John Williams was born in Chicago in 1967. He is a third generation concertina and button accordion player from both sides of the family. His father Brendan and his grandfather Johnny Williams were noted musicians in their native Doolin County Clare where concertina is most often the instrument of choice. There was no shortage of traditional music around the house as he was growing up. He began playing in sessions around Chicago encouraged by such musical residents as the late Johnny McGreevy flutists Seamus Cooley and Kevin Henry and uilleann piper Joe Shannon.
John developed a maturity in his playing rarely heard in one so young. The adjudicators sensed it in 1989 when they awarded him the Senior All-Ireland championship for concertina making him the first American ever to win that honor. His subsequent summers in Doolin served to widen his repertoire and associate him with some of Ireland?s most respected musicians.
As a founding member of the groundbreaking band Solas Williams received wider recognition playing to sold out audiences internationally and earning two NAIRD (later called AFIM) awards and Grammy nominations for the ensemble’s 1996 and 1997 releases Solas and Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers.
The Irish national broadcasting network RTE has featured Williams as the subject of the radio program The Long Note the television series The Pure Drop and the Christmas special Geantrai.
His album Steam features Dean Magraw and Randal Bays former Solas bandmates Seamus Egan and John Doyle fiddler Liz Carroll as well as Chicago jazz greats Larry Gray on bass and Paul Wertico on percussion.
Outside traditional music John has collaborated on productions with Gregory Peck Doc Severinson Studs Terkel Mavis Staples jazz pianist Bob Sutter bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien director Sam Mendes the London Symphony Orchestra and the Irish Chamber Ensemble. Audiences nationwide recognize Williams from numerous appearances on Mountain Stage A Prairie Home Companion and The Grand Ol’ Opry as well as guest performances with The Chieftains Nickel Creek and Riverdance.
On film he appears as a bandleader music consultant and composer in Dreamworks’ classic Chicago thriller Road to Perdition. Centrally featured in the Academy Award-Nominated score by Thomas Newman Williams’ autumnal Perdition Piano Duet was released on the 22 Universal soundtrack album as performed in the film by stars Paul Newman and Tom Hanks.
In August 2003 Chicago Magazine selected Williams in their annual Best of Chicago issue as one of the city’s finest instrumentalists. He recorded a collaborative album Raven with composer and guitarist Dean Magra.
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.
Irish traditional band Altan has had a tremendous effect on audiences and music lovers throughout the world. With their beautifully crafted award-winning recordings, ranging dynamically from the most tender old Irish songs all the way to vibrant reels and jigs, Altan have taken Irish music to some of the best concert halls and festivals throughout the world.
During all this time, there has been the resolute commitment of the band to delivering the beauty of traditional music, particularly that of the Donegal fiddlers and singers, to a wide-range of audiences.
Altan have always believed that Irish traditional music is modern-day music. “Ireland isn’t known for its opera or classical music. What we are known for is our traditional music, our language, our culture. That’s what we can give the world,” says acclaimed fiddler and lead vocalist Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.
The roots of the band begin with the music and fun of gatherings and sessions in kitchens and pubs in Donegal where masterful music was heard in an environment of appreciation and intimacy; this is the foundation of the band.
The real essence of the band was the music and personality of band founders, Belfast flute-player, Frankie Kennedy, and Gweedore singer and fiddler, Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.
As soon as anyone met them and heard their unique music in the early 1980s, whether in a large noisy festival session, or in the small traditional clubs of Dublin and Belfast, it was immediately clear there was synergy at work.
Mairead and Frankie played a mix of old Donegal fiddle music and rare Northern flute tunes. Steadily, the duo grew organically into a band in the mid-1980s. They chose the name Altan, which is a deep and mysterious lake behind Errigal Mountain in Donegal.
Altan was committed to musical excellence and good-natured fun. The band members were some of the best players in the contemporary folk music scene. Altan has always been a band featuring virtuoso musicians. One of the first was bouzouki-player, Ciaran Curran from Co. Fermanagh, a well-respected session and festival musician, nephew of fiddler, Ned Curran. Like all accompanists of the time, Ciaran had created his own style on the bouzouki, and his playing is an essential part of the Altan sound.
