Gypsies Go,” “The Woodcutter’s Song,” “Lough Foyle,” “The Dialogue of the Two Sages” and “Three Celtic Nature Poems.”
Golden Bough wraps up their sound in the goodness of Celtic harp, violin, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, guitars, tin whistle and bodhran. Their offering Celtic Festival jaunty nod to St. Patrick’s Day.
If that’s not to your liking you could always check out Noel McLoughlin’s Song for Ireland is out on re-release.
As if The Dubliners needed any additional introduction, Arc Music has the goods on this Irish standard and has put out a special 2-CD set of The Dubliners with Luke Kelly. This compilation features such tracks as “Song for Ireland,” “The Sun is Burning,” “Free the People,” “Donegal Danny,” “Now I’m Easy,” “Whack Fol de Diddle” and “Irish Rover.”
Newfolk Records has put out Beoga’s Before We Change Our Mind and Tallymoore’s Drive for your listening pleasure. Either by single track or full recording, these two bands shouldn’t be overlooked.
Celtic music favorite Kila’s Kila Alive out and is a kick in the pants and will have dancing on the tabletops faster than the green beer special with offering like “Mutatu,” “Electric Landlady,” “Babymouse” and “Raise the Road.” If that weren’t incentive enough Alan Doherty is a guest on the recording.
Released in 2016 Deliverance by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc is a stunning CD. Combining the fiddling traditions of Norway, Sweden and the Shetland Islands, Deliverance is simply spectacular with tracks like “Talons Trip to Thompson Island,” “Flinken” and “Da Scallowa Lasses/Lorna’s Reel” to snare your inner fiddler.
The clever Celtic band West of Mabou put out West of Mabou in December of 2016, but shouldn’t be overlooked. The group offer up jaunty numbers like “Rannie MacLellan,” “The Foxhunter,” “Slip Jigs” and a plummy “Temperance Reel/Devil’s Dream.”
For you hard rocking Celtic fans The Rumjacks’ latest release Sleepin’ Rough was release last year, but you might want to check your local music scene because the band is on tour in the US in March and April.
Finally, there is the double CD/DVD set Affinity by Atlas. Lovely and atmospheric, Affinity is a lushly masterful collection of music by guitarist Cillian Doheny and concertina player Cillian King with fellow musicians Maria Ryan, Lucia Mac Partlin, Sean Warren, Michael Shimmin and Nicky Scott.. Don’t miss this one.
Should you find yourself sitting in a bar somewhere wearing a cheesy shamrock hat, surrounded by paper leprechauns and drinking green beer while listening to a Celtic Goth band murder “Whiskey in the Jar,” just remember that the Celtic spirit takes many forms. And, if approached by faeries grab a shoe!
Ireland’s all-star quintet Lúnasa has become one of the most sought-after bands on the international Irish music scene. The band’s inventive arrangements and bass-driven grooves are steering Irish acoustic music into surprising new territory. Lúnasa made their worldwide Green Linnet debut in October 1999 with their release Otherworld.
From the start, Lúnasa met with instant acclaim. Their first, self-produced album became an immediate best seller in Ireland, topping Hot Press’ folk charts. International festivals across Europe, Japan and Australia included a main-stage performance in summer 1999 at London’s Guinness Fleadh. On their first American visit, word-of-mouth led to sold-out shows and rave reviews.
Named for an ancient Celtic harvest festival in honor of the Irish god Lugh, patron of the arts, Lúnasa is indeed a gathering of some of the top musical talents in Ireland. Its members have helped formed the backbone of some of the greatest Irish groups of the decade.
Bassist Trevor Hutchinson was a key member of The Waterboys, and later he and guitarist Donogh Hennessy would form the dynamic rhythm section of The Sharon Shannon Band. Fiddler Seán Smyth is an All-Ireland champion who has played with Dónal Lunny’s Coolfin; and Kevin Crawford, considered to be among the finest flutists in Ireland, also plays with the acclaimed traditional group Moving Cloud.
Add to this Otherworld’s guest performers (and original Lúnasa members) uilleann piper John McSherry (Coolfin) and flutist Michael McGoldrick (Capercaillie), and touring member piper Cillian Vallely (of the same talented musical family as brother Niall Vallely of Nomos) and you have the makings of a powerful new band.
Like the younger generation of Nashville musicians such as Béla Fleck or Edgar Meyer, pushing the boundaries of bluegrass into jazz and beyond, Lúnasa arehave been redefining Irish music by going right to the heart of its rhythms. With its distinctive use of the upright acoustic bass — brought front and center by Hutchinson’s remarkable playing — teamed with Hennessey’s percussive guitar, the group seeks out the essential heartbeat of a tune.
