TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena's Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena's Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.
Descriptors like enchanting, elegant and hypnotic just don’t seem to do justice to Be Why Music’s recent self-titled release of Opium Moon. It is indeed enchanting, elegant and hypnotic, but it’s more. Surely, this is the music drunk bees must hear lolling inside a flower, captives to the warm summer sun and soothing breeze surrounded and infused by drugging fragrance. Finding your inner drunk bee is no further than a listen to this extraordinary CD.
The musician masterminds of Opium Moon are Iranian santoor master Hamid Saeidi, Israeli bassist Itai Disraeli, American percussionist MB Gordy and the Canadian-American violinist Lili Haydn. Delving deep into a sound that draws on trance and sacred musical traditions of both East and West, Opium Moon is sultry and meditative. Produced by Ms. Haydn and Opium Moon, this is musician’s recording in the best of all possible ways where composing and execution is collaborative, where each thread of music is more than its parts or participants.
Ms. Haydn remarks, “In this era of ‘fake news,’ I began to feel that words no longer seemed to matter. I lost my faith in my protest songs and threw myself into creating an album without words, one which was imply an embodiment of the peace and inclusiveness I wanted to see in the the world. In these polarized and frightening times, simply making beauty – and loving across boundaries – is a revolutionary act.”
Mr. Disraeli insists that the music, “is not about opium! It’s about mindfulness, clarity of vision and heart. This world is so filled with hate and division; this is peace music, about connection and deep humanity. For each of us, there is some of our best work on this record – because it was born out of love, humility and respect for each other’s rich cultural legacies.”
I feel it prudent to mention to listeners to settle in because where you are going on this musical landscape isn’t a wild ride but a slow, sensual surrender. The opening notes of the lush “Gravity = Love” sets up another worldly space where the music seems to have traveled through space and time by way of steady drum beat, thrumming bass and the exoticism of santoor with violin lines rising like threads of smoke.
Each track of Opium Moon is as good as the last on this recording with tracks like the elegantly airy dip and soar on “Drunk With the Great Starry Void,” it title borrowed from Pablo Neruda, the deeply hypnotic “How Can I Pray When the Beloved Is All I See?” and the moving play of violin over santoor, frame drum and bass on “When I see You Naked I Smell the Earth.”
Closing out with the equally delicious “Caravan,” marked by some truly plumy bass lines, Opium Moon proves potent in its languid grace in gently propelling listeners to a place that is as old as time and still right around the corner.
In 1995, while Coolio’s “Gansta Paradise,” TLC’s “Waterfalls,” Seal’s “Kiss from a Rose” and Madonna’s “Take a Bow” were floating on the airwaves of Western pop stations, a wonderful collection of songs was cutting a swath through the musical streets of Africa’s Senegal. It just so happened that musician, singer, songwriter, composer and studio owner Youssou N’ Dour came across a demo by fellow Senegalese musician and composer Cheikh Lo.
Setting up Mr. Lo, along with percussionists Assane Thiam and Mbaye Dieye Faye and guitarist and arranger Oumar Sow, into Mr. N’Dour’s Xippi Studio in Dakar, the recording Ne La Thiass was born. Mr. N’Dour went so far as to lend his own vocals to that of Mr. Lo’s on the tracks “Set” and “Guiss Guiss.”
So, while we were being browbeaten by overplayed songs like Hootie &the Blowfish’s “Only Wanna Be With You” and Nicki French’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” the good people of Senegal were dancing to Ne La Thiass’s “Boul De Tagle” and “Cheikh Ibra Fall.”
In 1996, World Circuit Records corrected this injustice by releasing an enhanced version of Ne La Thiass and the world was set to rights again as world music fans around the globe were treated to the Latin-flavored Senegalese goodness of Cheikh Lo.
Mr. N’Dour would go on to record scores of albums such as 7 Seconds: The Best of Youssou N’Dour, Joko: The Link and Africa Rekk, win a Grammy Award for 2004 album Egypt, appear as Olaudah Equiano in the movie Amazing Grace and earn an honorary doctoral degree in music from Yale University. Mr. Lo would go to record such albums as Bambay Guieej, Lamp Fall, Jamm and Balbalou, as well as collaborate with Cuban pianist Ruben Gonzalez’s on his recording Chanchullo singing alongside the esteemed Ibrahim Ferrer and work with Les Nubians and Manu Dibango for the Fela Kuti tribute recording of Red Hot and Riot.