With the inclusion of guitarist Mark Kelly in the mid-1980s Altan truly became a band. Mark had played other musical styles, and from the very beginning he showed a talent for stylishly incorporating fresh rhythms and chordings to the band’s arrangements. Mark and Ciaran appeared on the 1987 album “Altan”, which, even though not officially a band album, unveiled the Altan’s studio sound.
The increasing amount of live performances in 1984 and 1985 led Frankie and Mairead to quit their teaching jobs and go professional. Especially influential were short trips to the United States in those years when Altan played concerts in New York, Minnesota, Madison, Portland and Seattle with Derry guitarist, Daithi Sproule, a Minnesota resident, and like Ciaran and Mark, an old friend.
Daithi was one of the first musicians to adapt the guitar to old Gaelic songs (many of which he learned in the Gaeltacht of Rannafast, just a few miles from Mairead’s home in Gweedore). These US concerts, played in clubs and sometimes in noisy Irish pubs, where people were expecting a very different sort of music, convinced Frankie and Mairead that no-compromise traditional music played with passion and vitality could win over any audience anywhere.
In subsequent years, Altan recorded albums for American independent record label Green Linnet, all of which won praises and awards and appeared in the Billboard charts. Alytan’s collaborators on these albums were first-rate: Donal Lunny, Brian Masterson and Steve Cooney in particular made oustanding contributions over the years.
Another friend played with Altan for several years, fiddle maestro Paul O’Shaughnessey, a stunning player with a deep knowledge of Donegal music. The two-fiddle sound became popular, so as Altan toured more and more widely, Paul had to leave due to pressure of work. His place was taken by another great young Donegal fiddler, Ciaran Tourish, a musician with a special love for the weaving of spontaneous harmony and counterpoint around the melodies of the other lead players.
A final element was added to Altan’s sound in the early 1990s. It was another old friend, accordion-player Dermot Byrne, another Donegal musician, who grew up listening to an older generation of Donegal fiddlers, the Doherty’s, the Byrne’s and the Cassidy’s.
Sadly, in the early 1990s Altan suffered a devastating blow, when band leader and manager, Frankie Kennedy, at the height of his career as a brilliant and innovative flute-player and just when his and Mairead’s musical dreams were being realized, was diagnosed with cancer.
Through a long illness, Altan, at Frankie’s insistence, continued to tour and perform with Frankie’s participation whenever possible. Frankie died on September 19, 1994. He continues to be a presence and inspiration in Altan’s life and music.
In 1996 Altan was signed to Virgin Records, the first Irish band of their kind to be signed by a major label. Altan achieved gold and platinum albums in Ireland and toured larger venues, throughout the globe, with tours in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe as well as regular successful U.S. tours.
In recent years Altan has experimented with traditional music, using orchestral arrangements of its most popular pieces. The arrangements have been scored by the highly respected arranger Fiachra Trench and performed with the Ulster Orchestra, The RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and the Royal Scottish Opera Orchestra.
In March of 2010 Altan released Altan: 25th Anniversary Celebration album with the RTE Concert Orchestra, and embarked on an international tour.
In 2012, Altan released Gleann Nimhe – The Poison Glen inspired by a region around Dún Lúiche, in County Donegal, made of deep glens and lakes. The album featured Martin Tourish who would later replace Dermot Byrne.
The Widening Gyre, released in 2015, was recorded in Nashville and explored the influence of Appalachian music on Irish music.
The Band in 2013-2016
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh – lead vocals, fiddle
Ciaran Tourish – fiddle, tin whistle, backing vocals
Mark Kelly – guitars, bouzouki, backing vocals
Ciaran Curran – bouzouki, mandolin
Dáithí Sproule – guitar, vocals
Martin Tourish – accordion
This is the second solo album by celebrated Irish violinist, composer and instrument maker Máiréad Nesbitt. For over 10 years, Máiréad was the violinist for popular crossover act Celtic Woman. She left the band recently to focus on her solo career.
On ‘Hibernia, Máiréad brings traditional Irish/Celtic music together with classical music. And she does it beautifully. Máiréad also celebrates the anniversary of the rise of Ireland as an independent nation. Hibernia was the name the Romans gave to Ireland.
