The McDades At the heart of The McDades are three siblings: the fiddle playing Shannon, Solon on bass, and youngest brother, Jeremiah, a multi instrumental virtuoso on whistles, saxophone, fiddle and flute. The McDades are joined by vocalist and guitarist, Andy Hillhouse and multi-genre percussionist, Francois Taillefer.
The McDade’s sound is immersed in the spirit of improvisation featuring both energetic instrumentals and sensitive vocals performed in English and French. The McDades Celtic rooted music fuses the spontaneity of jazz improvisation and infectious global rhythms.
The McDades have been recipients of the 2007 Juno Award Winners for Best Roots/Traditional Album Group, winners of the 2007 Independent Music Award for Best World Album Traditional and winners of the 2006 Canadian Folk Music Awards for Best World Group and Best Instrumental Group.
Midwinter (2001) For Reel (Free Radio, 2002)
Noel (2004) Bloom (Free Radio, 2006)
Winter Rose (2011)
Mary Jane Lamond was born in 1960 in Kingston, Canada. Cape Breton’s modern sharer of ancient Gaelic songs, stories ‘and spirit using a variety of instruments from the bagpipes and fiddle to Indian tabla.
Lamond’s formative years were spent moving between Quebec and Ontario, but she soaked up the Gaelic heritage over many summers spent visiting her grandparents in Cape Breton, where she now resides. It was there that she first remembers hearing Gaelic songs, her initiation took place at a milling frolic, where a heavy woolen cloth is repeatedly beat against a table and people gather to sing and rhythmically keep time. The power of that experience and the music that emanated captured Lamond?s imagination. “I was so taken by it, I became determined to learn and sing Gaelic myself,” Lamond recalls.
Lamond returned to the east coast to attend Antigonish’s Saint Francis Xavier University. Before graduating in Celtic Studies, Lamond had released her first album, the beautiful Bho Thir Nan Craobh (From the Land of the Trees). It consists entirely of traditional material and also features a young and at the time, little known, Ashley McIsaac. Unbeknownst to both, this was to be the beginning of a highly creative professional collaboration.
McIsaac recorded a reworked version of an arrangement penned by Lamond and Gordie Sampson (a native Cape Bretoner), called Sleepy Maggie. The song appeared on MacIsaac’s debut A&M album, Hi How Are You Today? with Lamond (or, as McIsaac always proudly introduced her in concert, Cape Breton’s disco diva) featured on vocals. The song went on to become a staple at contemporary hit radio, garnering numerous awards. Lamond hit the road with McIsaac and The Kitchen Devils as they toured with Melissa Etheridge, The Chieftains and the Crash Test Dummies.
Lamond’s affection, understanding and deep regard for the people and culture of Cape Breton are evident in every aspect of Suas E! The material was lovingly researched and rendered, and several tracks were laid down outside of the recording studio. Air failirinn is a milling song recorded in Lamond’s own home. Horo Ghoid Thu Nighean (Stepping Song) combines electric instrumentation, traditional fiddle and the sound of eight step dancers beating the floor at the West Mabou Sporting Hall.
With adept stewardship from producers Philip Strong and Laurel MacDonald, Lamond succeeded in weaving an unabashedly ancestral Gaelic motif into the fabric of a decidedly modern aural tapestry. “I do think you have to be solidly based in the traditional culture,” Lamond says, “but I believe in experimentation. I don’t have a problem integrating such disparate elements as long as the music stays true to its roots.”
The varied musical styles are played out with contributions from Toronto urban progressive jazzoids Bass is Base and Glenn Milchem and James Gray from the much-revered Blue Rodeo. MacIsaac and his Kitchen Devils once again make an appearance to inject funk into Bog a’Lochain, one of Cape Breton’s most popular strathespeys.
The success of Suas E! contributed to an explosion of interest in Celtic culture and Lamond took the songs on the road with a live band. Her experiences on the stage directly influenced the sound of Làn Dùil (Full of Hope). “I had the same philosophy, which is to pick a variety of songs in the tradition and work on different ways to arrange them,” Lamond explains.
On Làn Dùil, Lamond’s spell-binding renditions of treasured Gaelic songs are fused with original arrangements using a variety of instruments, from the familiar fiddle and bagpipes to Indian tabla. Ultimately, it’s a new style of world music that is unique to Mary Jane Lamond.
Yet as the singer herself will tell you, it’s the stories that matter. While Làn Dùil soothes and stirs, it also chronicles Cape Breton’s living Scottish Gaelic culture. The sounds of friends, family and local legends are heard throughout the album.
Despite the important role her music plays in preserving Scottish Gaelic songs that would otherwise rarely be heard outside Cape Breton, Mary Jane Lamond says Làn Dùil’s primary purpose is to entertain. “This is a huge oral literary tradition that is being lost at an alarming rate,” she says, “and I am involved with community things that help conserve it for younger people. But I’m also an interpreter, a singer and musician and in my music the challenge is to create something new and exciting that doesn’t destroy the heart of it.”