So, now it could be that the planets have aligned just so or that we’ve been very good (this might be a bit of a stretch) that fate has once again smiled down upon us. Of course, it could just be the person at World Circuit sent to rummage through shelves and boxes that we owe our good fortune. This sweet luck would be the re-issue of Ne La Thiass from its original 1995 cassette tapes. Available on vinyl, CD and digital down load, with color booklet, Ne La Thiass has been lovingly remastered and has hit the streets.
Even after more than 20 years, Ne La Thiass hasn’t lost a bit of its keenly addictive appeal. It takes only the barest listen to opening track “Boul Di Tagale,” to fall under Cheikh Lo’s spell.
Weaving a magic spell out of vocals that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, acoustic guitar, double bass, flute, electric bass, keyboards, some truly spectacular mbalax rhythms and talking drum (and those who don’t like a good talking drum are out of the club), Ne La Thiass is masterful and electrifying as it makes its way through treats like title track “Ne La Thiass,” the feel-good feel conjured on “Ndogal,” the plummy rhythms of “Set” and the sweet swing of “Cheikh Ibra Fall.”
The intricate rhythms of “Bamba Sunu Goorgui” and the Youssou N’Dour vocals laced “Guiss Guiss” are additional icing on the cake that is Ne La Thiass.
There’s always that moment before listening to a re-issue where you wonder if it will be as good as you remembered. With Ne La Thiass it’s not as good as you remembered – it’s better. So intensely addictive, this is the music that if you listened to it all the time you’d never get anything done. And, I doubt you’d care.
Do you have a copy of World Circuit Record’s 2001 release of Cachaito in your music collection right now? No? Well, you need to get one immediately. Seriously, get it. I’ll wait. (Cue: elevator music.)
Okay, released in 2001 and recorded at the Egrem Studios in Havana, Cuba, Cachaito is the master work of Cuban bassist and composer Orlando ‘Cachaito’ López. Son of bassist and composer of Orestes López and nephew of bassist and mambo innovator Israel “Cachao’ López, Orlando ‘Cachaito’ López was the undisputed bassist backbone of The Buena Vista Social Club. So intrinsic to the very fabric of Cuban music, one would have to twist inside out in discussing the breadth and influence of Cuban music without mentioning Cachaito or the López family of musicians.
So, it goes without saying that the Cachaito recording is a must-have for the Cuban music devotee. It just so happens World Circuit has just made things a little more interesting with their upcoming June 22nd first ever vinyl release of Cachaito, complete with a 12-page color booklet and a post card. Leaving aside whether to choose digital, CD or vinyl debate up to personal tastes, revisiting the Cachaito release reveals that this release is one of the essentials. Whether you are a seasoned collector or a newbie who just Googled a geographical map of Cuba, Cachaito hasn’t lost a bit of its luster in the some seventeen years since it was released, nor has its importance dimmed as a cutting edge Cuban music experience.
Putting it all together is Buena Vista Social Club and Ry Cooder producer Nick Gold with recording by Jerry Boys. In addition, Cachaito is brimming over with Cuban percussion masters like conguero Miguel ‘Anga’ Diaz, timbales player Amadito Valdés and bongo player Carlos González, but listeners get goodies like Jamaica’s Bigga Morrison on Hammond organ, Cuban guitarist Manuel Galbán, the famed vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, flutist ‘Polo’ Tamoyo, violinist Pedro ‘Depestre’ Gonzalez and trombonist Jesus ‘Aguaje’ Ramos. If that were enough, there’s also Hugh Masekela on flugelhorn, Pee Wee Ellis on tenor sax and French DJ Dee Nasty on electronics.
What makes Cachaito so wonderful is its willingness to utterly defy convention, to fly in the in the face of Cuban music and remake it. Plucking influences from dub, reggae, jazz, surf guitar music and hip hop, Mr. López tucks those varied traditions neatly into a sound that comes across as fresh, even years after the recording first release. Mr. López steps out onto the thinnest of branches and takes flight, where listeners are mere passengers to varied musical landscapes Mr. López wishes to reveal.
Opening with a phone call on “Siempre Con Swing,” Cachaito slides into the sleekly jazzy “Redencion.” Mr. López lulls listeners with the equally smooth ride of “Mis Dos Pequeñas” before dipping a wing to show off the hypnotic percussive and guitar rich landscape of “A Gozar El Tumbao.” Diving in another direction, “Cachaito In Laboratory” is hip hop coolness before veering off onto the highly polished jazzy “Tumbao No. 5 (Para Charlie Mingus).” Mr. López offers flirty flashes on the flute-laced “Conversación,” delves deep into meaty bass goodness of “Tumbanga” and shows off all the colors of plumage on “Wahira.”