The format of most of the album is solo violin accompanied by classical orchestra, flute and percussion. The percussion featured includes traditional percussion played by percussionists as well as foot percussion made by a group of dancers.
‘Hibernia’ is divided into various suites, a sort of mini-symphonies composed by Máiréad, Colm Ó Foghlú, and Liam Bates, inspired by the music and dance from the southern province of Munster. Máiréad leads the way with her extraordinary violin, through exquisite slow airs and high-speed reels.
Although the majority of the album is instrumental, Hibernia includes a song To Bring Them Home, written by Liam Bates and performed by tenor Nathan Pacheco. This song portrays the heroes of a shipwreck off the coast of Ireland.
The lineup on Hibernia includes Máiréad Nesbitt on Celtic violin; Karl Nesbitt on flute, low whistle, bouzouki and didjeridoo; Mick O’Brien on uilleann pipes and whistle; Kathleen Nesbitt on fiddle; John Nesbitt on accordion; Seán Nesbitt on accordion; Nathan Pacheco on vocals; Noel Eccles on percussion; Nick Bailey on percussion; The Orchestra of Ireland, leader Kenneth Rice, conducted by Liam Bates; Cashel Set Dancers: Gráinne Uí Chaomhánaigh, Áine Cody, Bernie Sullivan and Coleman Lydon on foot percussion.
Hibernia is an exquisitely crafted Celtic Classical album by the talented and multi-faceted artist Máiréad Nesbitt.
Brian Finnegan is a renowned tin whistle and flute player from Armagh, Ireland. He is one of the most technically inventive and imaginative of flute and whistle players to have emerged from Ireland in recent years. Brian’s well-recognized abilities in traditional Irish music are often blended with folk music from other traditions.
He was a founder member of Upstairs in a Tent. He later formed the hugely popular, ground-breaking Celtic band Flook. Flook recorded three highly acclaimed studio albums, Flatfish, Rubai and Haven. Their album Rubai was voted Folk Album of the Year and Brian was voted Male Musician of the Year by LiveIreland.com and the Irish American News. Collecting awards and a huge fan base wherever they toured, Flook were crowned BBC Band Of The Year 2006. They disbanded in 2008.
Brian Finnegan traveled and toured through India and Eastern Europe. This experience had a deep and profound effect on his talent as a composer, hinted at early on with the release of his first CD,‘When The Party’s Over’ in 1993. In 2008 he was commissioned by The Sage Centre in Newcastle Upon Tyne to compose a piece for the opening of ‘The Eighth Bridge’, a major art installation across the river Tyne.
He has toured and recorded with many artists including Cara Dillon, Kate Rusby, and Russian group Aquarium. Celtic Connections 28 premiered his northern big band, The Singing Tree; thirteen performers, musicians, singers, poets and dancers, all from the northern counties of Ireland.
In 2010 he toured the West Coast of the United States and Ireland with guitarist William Coulter. Brian and William met at the Boxwood flute camp in Nova Scotia during the summer of 2008, where both were teaching. A concert was in the works and the musicians enjoyed playing together so much they talked about the possibility of touring as a duo.
Brian’s album, ‘The Ravishing Genius Of Bones’ was released in March 2010 and coincided with the formation of his new quartet called Kan. The band includes guitarist Ian Stephenson and drummer Jim Goodwin and fiddler Aidan O’Rourke.
The first of the full-time professional Celtic bands to arise on the international scene, Boys of the Lough, now occupy a unique position of respect in the world of traditional music. They have completed sixty-four tours of the USA and their performances and recordings are spread over five decades.
The Boys have established a reputation for technical brilliance and integrity in their performance of Irish and Scottish music. A ready wit and sense of fun enliven their onstage performance while their original arrangements and dynamic interactions between the two major strands of the Celtic tradition keep the music always bright and fresh.
The group was formed in 1967, featuring Cathal McConnell, Tommy Gunn of Fermanagh and Robin Morton from Portadown. Since the first tour in 1967 the Boys have traveled extensively in their mission to gain traditional music a wider audience and respect. Their warm and vital performances have won them friends from the village halls of Scotland to international concert and festival stages, establishing a precedent that many others have followed.