Orain Ghàidhlig (Gaelic Songs of Cape Breton), focuses on the songs and poetry which are the cornerstone of this tradition. This recording remains true to the simple sharing of music that is the foundation of Gaelic culture: from the engaging milling songs performed by a group of Cape Breton?s finest traditional Gaelic singers to the lively old style fiddling of Joe Peter MacLean, a musician never before captured on recording. Recorded at the beautiful North River Church in Cape Breton, this enhanced cd also features visuals taken during the recording sessions.
Mary Jane’s recording Storas (Gaelic meaning “a treasure”) is an interpretation of Scottish Gaelic songs that have become part of Nova Scotia’s Gaelic tradition.
Jerry Holland was a giant among fiddlers, one of the best North America has ever produced. He was one of the best-known Cape Breton musicians of his generation, and many of his own tunes have entered the traditional repertoire.
Jerry Holland was born February 23, 1955 in Brockton, Massachusetts. Starting the fiddle around the age of five, Jerry was performing publicly by age six. At ten, he was playing for Bill Lamey’s dances in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was during this time that Jerry began his association with fine piano accompanists such as Doug MacPhee, Eddie Irwin and Mary Jessie Mac Donald, and by the age of twelve, he was playing guitar for Angus Chisholm and Bert Foley on a regular basis.
Jerry’s family made annual summer visits to Cape Breton when he was a boy, and his musician father exposed him to some of the last generation’s greatest Cape Breton fiddlers. A Cape Breton resident since 1975, for four years, Jerry was a regular on The John Allan Cameron Show, a television program originating from Montreal where Jerry shared the stage with his hero, Winston Fitzgerald, and fiddlers Angus Chisholm, Joe Cormier, Wilfred Gillis and John Donald Cameron. During the years that the show ran, Jerry had to learn more than a thousand tunes, and acquired a vast repertoire of traditional Cape Breton fiddle music.
Because Cape Breton is remote, its fiddle music and dancing retains the old Scottish style, a tradition that Jerry devoted his energies to preserving and promoting through his books, recordings, and memorable concert tours throughout Canada, the US, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Germany, Mexico, England and France.
Jerry Holland died July 16, 2009 in North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Master uilleann piper Liam O’Flyn, also known as Liam Óg Ó Floinn, was born September 15, 1945 in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland. to musical parents.
Liam O’Flynn was born into what he described as “a very definite thing.” His father was a schoolmaster and fiddle player and his mother, who played and taught piano, came from a family of famous musicians from Clare.
After a time on the tin whistle and a short period ‘scraping’ at a small violin, Liam finally got started on the uilleann pipes. He had an obvious gift for this most complicated instrument, and was encouraged by all around him, notably by the Kildare piper Tom Armstrong. At the age of eleven, he received master-classes with Leo Rowsome.
In his teens, Liam and his pipes began to attend music sessions in the Kildare village of Prosperous. There, for the first time, he met many of the people with whom he would later make his name and tour the concert-halls of the world. These were musicians like Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine with whom, in the early seventies, Liam formed the legendary folk band Planxty. One of Ireland’s most important and influential groups, Planxty brought a style, innovation and ‘cool’ to Irish music which was to lead directly to the many Irish musical success stories during the decades that followed.
Behind the innovation and experimentation, Liam O’Flynn always managed to remain true to the great piping tradition. He took his instrument into previously unexplored territory – be it as a member of Planxty, as a soloist with an orchestra or working with artists as diverse as John Cage, The Everly Brothers, Van Morrison and Kate Bush.
Liam O’Flynn was one of Ireland’s greatest musicians . He died March 14, 2018.
Chrissy Crowley was born in Margaree Forks, Nova Scotia. She is part of thriving Celtic music scene from Cape Breton, Canada. She grew up in the beautiful Margaree area of Nova Scotia, Canada, a place known for its cherished musical culture. The music of the ceilidh resonates in the majestic mountains and peaceful valleys incorporating not only the tunes of the Scottish Gaels but also those of the area’s Irish and French-Acadians. Chrissy has been inspired by the traditions of artists who have gone before and has embraced the music of her Celtic roots making it her own.
Chrissy’s passion for the music of her Gaelic ancestors is borne of destiny. She is the granddaughter of fiddlers Bill Crowley and Archie Neil Chisholm and her large extended family has always greatly valued the traditions of their Scottish forebears and their Newfoundland/Irish ancestors. It was Chrissy who asked her mother to take her grandfather Bill’s violin out of storage. She had decided, with a resolve uncommon for one so young, to become a fiddler and listened intently to her family’s home recordings of the vibrant sessions in which legendary musicians participated, including her great uncle Angus Chisholm and cousins Cameron Chisholm and Margaret (Chisholm) MacDonald.