When we finally land in the midst of the party on “La Negra,” it’s impossible to deny that Cachaito has provided an impossibly rich ride.
Ali Farka Toure – The Source (World Circuit, 2018, reissue)
With our eyes firmly fixed on the far horizon we want the new. We want what’s next. We not only want the new, we demand it. We’ve boiled our lives down to frantically seeking out what’s the latest, what’s right around the next corner that we can grasp onto before discarding it by the wayside for the next thing, the latest stuff, the hottest new trend just beyond our reach. I bet there are more than a few out there who can barely tolerate leftovers from last night’s dinner.
I’m here to remind you that there are some things worth revisiting. I’m not talking about some somber commemorations of old disasters or old political scandals or the hairstyles of your youth. I am, of course, referring to a collection of songs, and not just any collection, but a powerhouse recording by the father of desert blues Ali Farka Toure and the recording The Source.
Originally put out in 1992 and the first recording for the Malian guitarist with his band Group Asco, The Source wasn’t Mr. Toure’s merry-go-round or his first recording. Recordings on Sonafric like Ali Toure Farka and Biennale and the Sonodisc/Esperance recordings Ali Farka Toure (Red) and Ali Farka Toure (Green) appeared before The Source. It was following the release of The River on the label World Circuit, where The Source bubbles up from the earth and Mr. Toure takes listeners on musical landscapes like Talking Timbuktu with Ry Cooder, Niafunke, Mississippi to Mali with Corey Harris, In the Heart of the Moon with Toumani Diabate and Ry Cooder, Savane and Ali and Toumani. Mr. Toure showed us The Source and we all listened.
As luck would have it, World Circuit has just announced the release of a special edition of The Source. Re-mixed, remastered from the original tapes, The Source is now out for the first time on vinyl with a 28-page color booklet. This is the kind of re-issue you all want. This is where going back is all just so very fine.
The Source is good. Not just the shove into your shoulder good. It isn’t even the smack up side the head good. This goes beyond even the roundhouse to the kisser good. No, this is the Jackie Chan kick to the head, lay you out on the floor, leaving you incapable of movement other than just to listen kind of good. And, trust me, you’ll want to just lay still as the opening strains “Goye Kur” worm their way into your brain. It’s all there on The Source – Mr. Toure on guitar and njarka violin, Afel Bocoum on vocals and Hamma Sankare on calabash and Oumar Toure on congas. Rolling rhythms, call-and-response vocals and some of the sweetest desert blues guitar licks make The Source savagely good.
Desert blues fans get the whole revisit tour with “Inchana Massina,” the low down magical bluesy “Roucky,” the sassy “Dofana” and tantalizing “Karaw.” “Hawa Dolo” makes everything all right with guest artist Taj Mahal, as do tracks like the sweetly worked “Cinquante Six,” the upbeat “I Go Ka” and the swinging “Mahini Me.” Closing is just as powerful with “Takamba.”
So, while you may have your gaze fixed on the horizon, going back to listen to The Source proves just as sweet.
The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices featuring Lisa Gerrard – BooCheeMish (Prophecy Productions, 2018)
The women in the publicity photo for the album BooCheeMish smile, lovely in their traditional dresses and headdresses festooned with flowers. They are of varying ages; they are mothers, daughters, sisters and perhaps a few grandmothers in the lot. They seem pleasant, perhaps even a little unassuming, but that would be deceptive. To dismiss this group of songstresses as quaint or simply charming would be a dreadful mistake because these are the women of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.
Steeped in vocals traditions that have floated over fields, wound their way through mountain passes and sunk down deep into the very ground, The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices are captivating, haunting and call to our all shared nomadic musical past.
The female vocal choir, known as The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices (formerly Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) started out as The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir in the early 1950s to preserve and promote Bulgaria’s folk traditions by way of radio and television. It just happened that Swiss music producer Marcel Cellier stumbled upon and was captivated by vocal mastery of the choir and recorded and released the first volume “Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares” in 1975.
Volume II would go on to win a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording, with additional recordings like Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (1989), Volume III, Melody Rhythm & Harmony (1993), Ritual (1994), Bulgarian Custom Songs (2001) and Pora Sotunda (2017) with Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance fame. The choir would go on to wow audiences in some 1250 concerts across the globe under the current conductor Prof. Dora Hristova.