“There are lots of great melodies in Irish music but often people don’t hear the rhythms underneath,” says founding member Seán Smyth. “We try to relate the swing or energy out of the music, using new rhythms, letting each instrument add its own unique layer. We’ll play the same tune over and over searching for the groove, exploring it. We let the music find its pulse.”
The result is a sound that, though distinctly Irish in flavor, touches on jazz and other improvisational music forms. Inspired by Ireland’s great 1970s group The Bothy Band, Lúnasa use melodic interweaving of wind and string instruments, pairing flutes, fiddle, whistle and pipes in often breathtaking arrangements.
“I had a vision of the type of music I wanted to create,” says Seán. “In my books, the most influential band was the Bothy Band, who were flute, pipes and fiddle based.”
Seeds for Lúnasa were planted when Seán hooked up with Trevor and Donogh for a short tour of Scandinavia in late1996. The trio clicked so well that back in Ireland, they brought in John McSherry and Michael McGoldrick to record some concerts. A tour of Australia in January 1997 brought Kevin on board, and the band began to take off.
“The response when we started playing at home was just great,” adds Seán. Within several months, they were filling venues with spellbound audiences in Ireland, and began to expand their tours to other parts of the world. After a particularly memorable concert at Matt Molloy’s, a renowned music pub in the West of Ireland, owned by the former-Bothy Band and Chieftains flutist. Molloy himself gave the new band his blessing, remarking “they remind me of a band I used to play with!”
At the end of 1997, the band released their first CD Lúnasa, a mix of concert and studio tracks gathered from their prolific year together. It was immediately hailed as one of the finest, freshest recordings of Irish music in years, called “moving, pulsating, and thrilling to the very marrow” by Folk Roots and “a true must-have disc” by the Irish Voice.
Otherworld, the exciting second album from Lúnasa, is a stunning cycle of instrumentals that captures all the performance intensity for which they’re widely acclaimed. The album impressively fulfills the promise of its title, taking listeners to a realm of Irish music full of imaginative leaps and blazing skill.
original members were Seán Smyth on fiddle and whistle; Kevin Crawford on flute, whistle, and bodhrán; Trevor Hutchinson on bass; Donogh Hennessy on guitar; and Cillian Vallely on uilleann pipes and low whistle. Guitarist Ed Boyd replaced Donogh Hennessy in 2012.
Keyboardist Liam Bradley from Tobermore, Co. Derry is known throughout the world for his music for Irish dancing. He has produced recordings and provided accompaniment for major Irish Dancing events, including the All Ireland, American and Australian National Championships and the World Championships.
His music has been used for many shows and performances, from the Royal Albert Hall, Áras an Uachtaráin and the White House, to a ‘Barney the Dinasaur’ DVD. He also arranged the music for the RTE television series “Rising Steps”
As a member of Solas for several years, Karan Casey has been critically acclaimed from Japan to the United States as one of Ireland’s greatest singers.
In 1993 Karan emigrated to New York City and began a jazz degree in Brooklyn’s Long Island University. Making the rounds of the sessions in New York she was asked to join Atlantic Bridge. Later she joined Seamus Egan, Winifred Horan, John Doyle and John Williams to form the group Solas.
The band recorded three albums in just four years, and won NAIRD (former independent record industry association) indie awards for each. They played with Bela Fleck, Iris De Ment, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, The Chieftains, Donal Lunny, Sharon Shannon and Paul Winter while touring extensively in the United States, Europe and Japan.
Karan Casey’s solo career has flourished since her separation from the band Solas. Casey’s voice is among the most beautiful in Irish folk music, and she is a wonderful interpreter of both contemporary and traditional material. Her use of grace notes and vibrato has become remarkably subtle.
Her album Chasing the Sun successfully combines traditional but sharp-tongued songs – such as the epic unaccompanied ballad “Jimmy Whelan” – with contemporary material that reflects Casey’s rising status as one of Ireland’s most politically-charged singers.
Her own compositions reveal increasing confidence and incisive social awareness, not least “When Will We All Be Free”, which attacked Ireland’s policies on immigration.
Karan Casey won awards for ‘Best Folk Album’ and ‘Best Folk Female’ from Irish Music magazine and was nominated for the BBC Folk Awards and the Danish music awards. She has performed on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion on public radio in the United States, and appeared at many prestigious venues and festivals.
John Doyle is one of the most talented and innovative musicians to come out of Ireland in recent years. Now a resident of Asheville (North Carolina), John Doyle was born in 1971 in Dublin, Ireland, into an extended family of musicians and singers. He was playing professionally by the age of 16 when he and singer Susan McKeown joined to form The Chanting House, which later added the prodigious talents of Seamus Egan and Eileen Ivers to the group.