The music of the Boys of the Lough ranges widely through the fiddle, flute, piping and vocal traditions of Ireland and encompasses the fiddle music of Kevin Henderson’s native Shetland and also Scotland and North America. Although sometimes melodically complex and difficult to play, the music remains at all times easily accessible to the listener through the compelling dance rhythms, which give it such life. Contrast this with evocative slow airs and beautifully structured songs, some in the Irish language. Add the range of tone colors available from the band’s acoustic instruments and it is easy to see the great appeal of their lively performances.
Forty years into their musical travels, the Boys of the Lough currently boast one of their strongest line-ups yet, comprising Cathal McConnell, Dave Richardson, Brendan Begley, Kevin Henderson and Malcolm Stitt.
Pádraig Duggan, Irish musician, songwriter, and co-founder of much-admired contemporary folk music band Clannad, died in Dublin on August 9, 2016 at the age of 67. He passed away in Blanchardstown Hospital from a recurrent illness.
Pádraig Ó Dúgáin (Duggan) was born on January 23, 1949 in Gweedore, County Donegal in the Northwest of Ireland. Pádraig and his twin brother, Noel played music from early childhood. Padraig player guitar and mandolin.
After playing in dancehall bands in their youth, Pádraig and Noel, joined their niece and nephews, Moya, Ciaran, and Pol Brennan, to form Clannad in the early 1970s. Clannad became one of the most famous contemporary Irish folk music bands of all time, combining Celtic folk music, ethereal vocals and pop.
In the 1990s, Pádraig and Noel toured widely with Pan-European Celtic band Norland Wind.
Pádraig and Noel released a recording of traditional songs and ballads in the Irish language together with self-penned songs in English titled Rubicon in 2005. The album included Moya Brennan, Finbar Furey, Orla Fallon (Celtic Woman), and Norland Wind’s Thomas Loefke and Kerstin Blodig.
“Padraig Duggan was a truly gifted musician, with extraordinary skills on both the guitar and mandolin. As a founding member of the Irish folk group Clannad, Padraig beautifully blended the traditional sounds of Ireland’s musical past with contemporary pop music, helping to push the Celtic sound into the mainstream. Not just bandmates, Clannad were also family members, and their deep Gaelic roots and ethereal stylings shined on more than 15 full-length albums, including the much-celebrated Landmarks, for which they won the GRAMMY for Best New Age Album for 1998. We have lost a cherished artist and our sincerest condolences go out to Padraig’s family, friends, and collaborators,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of The Recording Academy.
Pevarlamm showcases the talent of one of the finest bands in the Breton music scene. The band is led by virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and composer Konogan an Habask. He plays bagpipes, bombard, uilleann pipes and low whistles.
Deltu is a fascinating voyage through the various European cultures connected to Celtic music. Pevarlamm perform original pieces inspired by Breton traditional music and jazz as well as folk tunes and dances from Bigouden and Pourlet in Brittany and other parts of Atlantic Europe: Ireland, Galicia (Spain) and Asturias (Spain).
The album lineup includes Konogan an Habask on bombard, binioù, uilleann pipes, and whistles; Elsa Corre on vocals, kayamb (flat percussion instrument from the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean), pandereta (Galician tambourine); Gabriel Faure on violin, mandola, and viola d’amore; Jérôme Kerihuel on drum set, dohl, and percussion; Thibault Niobé on guitars and bouzouki; and Erwan Volant on bass. Guest musician: Patrick Péron on Hammond organ.
Deltu is a superb Celtic music album beautifully-crafted by Breton masters Pevarlamm.
Dark forces are gathering or rather green forces are gathering. People with gallons of green dye are waiting for that moment when they will turn any available body of water green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day from Indianapolis’s downtown canal to the Chicago River to the White House’s south lawn fountain to Tampa’s Hillsborough River to Savannah’s city fountains.
Whether you’ve got Irish heritage in the blood or are just out on the prowl for parades and parties, the St. Patrick’s Day tradition has taken off in a huge way with parades that will be snaking their ways through the streets of cities far and wide from Dublin to New York City, from Boston to Buenos Aires, from Chicago to Montserrat, from Munich to Tokyo.