So it is my sincerest pleasure to announce, with perhaps a small amount of gleeful hand clapping and girlish giggling thrown in for good measure, that the glorious voices of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices is back with a new recording called BooCheeMish, set for release on May 25th on the Prophecy Productions label. Joined again by Lisa Gerrard, as well as musicians like Hristna Beleva, Petar Milanov, Rano Ranila, Kostadin Genchev, Deimitar Karamfilov and a string quartet, BooCheeMish shimmers with the familiar goodness that is The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.
Opening with the soaring vocals of “Mome Malenko,” BooCheeMish packs a punch that’s exotic and evocative. Fans get welcomed doses of Ms. Gerrard’s shimmering vocals on tracks like “Pora Sotunda,” “Mani Yanni,” “Unison” and “Shandai Ya” that simply enhance the lushness of BooCheeMish.
Threaded throughout are added rhythms of jembe, riq, udu, tonbak and frame drums that add to the pleasure of the extraordinary, tight, neat intricate vocals of the choir. Listeners will wallow in the upbeat pleasures of Rano Ranila,” the haunting loveliness of “Mani Yanni” and the sheer lushness of “Sluntse” conjured up with help of Ms. Beleva and Mr. Milanov. BooCheeMish stacks stunning track upon stunning track so that “Unison” proves as powerful as tracks “Zableyalo Agne,” “Ganka” and closing track “Stanka” replete with string quartet members Yordan Dimitrov, Evgeni Nikolov, Ognyan Kostantinov and Dimitar Tenchev.
Kudos certainly go to Ms. Gerrard, the musicians and the utter impeccable recording and engineering of this CD, but the real superstars of this recording belong to Prof. Hristova and singers Elena Bozkova, Olga Borisova, Gergana Dimitrova, Gergana Popova, Snezhana Kastelova, Violeta Eftimova, Violeta Marinova, Binka Dobreva, Dafinka Damyanova, Daniela Kostova, Rulana Asparuhova, Marina Boiadjieva, Elichka Krastanova, Mariya Leshkova, Rada Nankova, Evelina Hristova, Evguenia Milousheva, Daniela Dimitrova, Tsvetelina Velyovska, Silvia Vladmirova, Sofiya Yaneva, Nevyana Ganeva, Elizabet Georgieva, Mirrela Asenova, Polina Paunova, Lyubomira Pavlova, Tsonka Dimtrova-Manolova and Diyana Visileva – the women of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices.
Patricia Vonne is an actress, filmmaker, activist, bandleader, musician, singer and songwriter. So, it comes as no surprise she’s conjured up a rocking powerhouse recording, easily apparent by the snarly guitar licks and fierce vocals found on tracks like “City is Alive” and “Lil Lobo” on her seventh full-length album Top of the Mountain, set for release on May 25th on the Bandolera Records label. With recordings like Viva Bandolera, Worth It, Rattle My Cage and Firebird to credit, Ms. Vonne continues sharpen her vocals and song writing skill to claw deep and captures listeners with her own brand of tejano folk/rock sound on Top of the Mountain.
Ripe with sultry vocals, jangling guitar riffs and pounding rhythms, Top of the Mountain opens with the edgy “Citadel” before giving way to the speeding down the open road sound of “City Is Alive” with the aid of Robert LaRoche on electric guitar, Scott Garber on bass and Héctor Muñoz on drums.
Top of the Mountain proves versatile as listeners get the goods with Spanish lyric laced “Iluminaria,” the growly guitar of “Lil Lobo” and the catchy Latin flavored “Madre De Perla.” The Southwest sound prevails on title track “Top of the Mountain” edged with Ms. Vonne’s vocals and acoustic guitar, Mr. LaRoche on acoustic and electric guitar, Mr. Garber on bass, Dony Wynn on drums and David Perales on violin.
Equally delicious are tracks like sultry “Tidal Wave,” the lonely landscape sound of instrumental “Western Blood” and sweetly worked “Cancion de la Boda.” Ms. Vonne and company wrap things with the kicking rocking “Lekker Ding” with the help of guitarist Joe Reyes, upright bassist Harmen De Bresser and drummer Jan Pohl and the vocal and piano duet “God’s Hands” with Ms. Vonne’s soaring vocals against piano by Carl Thiel.