She remains a largely self-taught artist, absorbing the rich musical culture of the Margaree by listening to the local players and learning by observation. Chrissy has on occasion been in a classroom environment, enrolling in courses at the Celtic College in Goderich, Cape Breton’s Ceilidh Trail School of Music and the Gaelic College of Arts and Crafts. These institutions extended the gifted player scholarship opportunities and she took advanced fiddle instruction from master artists of Cape Breton, Ireland, Scotland and North America.
Chrissy’s determination and natural ability have allowed her to become an exceptional fiddler in an astonishingly short period of time and she remains in demand at the various traditional music venues throughout Nova Scotia. She has also been on stage at festivals in Cape Cod, Maine, Ontario and Prince Edward Island .
Chrissy has been involved herself with the promotion of the area’s traditions as a member of the Cape Breton Highlands Celtic Club. She was selected to attend the Encounters with Canada Journalism and Communications program in Ottawa and has written articles about her Celtic heritage and musical roots. Her work has been published in Celtic Heritage Magazine and Fiddler Magazine.
She is an active member of the Cape Breton Fiddlers’ Association, her success emblemizing the organization’s mandate to encourage and support the players of the young generation. Christine Crowley has released her first CD, following the footsteps of her great uncle Angus who was one of the first fiddlers in Cape Breton to make a recording.
Chrissy is a member of Còig, one of Atlantic Canada’s leading traditional groups. Còig’s debut album titled Five won the 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award for Traditional Album of the Year, the Music Nova Scotia Award for Traditional/Roots Recording of the Year, and most recently, the 2015 East Coast Music Award for Roots/Traditional Group Recording of the Year.
Calum MacCrimmon is a Scottish multi-instrumentalist born in Canada. He plays bagpipes, whistles, and bouzouki.
Calum MacCrimmon began learning the bagpipes at the age of 9 under a local piper and family friend in Edmonton, Canada. In 1991 Calum and his family moved over to a small town in the East of Scotland where he furthered his piping in and around many junior competitions with much success in the North and Southeast. Some of Calum’s tutors include Anne Spalding, Lindsay Ellis, Norman Gillies, John D. Burgess and Alan MacDonald of Glenuig.
In 2000 Calum was accepted in the traditional music course at the RSAMD in Glasgow. During his time in Glasgow, Calum has pursued the whistle, guitar, smallpipes, and Gaelic song. He has also taken a great interest in teaching classes in the National Piping Centre, Glasgow over the last two years.
Calum became involved with the Scottish Feisean movement as a tutor of pipes and whistle, he is also a member of the 52nd Lowland Regiment Pipe Band in Glasgow and Hamish Moore’s Na Tri Seudan, based in Edinburgh. Calum assisted the musical production of the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland as a pipe teacher and accompanying musician alongside Paul Warren (director) and Brian McNeil (producer).
He has participated in various bands, including Breabach, Mans Ruin, The Unusual Suspects, Seudan, RTK9000, Knobsquad, and Saxon Pop.
In 2007 Calum MacCrimmon won the Dewar Award.
The Big Spree, with Breabach (Vertical Records, 2007) Man’s Ruin (Box of Chocolates Records, 2009) The Desperate Battle of the Birds, with Breabach (Breabach Records, 2010)
Big Like This, with The Unusual Suspects (Big Bash Records, 2010)
String Theory, with Mike Vass (2010) Seudan (Greentrax, 2011) Bann, with Breabach (Breabach Records, 2012)
Buddy MacMaster was born October 18, 1924 in Timmins, Canada.
Buddy MacMaster was the undisputed master of Cape Breton fiddling. His reputation as a player grew since the 1940s when he started to establish himself, playing while working at the Canadian National Railway. Buddy recorded his first album when he retired from the CNR and went on to receive national and international acclaim and honors, including the Order of Canada.
“My uncle Buddy MacMaster is one of the greatest fiddlers Cape Breton has ever produced, and we’ve produced a lot of them! His fellow fiddlers owe him a huge debt, for he has greatly influenced and inspired all of us. He makes you want to dance; he can bring tears to your eyes,” said Natalie MacMaster.
Buddy recorded several albums, taught and played concerts and dances.
Buddy MacMaster died on August 20, 2014 in Judique, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Ashley Dwayne MacIsaac was born on February 24, 1975 in Creignish, Nova Scotia, Canada. Growing up on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Ashley McIsaac never listened to pop music, with the exception of his brother’s AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne records. Instead, he listened to the recordings of the local master fiddlers like Angus Chisholm, Winston “Scotty” Fitzgerald, and Buddy MacMaster, who would become McIsaac’s dominant influence. He picked up the fiddle at age eight, and immersed himself in the instrument, playing anywhere and everywhere he could.