A few years later, John and Egan came together with John Williams, the wonderfully inventive accordion player from Chicago, talented fiddler Winifred Horan, and Waterford-born singer Karan Casey, to form the enormously influential band, Solas.
John’s powerful guitar playing provided the signature rhythmic backbone for the band, and his delicate and emotional finger-style playing and creative vocal harmonies can be heard on all Solas’ recordings for Shanachie Records. Solas performed to sold-out audiences around the world, appeared on NBC’s The Today Show, public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, E-Town and World Cafe, and received three NAIRD awards and a Grammy nomination.
John composed music for the film Uncle Robert’s Footsteps and the play Down the Flats, and appears on the soundtracks for The Brothers McMullen, Soldier and PBS’s Out of Ireland. He has performed at scores of major festivals worldwide, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Washington Irish Festival, Milwaukee Irish Festival and major festivals in Denmark, Belgium, Brittany, England, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Finland and Ireland.
John is also a highly sought-after sideman and has recorded and/or toured with Liz Carroll, Eileen Ivers, Tim O’Brien and The Crossing, Frank McCourt, Linda Thompson, Kate Rusby, Mick Moloney, John Williams, Seamus Egan, Cathal McConnell, Kim Robertson, Brian Conway, Joannie Madden, James Keane, Joe McKenna, Karan Casey, Cathie Ryan and James Leva.
John’s much anticipated first solo recording, Evening Comes Early, was released on Shanachie Records in 2001, and his second solo CD Wayward Son was released in 2004 on Compass Records.
Widely hailed as the 1990s’ successors to Irish traditional legends Planxty and the Bothy Band, Dervish unite passion with virtuosity. The members of Dervish met as most Irish musicians do: as strangers in a bar. “I’m a farmer’s daughter,” says singer Cathy Jordan, “and someone else in the band is an architect’s son. Outside of music, we may have never met, but this is how Irish people have forged unlikely friendships for years, playing music together.”
“In Irish music, there are three elements: goltra, so sad it brings tears; geantra, so lively it makes you want to dance; suantra, so soothing you want to sleep. At a Dervish concert, you experience all three and it leaves you exhilarated!” explains Jordan.
Dervish in their original form were five musicians from the Northwest of Ireland who came together in 1989 to record an album of music, primarily, by local players. The album was released under the title `The Boys of Sligo’ after a reel from the recording. The five musicians involved -Liam Kelly, Shane Mitchell, Martin McGinley, Brian McDonagh and Michael Holmes- were inspired by the project and decided to develop the informal gathering into a working band.
Mandola-player Brian McDonagh saw a documentary about Whirling Dervishes and found the parallels between the devotional art form and Irish musicians similar. “Dervishes are usually a group of poor but spiritual people enraptured by music,”clarifies Jordan. “They spin around and become entranced by the music. As the spinning progresses, the dervishes reach a higher level of being. Similarly, in a traditional Irish session, people may meet for the first time through the common bond of music. As the night progresses, a euphoria builds and lifelong friendships ensue.” The name Dervish was meant to be an album, but it stuck as the band’s name.
The Sligo County band’s sound is characterized by Jordan’s distinctive voice combining with the compelling contrasts of the low-range bouzouki and high-range mandola and their powerful rhythmical backing of accordion and guitar. Fiddles, whistles, flute, bodhran, and harmonica round the band out for its full effect.
Over the following two years Dervish refined their craft as a formative band. The addition of Roscommon-born singer Cathy Jordan in 1991 and subsequent replacement of fiddle player Martin McGinley by Tyrone man and All Ireland Champion, Shane McAleer, gave the band a new dimension. Having found the right balance of creativity and dedication, Dervish released their legitimate first album Harmony Hill in 1992.
The effect of the recording was immediate. Its artistry, musicianship and maturity won outstanding praise from the media placing Dervish to the forefront of the bands working on traditional Irish music. Substantial TV and radio exposure for the band and the album began to open all kind of doors.
Dervish soon became one of the most sought after acts for live performances and have continued to remain over the years. The demand led to the band touring continuously in many European countries throughout 1993 and performing at all the major folk festivals.
The enormous work load and the constant touring made it difficult for the band to work in the studio, but in 1994 their keenly awaited second album Playing with Fire was released. The high expectations for the recording were not only met, but surpassed. Reviewers and critics alike lauded praise for Playing with Fire, confirming Dervish status as the pre-eminent Irish traditional band. The album reached number 1 in the Irish Folk Music Charts and stayed on top for several months.
With their reputation firmly established, Dervish set their sights on the American market, signing a deal with the New York-based company Kells Music. The release of their two albums in the USA saw the demand for the band take off in dramatic terms. Performances at enormous festivals like Wolf Trap and San Francisco led to worldwide tours. Recognition for the band’s achievements followed with nominations and awards in a variety of Traditional/Folk polls including two in the IRMAs.