“I am very proud of this new work,” Ms Vonne says of this recording. “Top of the Mountain celebrates the defiant human spirit in the midst of adversity and the Higher Power that lights our path.”
Top of the Mountain is a rocking, wind-in-the-hair, open road in a speeding convertible ride of a recording. Enjoy the ride.
I can’t help from getting a little thrill from a band that sounds like they trekked off into the wilderness or down to the crossroads for a bit of inspiration and returned with something wholly different. That seems to be what U.K.-based band The Turbans did, except they actually retreated to a farmhouse in Northumberland. Dipping into fingers into gypsy, Balkan, flamenco, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean musical traditions, The Turbans have conjured up a sound that their Kurdish percussionist Cabbar Baba has rightly called “music from manywhere,” with band members rooted in the music of Turkey, Bulgaria, Israel, Iran, Greece, Spain and England. Their self-titled debut recording The Turbans will be available today, April 6th on the Six Degrees Records label.
The band’s Oshan Mahony recalls, “For this album we all went together to the farmhouse where I grew up in Northumberland. We all contributed about thirty songs. Some were traditional sounding, others were poppy. When ou have a classical violinist playing an Indian raga you create something really weird and new.”
And, nothing could be further than the truth on The Turbans. Possessed by a kind of feral grace and a sleek savageness, The Turbans weave a sound that is intricately explosive and hypnotically delicious so that dervishes or a raucous gypsy band might approach with more than a little trepidation. The sound is wholly global where strange and familiar coexist.
Comprised of violinist Darius Luke Thompson; percussionist and vocalist Cabbar Baba; oud player Maxim Shchedrovitzki; davul player and vocalist Pavlos Mavromantakis; electric guitarist and vocalist Miroslav Morski; bass guitarist, trombonist and backing vocalist Fred Stitz; electric guitarist Moshe Zehavi; cajon player and classical guitarist Pablo Dominguez; ney, kaval and clarinet player Kansia Pritchard; saxophone and bansuri player Madhav Haridas and Oshan Mahony, The Turbans packs a punch with additional musicians and backing vocals so the sound is rich and full. It doesn’t hurt that the group snagged master mixer Jerry Boys who has worked with the likes of Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Toure, Shakira, Toumani Diabate and the Kronos Quartet, as well as World Circuit’s Tom Leader to master The Turbans.
The real cleverness of The Turbans is that the group allows one genre flows easily against another creating an kind of improvisational feel where tracks flow without sounding over polished. Opening track “Riders” is ripe with Middle Eastern influences and a joyful exuberance, while tracks like “Sinko Moy” delve into a subterranean mysteriousness. “Zawi” is all whirlwind goodness with some kickass guitar lines thrown in for good measure as is the lanky lines of “Samia.” “Kansianitsa” is rich with woodwinds and percussion, while “Aman” is all flamenco lushness. There are also goodies like “Hamouda” with its call-and-response vocals and guembri in this nod to the Gnawan and the lushly worked “Chubby” with its Chaabi influences. There’s also the raucously infectious brass laced “Madhavski Horo,” the sultry ney of “Ruuah” and carnival feel goodness of closing track “Hackney.”
Mr. Mahony says of the group’s dynamic, “Every single person in this band has such a strong fire inside them. I know so many good musician in this city, and even around the world, who play perfectly, but when they play they don’t release the passion of the music. Everyone in this band has so much fire.”
Thankfully we can hear and feel the fire of “manywhere” from here.
Perched on a stool center stage with a cloth covered table to his left upon which rests a bottle of water and a glass of pale orange liquid while light glints off bracelets, rings and an earring as he smooths back long curling locks and an equally long goatee, he waits. He cuts a fine figure in a sleek grey suit and a snowy white shirt as he pauses to let the crowd settle. There’s a brief moment of anticipation as we wait like the eager, greedy souls we all know we are. We wait for him to cajole us, romance us and entrance us with a voice that’s equal parts ferocious and aches of a thousand sorrows. That voice belongs to El Cigala.
Stepping away from his familiar flamenco fare, Diego El Cigala’s current salsa project and songbook from Indestructible takes fans on musical landscape from El Cigala’s native Spain to his adoptive home in the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, Cuba and Colombia, garnering a whole new enthusiastic fan base.
