Music Review: Cherish the Ladies – Like a Fine Wine

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How It’s New York:  Three out of five of the performers live in the New York area.  Joanie Madden said it is her home, she could never leave it!  (listen to her on the 2/12  podcast, and read our interview here!).
How It’s Irish:  Named for a trad tune, Cherish the Ladies was put together by Mick Moloney to be the first all-women’s trad band.  They played tunes from their most recent release,Country Crossroads, for the first time in NYC!


New blogger, Musician Suze Sylvester reviews Cherish the Ladies at City Winery, 2/12

Altan will be at City Winery on March 8!  Not to be missed!

The music was so irresistible, we tapped, clapped, sang, danced in our seats, “didilly, didilly, doo”-ed, and laughed ourselves into a fun-filled Emerald Dream.

I hate going out on Sunday nights. After a weekend filled with chores, classes, and socializing, and facing the impending workday Monday (Why wasn’t THIS weekend Presidents’ Day weekend?!), the idea of getting dressed up and running around Manhattan on just about the coldest, windiest night of winter would have been about the last thing I’d normally want to do. But then, we Irish music fans are a strange, hearty and, possibly, slightly masochistic lot (when the need arises) who would travel any distance to hear a good Irish band.

So this past Sunday, I went to see and hear one of the greats: Cherish the Ladies, celebrating their 25th year of singing and playing their hearts out. I’d waited a long time – I’ve even taken bodhrán lessons from Siobhan Egan, one of their alumni – to hear what all the excitement was about this group that was originally an experiment to see what an Irish band composed of women could do with traditional Irish male territory. So there I was, at The City Winery, being seated a million miles from the stage, wistfully asking the hostess how I was going to review the performance if I couldn’t see it. (Oh, I’m a golden-tongued devil…)
And I got my wish. Not exactly front-row, but not in the back of the large bi-leveled, elegant wine bar restaurant, either. The place was packed with eating and drinking folk – a special wine was bottled for the occasion – who exploded into applause when “Cherish”, as the group is affectionately called, walked onstage. And that’s the last time anyone “walked” anywhere.
The music was so irresistible, we tapped, clapped, sang, danced in our seats, “didilly, didilly, doo”-ed, and laughed ourselves into a fun-filled Emerald Dream. Joanie Madden’s powerful voice and matchless flute and tin whistle playing was joined by Mary Coogan on guitar, Mirella Murray on accordion, Gráinne Murphy on fiddle, Kathleen Boyle on piano and harmonies, and vocalist Deirdre Connolly – who also plays a mean bodhrán and tin whistle. Even though most of these women live in New York, they all had strong Celtic roots, and all of them had musical families – and it showed.

Some of the music was traditional (a jig from the 1600s by harpist Turlough O’Carolan, Co. Meath), some was authentically well-composed by Joanie herself (Is there anything that woman can’t do?!), and some was contemporary by well-known Irish composers (Séamus Begley’s “The American Wake” – inspired by what they gave emigrants before they left Ireland because their family and friends would never see them again; “We Dreamed Our Dreams” by Dick Farley, the policeman in Co. Meath who composed “Innis Free” for the classic Irish movie with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, The Quiet Mansee our write up of the MOMA film series based around it!). Even New York Irishman Stephen [Collins] Foster’s “Hard Times Come Again No More” got an airing – and an enthusiastic, invited chorus of audience members. To all this wonder they added four step dancers who even enticed Deirdre and a “timorously startled” Joanie into joining them: Kera Green, Joe Dwyer, Melody Regan, and Chris tatch (from Bristol, England and Riverdance). And then there was Siobhan Egan, whose amazing mastery of the bodhrán (for one brief number!) made an entire band out of a wee patch of goatskin.

Joanie’s pied piper-ing wasn’t confined to the music: she joked with audience, dancers, and bandmates alike. She told everyone that she wasn’t responsible for any wine glasses or teeth when the dancers came onto the small stage. And here she teased  about just comin’ from Boston near Gillette Stadium – a reference about being near the New England Patriots – which prompted someone to gift her with a Giant’s scarf!  And there she laughed about the shouts arising from the darkened

restaurant no matter what part of the greater New York area she mentioned. Joanie then related the story about their recent first Caribbean cruise (read Paul Keating on the “Folk ‘n’ Irish” cruise), accompanied by 600 other Irish folk!

She spun such yarns as how she came to write “The Boat to Bofin”, by getting sick on the ferry on their way to an Irish isle that had 150 residents, 17 pubs, and no police. And why, when she was hosting the slightly notorious ladies man Séamus Begley at her home when they were both appearing at the Masters in Collaboration program at the Irish Arts Center, her mother appeared at the house to grill Begley – and then inquired whether Joanie still had the baseball bat her father had given her.

She explained that she’d written a song  while watching the 200 kids crossing her backyard – the same backyard a young Joanie and her friends had naughtily traversed – one day to get to the hills of Fairlawn in the Bronx to go sledding. And divulged the secret that it was her Irish uncle Mike working the spade in Irish soil in unwitting union with the nearby waves of the sea that she translated into her evocative song “The Waves and the Spade”. The dedications of songs to family and friends by band members were endless – and endlessly interesting, always being paired with such entertaining stories that one wonders why the [ancient] practice of Irish storytelling isn’t as equally treasured here as the music.

Now I’ll tell you what the trick was, the slight of hand that made us all think we were friends, dancing on a hill at somebody’s backyard party. It was a large bunch of merriment, a twinkle in an Irish eye, a spark shot from a dancer’s shoe, a whole lot of practice, and centuries of the most beautiful, magical music a small country can conjure from the depths of their hearts. But we really knew that already. And it’s what we came for: to have our lives woven together by intricate melodies and tales for a few brief hours, while we remembered we were human beings who had joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, romances and weddings, separations and deaths. Just imagine: in this big, impersonal City, with the winter winds howling outside, time stopped and, afterwards, no one went home a stranger.
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Copyright 2012 New York Irish Arts