While there’s little resemblance to its origins of a religious, non-alcoholic (as bars in Ireland were closed until a change in the law in 1961) public holiday in honor of the 5th century patron saint of Ireland, there can be no doubt that everyone’s welcome to be Irish for a day.
Caving to the marketing extravaganza, one can now don green colored wigs, glittery shamrock tattoos, a flashing green cowboy hat or sequined fedora, green party beads and even party Luck of the Irish nail decals in order to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. There’s also a St. Patrick’s Day dog bandana and St. Patrick’s Day beard ornaments or beardaments as advertised on Amazon.
You can festoon party spaces with shamrock light sets, shamrock garlands, Irish inspired tablecloths and deck it all out with a set of lucky shamrock disposable dinnerware that includes cups and napkins, all of it under the proud waving St. Patrick’s Day House Flag with a green clover design. I have a harder time with the St. Patrick’s Day popcorn tin, the Little Debbie St. Patrick’s Day cakes, the Philadelphia Candies milk chocolate covered Oreos, the packages of milk chocolate dipped Rice Crispy Treats and the Lucky Shamrock St. Patrick’s Pasta, but I guess pasta lovers shouldn’t be left out of the celebration of Irish heritage.
Of course you can’t have a raucous parade or a green beer orgy without a little Celtic music, the real gem of the holiday. I suppose in some circles their might be a readings of James Joyce or John McGahern, but I think you’ll need to stock up on the whiskey. If you’re sticking with music for your St. Patrick’s Day celebration we have some lovely picks this year.
Vocalist, flutist and whistle player Nuala Kennedy’s Behave the Bravest on the Under the Arch Records label is a charmer with dulcet vocals, flute, guitar, accordion, double bass and fiddle. Tracks like “Lovely Armoy,” “His Bonnet So Blue,” “Mo Bhuachaill Dubh Dhonn/Young Tom Ennis” and “Urchnoc Chein Mhic Cainte” will keep the mood easy and mellow.
Bright and crisp, All These Years by Solas on the THL Records label is a treat filled with banjo, mandolin, fiddle, accordion, bodhran and catchy percussion. Goodies include “Roarie Bummlers,” the sleekly smooth “Standing on the Shore,” “Lucy Locket’s/The Quiet Pint/The Sleepy Sailors,” the folksy “Wandering Aengus” and “Unnamed Shetland Reel/Da New Rigged Ship.” There’s also “Little Bird of Heaven,” “As I Went Out Walking” and “Sixteen Come Next Sunday.” Actually, there’s not a bad track so you might just go all out and buy the recording as a whole instead of by track.
If you’re looking for some Celtic with a decidedly sophisticated flair, Jamie Smith’s Mabon’s The Space Between is just up your alley. This sleekly silky sounding recording had got the goods with tracks like “The Space Between,” “Frank’s Reels,” “Returning From Where I’ve Never Been,” “The Accordionist’s Despair” and the rich and rocking “Drum ‘N’ Breizh.” This recording is packed tight with truly kick ass accordion, fiddle, guitar, bouzouki and mandolin work and well worth a listen.
The Celtic Colours International Festival has put out its Celtic Colours Live Volume Three. Delightful and it supports the good and righteous cause of Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours International Festival. This recording covers the festival’s 19th year’s live performance in fine form with offerings from The String Sisters’ “Liam Childs/Balkin’ Balkan/E-B-E Reel,” The East Pointers’ “Meals by Maurice: Uncle Dimitri / Mj’s Favourite / Meals by Maurice,” “Dusky Meadow Set: Dusky Meadow/Sandy MacIntyre’s Trip to Boston/Beaton’s Delight” by Kenneth MacKenzie with Mac Morin and Patrick Gillis, The Barra MacNeils’ version of “The Underachiever” and “Cape Breton Set: Michael Anthony MacLean’s Birthday / Kilrack’s Strathspey / The Mortgage Burn / Mutt’s Favourite Reel / The Rubbermaid Collection / The Burtons of Glen Nevis / The Yetts of Muckart” by Liz Doherty, Lucy MacNeil with Lisa MacArthur and Shemas MacNeil. This is a fine collection and an excellent mix of the live Celtic music tradition.