Backed by a razor-sharp salsa group that includes pianist Jaime Calabuch, trumpeters Cristian David Muñoz and Edison Muñoz, trombonists Richard Stella and Bernardo Aguirre, percussionist Denilson Ibarguen, timbalero Diego Mayorga, bassist Julio Valdes and backing vocalists Diego Galindo and Andres Gonzales, El Cigala takes fans through salsa favorites, emotive ballads and a few more intimate songs with only piano to accompany El Cigala’s roughed over vocals.
Tapping, clapping and finger snapping his way through the Duke Performances Saturday, March 31st concert at Durham’s Carolina Theatre, El Cigala and band had the joint jumping. Fans get doses of “Moreno Soy,” “Indestructible,” “Hacha y Machete” and “El Raton,” as well as some nicely done romantic songs, but I think the more intimate songs with just pianist were perhaps my favorite bits and those places where El Cigala’s voice really comes through in fine flamenco jazz fashion. But then again it’s El Cigala and any song is worth the price.
St. Patrick’s Day. How exactly did the Catholic patron saint feast day of the the people of Ireland, a relatively small island in the North Atlantic, evolve into a worldwide celebration? With festivities and parades in communities large and small that traverse from United States to Australia from Germany to Argentina from Japan to South Africa, the logical answer of course is the ability of the Irish to pick up and move to wherever the road takes them with all the mitigating factors of migration mixed in like famine, disease and oppression. By why this extravaganza of green? Some might point to mass marketing with promises of barrels of beer, a good time party and a lively parade in those dark days that mark the lull between Christmas and the genuine start of spring. The spread of St. Patrick’s Day by way of the cross pollination of culture seem so reasonable, so rational, so plausible.
But the Irish in me wants it to be us. The Irish in me wants it to be our storytelling, our music, our dance. Yes, the Irish in me wants it to be the utter surety that “if you knew us, you’d like us,” which I’m not sure if it makes us charmingly likable or just a wee bit obnoxious. Those not quite spring days of March seem a good time for us heathens in the Northern Hemisphere to settle in with a pint against the backdrop of a sweet tune and listen to someone’s Da tell a story that couldn’t possibly be true, but then again it just might. See, I have no doubt that there’s a Irishman out there, right now, that’s looking at a lovely woman and saying, “Ah, Mo stoirín, you remind me of a girl …” before weaving a fantastical tale. Perhaps that’s the real lure of St. Patrick’s Day.
To lure you in further let’s find some music for your St. Patrick’s Day and there is indeed some fine music this year to tempt you.
There’s the standard St. Patrick’s Day fare of Celtic Thunder’s Celtic Thunder X with tracks like “Sons of Light,” “Toora Loora Lay” and “The Wild Rover.” While a little overblown and a bit more commercial pop than I personally prefer, their version of “Lannigans Ball” is lively.
The late 2017 releases of Voice of the Celts and The Voice Within by Dulaman follow along the same vein, but “Dulaman,” “On Raglan Road,” “Sally Brown,” “The Sally Gardens” and Na Ceannabhain Bhana” are worth a listen. Also, Celtic Woman has put out Homecoming – Live From Ireland for Susan McFadden, Mairead Carlin, Eabha McMahon and Tara McNeil fans.
The Gap of Dreams by Altan is certain to set your Celtic heart all aflutter. The stunning bright and beautiful recording is full of the goodness of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh’s vocals and fiddle, Ciaran Curran’s bouzouki, Daithi Sproule’s guitar and vocals, Mark Kelly’s guitar and vocals and Martin Tourish’s piano accordion. They threw in Tommy McLaughlin on keyboards just for kicks. On The Gap of Dreams fans get a dose of “The Gap of Dreams/Nia’s Jig/The Beekeeper,” “The Month of January,” “Nion a’ Bhaoigheallaigh” and “The Tullaghan Lasses/The Cameronian/The Pigeon on the Gate,” as well as “Cumha an Oileain” and the sweetly simple Mark Kelly composition “Port Alex.”
Equally delicious is the third offering Stri by Gaelic singer Maeve Mackinnon. Fans will want to check out this for tracks like “Iomaraibh Eutrom,” “Roisin Dubh,” “Dh’fhalbh Mo Run air an Aiseig” and “O Mo Cheist am Fear Ban.”