In August 1996 Dervish released their third album At the End of the Day, which won the Hot Press Trad/Folk Album of the Year award against mainstream legends like Christy Moore and Donald Lunny. In the same year the band performed a series of concerts in Hong Kong and Malaysia which opened the door to the Far Eastern market.
Dervish’s concert performances are a wide-range of tones and moods, from high energy tunes, played with fluidity and intuitiveness, to beautifully measured songs, from charming lyrics of life and love, to inspiring melodies. All the elements are drawn together by Cathy Jordan’s masterful stage-presence. Her stories to the songs, the interaction with the audience, draws people into the music in a way very few performers can achieve. All this can be found in their fourth album Live in Palma.
As the name implies, Live in Palma is a live recording of a scintillating performance in front of a captivated audience at Palma de Mallorca’s Teatro Principal in April 1997. This double album has been hailed by critics as one of the finest live traditional Irish recordings of our time. It furnishes the listener with an opportunity to savor the atmosphere (music, melodies and witty banter) which only a live recording can provide and Dervish have done it both masterfully and effortlessly: the decision to record just made a few hours before going on stage and a performance such that a minimal amount of studio time was required to put the finishing touches to a virtually flawless concert. This brilliant album has, for sure, something to do with the decision of the readers of Irish Music magazine to award Dervish with the Best Overall Trad/Folk Band of the Year 1997.
1998 was another grueling year for the group. It started with a six weeks coast to coast sell out tour of the USA and a first ever Irish tour that enjoyed considerable success. That year also saw slight reshuffle of the group with Shane McAleer taking a career break. Luckily, formidable replacement was found in Sligo’s own Séamus O’Dowd -a musician of high standing with a distinct Sligo style fiddle playing and incomparable guitar playing- further adding to the talents of the group. Just before the end of the year, the addition of fiddle player Tom Morrow -a native of Co. Leitrim and another All Ireland Champion- completed the line up of the band.
Their fifth album Midsummer’s Night was released in the early summer of 1999. Dervish searches high and low for new material, old melodies, and lesser-known lyrics. “It comes to us in different ways/em>,” explains Jordan. “Sometimes at a session an old man sings a tune we’ve never heard. We have a great rapport with the Irish Traditional Music Archive in Dublin, where there are vast collections of the old manuscripts and the earliest recordings of Irish music. Sometimes we find things on TV, on the radio, or on records.” The search for material is simultaneously part of preserving history and making traditional music relevant to today.
When Jordan was asked to sing at Bob Dylan’s fiftieth birthday party in Dublin, musicians paid tribute by performing his songs. As a result, her choice, ‘Boots of Spanish Leather’ was added to Dervish’s repertoire and has become one of their most requested songs. In exploring other contemporary songs with folk sounds, the band discovered Cher’s ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’ and Dire Strait’s ‘Brothers in Arms’ which sound perfectly at home in a traditional Irish treatment, and alongside Dervish’s modern arrangements of traditional tunes.
“It’s a funny thing, but Irish music is one of the oldest forms of music, yet it is influenced an awful lot by other things,” explains Jordan. “It evolves and evolves. Our sound is very recognizable because of the bouzouki and mandola. And though we have a modern style within the Irish context, you might not say it’s really modern because it blends in so well. But in actual fact there are a lot of modern influences in there.”
Eamon Murray from Randalstown, Co. Antrim is one of the most important young bodhrán players in Irish music. Described by Johnny McDonagh (De Dannan/Arcady) as “the future of bodhrán playing”, Eamon has held the All-Ireland Bodhrán title on four occasions.
Eamon has performed alongside many distinguished artists including Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin and Liam O’Maonlai and was highly commended in the 2004 Northern Ireland Young Musician of the Year competition.
Damien Stenson grew up in County Sligo (Ireland), an area with a rich folk music tradition. He is known for his extensive repertoire and flowing style of flute playing, developed by many years of constant musical activity.
He is featured on various albums including the compilation “Wooden Flute Obsession Vol. 2”, Oisín Mac Diarmada’s solo album “Ar an bhFidil”, together with a bodhrán album by Junior Davey. He is the flute player of renowned Irish traditional group Teada.
The Bothy Band evoked universal praise from audiences and critics alike. Siblings Micheal O Domhnaill and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill, percussionist Donal Lunny, master piper Paddy Keenan, flute virtuoso Matt Molloy, and brilliant fiddler Kevin Burke stood at the very summit of Celtic music.
Eventually, the band members went their separate ways in 1979, joining celebrated groups like The Chieftains, Relativity, Nightnoise, Touchstone and Patrick Street.