One can hardly go wrong with violinist and fiddler Martin Hayes, pianist Thomas Bartlett, vocalist Iarla O Lionaird, guitarist Dennis Cahill and hardanger fiddler Caoimhin O Raghallaigh or better known as the group The Gloaming. Their 2014 release of The Gloaming, out on the Brassland label, is finely drawn, arresting and distinctive. While not the party mix variety of Celtic music, the music of The Gloaming is breathtaking in its musical twists and turns, drawing deeply on the Celtic soul. Masterful lovelies include “Song 44,” “Allistrum’s March,” “The Girl Who Broke My Heart,” “The Sailor’s Bonnet” and “The Old Bush.”
Called the “Jimi Hendrix of the violin” by the New York Times, Eileen Ivers has Beyond the Bog Road on tap this year. Out on the Entertainment One Music/ENT. ONE MUSIC label, Beyond the Bog Road is a celebration of the Irish immigrant and the journey to America. This lively charmer boasts tracks like “Walk On,” “Farewell My Love And Remember Me,” “Crossroads,” “Linin’ Track” and the fabulous “Irish Black Bottom.” Incorporating bluegrass, roots and Americana threads, Beyond the Bog Road certainly gets the party started.
Looking for a big, bold and a cinematic feel, you might want to check out the 2014 Green Hill Productions’ release of Celtic Garden by David Arkenstone. Celtic Garden offers up “Celtic Garden” and “Nocturne” both featuring David Davison, as well as “All Souls Night,” “Deliver Me” and “Into the West” from the movie The Lord of the Rings all featuring Charlee Brooks.
Green Hill Productions is also behind the 2014 release of Celtic Revival: Traditional Irish, Scottish & Old English Hymns by Jim Wood and Scott Miller for those looking for a sweet, old home feel. Mr. Wood and Mr. Scott offer their carefully crafted takes on “All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name,” “The Shepherd’s Dance,” “For The Beauty Of The Earth” and “Amazing Grace.”
Dreamy and plush Celtic Fairy Lullaby by the group 2002, out on the Galactic Playground Music label, is one of those Celtic/New Age combos that is filled with harp, flute, piano and soaring vocals. Charming and enchanting, this is indeed music to dream up fairies with tracks like “Seoithín Seo Hó / Gartan Mother’s Lullaby,” “Cariad,” “Éamonn an Chnoic,” and “Thugamar Féin an Samhradh Linn.”
Allegro label’s 2015 release of Celtic Wonder with Deanta, Altan, Reeltime, Cherish the Ladies and Niamh Parsons has got the goods with offerings as “An Paistin Fionn,” “Green Grow the Rushes Oh,” “The Bantry Girl’s Lament” and “The Jug of Punch” and “Dulaman” by Altan.
Loreena McKennitt’s 2014 double CD set of The Journey So Far The Best of Loreena McKennit on the UMe label is another lush production. With favorites like “The Mystic’s Dream,” “The Bonny Swans,” “The Mummers’ Dance” and “The Lady Of Shalott,” fans get the full force that is Ms. McKennit. Other goodies on this double set include “The Old Ways,” “Beneath A Phrygian Sky” and “All Souls Night.” Fans get a nice mix of album and live versions on this recording.
Other goodies fans might want to check out are Putumayo’s 2015 Celtic Café with artists like Michael McGoldrick, Dougie MacLean, Calum Stewart and Cara Dillon; Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy on the 2015 Linus Entertainment release called One; Altan’s 2015 release of Widening Gyre with guest artists like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eddi Reader, Mairead, Jerry Douglas and Tim O’Brien; Whiskey in the Jar: 30 Irish Drinking Songs by various artists and Dolphin & Dara Records label import offerings Essential Irish Music Collection and Na Fianna’s Unearthed.
I’ll end this with a quote from Irish piper Brian Finnegan, “There’s no other profession in the world where you can get to meet such amazing characters – the real people of the country that you go to. Music kind of invites you to walk into these lives. They’re not great academics, or geniuses – they’re just ordinary people, like you and me. That’s the lovely thing about music, and it’s the same with art and the same with poetry.”
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!
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