Fiddle fans will want to check out From Within by fiddler Eric Ryan-Johnson. This artist self release is packed with goodies like “Jigs: The Beginning/A Boy & His Dad/The Yelping Dog,” “Air: The Farmer of Florence,” “Reel: The Morning Cup,” “Air: February 23” and “Reels: The End Is Near/ Bound to Break.” And if that wasn’t enough sweet Celtic fiddle goodness for you, he’s also got The Wonderful Day on tap with treats like “Hornpipes: The Wonderful Day/The Bee’s Wings,” “Jigs: Knights of St. Patrick/Hast to the Wedding/Father O’Flynn’s,” “Air: Melody for Meredith Keefe,” “Reels: Bag of Potatoes/Blacksmith’s Reel/Castle Kelly” and “Reel: Coffin Ships.”
There’s Celtic Crumble’s Echos of Ireland with tracks like “Carry Me Home,” “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” “The Twins of Ballina” and title track “Echos of Ireland” to tempt fans.
Perhaps, a mixed bag of tricks will tickle your fancy. Well, then you might want to try out ARC music’s Discover Celtic Music. There are some real treats here with Aryeh Frankfurter’s “The Morning Dew,” Golden Bough’s “The Wren Boys/Gavin’s Hornpipe/Honeysuckle,” Noel Mclourghlin’s “The Hills of Connemara” and Mary Ann Kennedy’s “Air Leathad Sleibhe.” There’s also Gwyneth Glyn’s “Cwlwm,” Yvon Etienne’s “Si j’ai le courage,” Os Rosales’s “Muineira a Gatuxa” and Sian James’s “Mwynen merch.” Good stuff.
Pure Records has released Avenging and Bright by Damien O’Kane. Don’t let the goofy cover photo of Mr. O’Kane scare you off because this Northern Ireland singer and musician goes down silky smooth like the perfect pint on offerings like “Boston City,” title track “Avenging and Bright,” “All Among the Barley,” January Man,” and “Dancing in Puddles.” Mr. O’Kane’s vocal against piano, guitar and tenor guitar makes for some fine contemporary fare.
Perhaps one of my favorites has to be the Danny Diamond’s Elbow Room. This fiddler extraordinaire has played previously with Slow Moving Clouds and Morga, but on Elbow Room Mr. Diamond wows listeners simply by the shape and breadth of his own solo fiddler’s soul. Whether you’re a newbie listener or a seasoned Irish fiddle devotee, it’s easy to fall under the spell Mr. Diamond weaves on tracks like “Maureen from Gibberland,” “The Pinch of Snuff,” “Watching the Evening Grow,” “The Blackbird” and “Johnny Cope.” This is truly a fiddler’s delight.
The String Sisters have out Between Wind and Water. Irish vocalist and fiddler Mairead Ne Mhaonaigh, Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Annbjorg Lien, the American fiddler Liz Knowles, Shetland fiddler Catriona MacDonald, the American fiddler Liz Carroll and Swedish fiddler and vocalist Emma Hardelin have turned out some fine tunes on Between Wind and Water with jaunty tracks like “The Crow’s Visit,” “Hjaltland” and “Late Night in Forde.” Fans get morsels of sweetness like “Wind and Rain,” “Det bor I mina tankar” and “Mo Nion O.”
Another stunning fiddle recording is An Choill Uaigneach by Theresa Kavanagh. Hailing from Donegal, Ms. Kavanagh dazzles listener with the bright wildness of the fiddle on such tracks as “The Wild Swans of Coole/The Abandoned Meadow,” “Jocelyn’s/Grainne’s Jig” and “The Sword of Light/Secrets of the Willow,” and title track “An Choill Uaigneach” or “The Lonesome Forest” is elegant.
For Celtic fans looking for a little something off the beaten path might want to check out Plantec’s Live at the Festival Interceltique Lorient. These Breton Celtic rockers dole out a ferocious performance on this recording. Full of Breton bombard, guitar and synthesizer and programming, this is a definitive kick in the pants to any sweet version of “Danny Boy.” Recorded at the 2017 Lorient Inter Celtique Festival, Plantec’s Odran and Yannick Plantec and Gabriel Djibril kick some Celtic rock ass with tracks like “Croissant de letiez,” “Speedwell,” “Koun” and “Feulz.”
Another off the beaten path choice might be Celtic Rock Opera series recording “Excalibur IV The Dark Age of the Dragon” with music, lyrics and concept by Alan Simon. If you need a backing soundtrack for your noble quest down the highway or to the grocery store, well, here’s your music. Recorded with the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague, this recording rocks out with electric guitars, drums and keyboards, as well as mandolins, Celtic harps and big bold vocals. It features Moya Brennan (Clannad), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Michael Sadler (Saga),and Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep).