By 14, MacIsaac was performing at local festivals, pubs, and church and community-hall dances. Soon he was touring Celtic communities in Massachusetts and California, performing with local musicians, and at 16 he recorded 1992’s mostly acoustic-based, traditional Close To The Floor album, following it a year later with A Cape Breton Christmas. By 18 he had toured nationally with Toronto singer John McDermott and The Chieftains. “I did 160 dates in four months,” he recalls. “I was still in school but I was playing two to four nights a week doing concerts, wakes and funerals.”
Tipped off by his wife, Joanne, who had seen MacIsaac play at a Cape Breton dance in 1992, veteran avant-garde composer Phillip Glass contacted Ashley to take part in a performance for German playwright George Bruckner’s play “Woyzeck.” From that success Ashley received a call from Paul Simon who asked him to perform on an Edie Brickell session he was producing. McIsaac then backed Simon and Brickell at a Carnegie Hall show for the Tibet House Benefit in 1994.
When Ashley MacIsaac burst on the worldwide scene with 1995’s Hi, How Are You Today? (A&M) he scored the kind of coup instrumental artists often dream of. Going triple-platinum in Canada and breaking down radio barriers with the Gaelic single “Sleepy Maggie,” Ashley became an immediate pop icon, rebellious and exuberant, resplendent in kilts, army boots and combat pants.
Using rock musician attitude, Ashley made an aesthetic of it onstage, effortlessly blending his Celtic heritage with contemporary elements such as punk, electronica, hip-hop and grunge. Audiences who may have felt alienated by Ashley’s disregard of convention were instantly won over by his dazzling displays of grit, passion and authority. Recalls Ashley at the time, “My father once told me, ‘If you want to play the fiddle, get mad at it or don’t play it at all.‘” Ashley’s follow-up, Fine, Thank You Very Much was a more traditional but no less original outing that delivered on the promise of his debut, and he again blazed through a tour that included a now-notorious appearance on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” during which the obstreperous Ashley flashed the cameras in his kilt.
Following a departure from A&M in 1999, Ashley found himself at a personal and professional crossroads. Biding his time, he recorded and independently released Fiddle Music 101, an album of traditional fiddle instrumentals made with Halifax fiddler David Maclsaac, and he re-released his 1993 album, A Cape Breton Christmas. Meanwhile, he contemplated on what shape his next record would take. “I knew I had to take a giant step forward and be unafraid and unapologetic about whatever I chose to do. I wanted to make a picture of me at the specific time I was in and I had to let myself be very free to do so. I had to be fluid, and approach the unknown.”
Signed to Decca by then VP of A&R Rory Johnston, Ashley was introduced to Roger Greenwalt (No Doubt, Nils Lofgren), who jumped at the chance to work with Ashley on this bold new adventure. MacIsaac was just days into recording his first album in five years when tragedy struck: his prized fiddle, a German Student make – the same instrument he picked up at age eight, the same one he played throughout his teens, had used on all his recordings, the same one he thrilled audiences with across the globe, the fiddle he knew inside and out – broke apart, right in his hands. “I literally wore it out,” Ashley wistfully recalls. “The wood had gotten so thin, it just couldn’t be saved. It was gone…But then I remembered, ‘It’s not the truck, it’s the driver,’ and I was ready to press onward.” A suitable replacement was found – oddly enough, an exact replica of his German Student make – and an emboldened Ashley charged through the rest of the recording process like a man reborn. The result was Ashley Maclsaac, the Cape Breton wonder’s debut on Decca.
Aside from Ashley’s fiddling, Greenwalt developed all of the instrumentation and electronic loops himself. Tracks like “Cello Song,” “Save Me From Tomorrow,” “Grapes,” and “Captain America” were already in the can when co-producer and mixer Kevin Killen (U2. Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello) came on board. With characteristic tact he asserted that the tracks needed real drums and bass as well as some atmospheric guitar and keyboards. “The additions made Ashley’s performances even more stellar,” recalls Killen. Killen himself brought in Donal Lunny’s “This is My Father” and Anuna’s “The Wedding Funeral,” which Greenwalt sampled and reworked.-Meanwhile A&R man Johnston introduced “Lay Me Down” (the album’s lead-off single) and “I Don’t Need This.”
In 2016 Ashley MacIsaac and Jay “Sticks” Andrews released FDLEЯ, a mix of dance and experimental Celtic music.
Andrea Beaton is an energetic fiddler and piano player from Cape Breton Island who comes from a family of talented musicians that includes Kinnon and Betty Beaton, Donald Angus Beaton, Elizabeth Beaton, Buddy MacMaster and Natalie MacMaster.
She has been playing the fiddle and composing tunes since she was about thirteen years old and has taught violin and step-dance for several years.
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.
Headline photo: The Gloaming
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