Brona McVittie’s We Are the Wildlife is a lovely contemporary Celtic folk collection. Her sweet vocals on “Where the Angels Wake You,” “The Flower of Magherally“ and “Molly Brannigan” are intimate and mesmerizing. Add in Myles Cochran on “The Vast and Vague Extravagance That Lies at the Bottom of the Celtic Heart” and you definitely have a winner.
If atmospheric and ethereal is what you are looking for you might want to check out the Irish harpist Aine Minogue’s In the Name of Stillness Celtic Meditation Music. Ms. Minogue set us a serene loveliness from opening track “In the Name of Stillness” and through tracks like “Home of Belonging,” “In the Name of Solitude” and “Quiet Absence.”
Mary Ann Kennedy has An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World out on the ARC label. The Scottish singer has tracks like “Seinn, Horo, Seinn,” “Sith na Coille,” “Iain Againn Fhin” and “Air Leathad Sleibhe” on tap for listeners.
If Ulileann pipes, bouzouki, bodran, fiddle, flute and cello are on your wish list for the season, then you might want to take a listen to John McSherry’s The Seven Suns. A 2016 release that some how passed us by is bold and infectiously delightful. With tracks like “Dance of the Siog,” “The Atlantean,” “Sunrise at Bealtaine,” “The Golden Mean” and “The Cloghogle,” Mr. McSherry, along with fellow musicians Sean Og Graham, Niamh Dunne, Michael McGoldrick and Sean Warren, will have you and yours feting until the wee hours.
Another 2016 out on the Compass Records label that somehow also passed us by that is well worth a listen is Doolin‘ by the band of the same name. Doolin’ is a fine time and rollicking good fun with tracks like “Mary’s Jigs,” “Sailing Across the Ocean,” “The Road to Gleanntan,” “Wind Her Up” and “The Galway Girl.”
There’s also The Irishman’s Finest Collection by John Duhan. Starting out his career at the age of 15 as the front man for Limrick’s 1960s rock group Granny Intentions, Mr. Duhan would later turn to his own writing and solo recordings like The Voyage, Just Another Town and To the Light, as well as having some of his songs recording by heavyweights such as Christy Moore, The Dubliners and Mary Black. On The Irishman’s Finest Collection, Mr. Duhan lays bare the Irish soul by way of tracks like “Just Another Town,” “The Voyage,” “All I Need” and “The River Returning.”
Should musicians like Irla O Lionaird, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes and Thomas Bartlett mean anything to you then you should drop whatever bit of nonsense you are doing and run around in a circle of delight. A bit of girlish screaming and arm waving wouldn’t go amiss either. If you hadn’t guessed these five musicians have out on the Real World label The Gloaming Live at the NCH . And let me say this recording is lovely, lovely and even more lovely. Be prepared to be entranced by the opening fiddle lines of “The Booley House,” through the sweet charms of Iarla O Lionaird’s vocals on “Cucanandy” and “The Sailor’s Bonnet” to the very Celtic magic of “The Pilgrim’s Song” and “The Rolling Wave” and all the way to the very end of “Fainleog.” You want this CD. You need it. Your very connection to all that expresses the sweetly joyful sorrowful Celtic soul depends on it.
Recorded at Dublin, Ireland’s National Concert Hall, The Gloaming Live at NCH is breathtakingly good, so good it’s hard not to feel a little giddy over this elegant work of voice, piano, Hardanger d’Amore, guitar and fiddle. You don’t even need to think about, just get it.
Finally, let me say that in regards to St. Patrick’s Day that I’m glad to know that we Irish aren’t hoarders of the holiday. There’s enough Irish to go around. That frothy pint doesn’t care a whit if you are saint or sinner. The fiddle tune doesn’t care if your are ferocious or feckless. You could be fool or faerie folk and you would still be welcome for what the Irish call comhaltacht – fellowship. So, settle in and listen to some good music and maybe somebody’s Da will tell you a story.
Mary Cliff has been named as one of Folk Alliance International’s newest Folk DJ Hall of Fame inductees for 2018. Honoring broadcasters who have demonstrated a passion for continuing the promotion and preservation of folk music, Ms. Cliff has risen to the challenge.
After a brief stint as a singer for the Hootnannies in the early 60s, Ms. Cliff turned to radio in 1966, eventually working with radio host Dick Cerri. She would take to the airwaves in 1968 on WAVA then WHFS and in 1970 on WETA. She’s done it all, producing and presenting music, news, interviews and hosting the show Bluegrass Country until 2015.
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