The great Joe Derrane (1930-2016), ‘genius of a musician,’ preferred to play

How it’s (Massachusetts) New York: Joe Derrane grew up in Boston, and influenced many, many musicians up and
joederrane2

Joe Derrane in 2006 (© Spinaci, at WikiMedia Commons)

down the East Coast.
How it’s Irish: Irish-American heritage Derrane was a master of Irish Trad accordion.

Word from accordion player and National Heritage Award-winner Billy McComiskey that Joe Derrane has died. Here is an article written for Irish Examiner USA in 2010, on the occasion of  concert honoring him presented in Connecticut.

Would you rather play, or talk? That was the question the Wolf Trap Festival in Vienna, Virginia, organizers put to Joe Derrane when he made his comeback there in 1994.

He was out of practice. For 35 years, he’d been playing other kinds of music-the Irish ballrooms had closed and so

“One night I had to give up my chair; they set me on the kitchen counter. Twice I almost got knocked over. I took off my shoes and socks and stood in the sink!”

he switched to piano accordion, then to keyboard, playing jazz, pop, Jewish music, Italian music – while working his day job at the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority.

Then in 1993 his early 78 recordings were reissued on Rego on CD, and discovered by Earle Hitchner of the Irish Echo. Earle was bowled over. He called Joe up, wrote about him, and got Joe invited to Wolf Trap. The organizers said if he didn’t feel up to playing, he could just have a tent, talk about his life in music. People were eager to hear from him.

“I’d rather play!” Joe said.

There were 1200 people in the tent, and hardly a dry eye in the house by the end, Derrane recalls, talking to me from his home in Randall, Massachusetts, “They wouldn’t let me leave the stage. I had to pledge not to quit again.”

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Panti – High Heels in Low Places at the Irish Arts Center – June 12, 2015

How it’s New York: At the Irish Arts Center in New York
How it’s Irish: Comedy sensation and Irish National Treasure Drag Queen Panti Bliss
High Heels in Low Places 1

Photo credit: Vitaliy Piltser

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wake of the success of the recent Marriage Equality Referndum in Ireland, the notoriously funny Panti Bliss brought her hit One-Woman show to the Irish Arts Center for a sold out one-week run.

For those unaware of the power of the story of Panti, the alter ego of club owner and theatrical gender discombobulist Rory O’Neill, she came to prominence in early 2014 after a controversial interview on Irish television which created a national furor over comments Rory made about homophobia.  (more…)

She Lives Life to the Fullest – My InterReview with Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, The Face of Lanvin

How it’s New York: Jacquie Murdock is a native New Yorker
19-lanvin-jacqueline-murdock.w215.h143.2x

Face of Lanvin 2012

How it’s (Irish) Scottish: She’s Scottish

Yahoo is currently featuring an article called “Awe-Inspiring Women of 2014.” But my choice is Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, featured in the documentary Advanced Style, and a Face of Lanvin 2012. In two generous interviews, Murdock impressed me as being one of the most dynamic and courageous women I have ever known.

Murdock, a former dancer with the Apollo Theater, had always known who she was. After church in 1930’s Harlem, her cultured, middle-class family (Her father was a restauranteur.) attended salons at inspiring hosts’ beautiful homes that were filled with wonderful music and conversation. One day, at the age of 5, this youngest of three daughters announced to her family that she wanted to be a ballet dancer. This would not be exceptional by today’s standards but back then, it wasn’t an considered an acceptable occupation for a well-brought-up young lady – or a lucrative career choice. So her parents – Scottish, Jamaican-born Edward Templeton Campbell and his Jamaican wife, Izilda Fyffe Campbell (childhood sweethearts who grew up and married in Jamaica, lived in Cuba, then emigrated the United States in the 1930s) – gave her piano lessons. This did little to deter Murdock’s ambitions, for she was born to stand out.

06_ADVANCED STYLE_Photo Credit to Ari Seth Cohen

I was always a fashionista

Then her mother sent 8-year old Murdock for sewing lessons. Tall, with the looks and posture of a dancer, she became her mother’s seamstress’ model. She was finally in the spotlight. (Murdock allows that she might be related to Naomi Campbell. “I was always a fashionista,” she assured me.)

Her dancing was never far behind, though. This was the time of Cafe Society, and Murdock performed at famed NYC ballrooms when she was 15: the Renaissance, the Savoy, the Audubon. But she “grew up at the Apollo.” Frankie Manning and Norma Miller were

She grew up at the Apollo

looking for tall girls who could dance, and Murdock began to dance there when she was 17. When she turned 20, she found that she couldn’t get a show, so Murdock took a typing job at Universal Films – the first black woman to get a job there. Then she joined Eubie Blake’s show, “Black-Skinned Models.” She was 25, and she took off!

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InteReview: Debra Rothenberg’s 30 years of Bruce (we’re hoping for 30 more)

How it’s (New York) New Jersey: The Boss made New Jersey cool long before The Sopranos. Bless you, Bruce. And for New York: the book Bruce in Focus Coverchronicles events around New York City.
How it’s Irish: Bruce is very popular in Ireland and sold out his tour there last summer. I saw him in Kilkenny, and when I told the people near me that I was from New Jersey, boy, did my stock ever rise.

My brother Matthew Orel, a  Bruce Springsteen scholar, reviewed this book for us and chatted with photojournalist Debra Rothenberg. He finds lots of common ground with Rothenberg, loves the photographs, and loves that the book is accurate! “We get to experience these moments vicariously, through Rothenberg’s lens,” he writes.

The first thing I noticed, when launching in to the introduction for Debra Rothenberg’s book Bruce Springsteen in Focus 1980-2012
was the instant potential for a good old game of Jewish geography.  Rothenberg and I were born less than 10 weeks apart and grew up a few miles from each other in suburban Northern New Jersey. Her school friends were my camp friends. Her college acquaintances were my relatives. We each saw out first major concerts at the Garden States Arts Center in the mid-70s, were turned on to Bruce Springsteen’s music by a mentor who preached the Springsteen gospel and knew not to let up, and saw Southside Johnny at the very same shows near our homes before finally seeing Bruce perform for the first time during “The River” tour.

Rothenberg combined her love for Bruce Springsteen with her dream to become a great photographer, and over the course of three decades has chronicled both his career and her own. Rothenberg notes,

“this is my journey, of having a dream to be a professional photographer. Being told, ‘you stink, you’re never going to make it,’ and I really did stink, but I didn’t quit. It was a long process to get where I’m at. There was nothing else I wanted to do; quitting was not an option.”

Her approach surely resonates with comments that Bruce and members of the E Street Band have made about their own careers, and it will resonate with fans around the world as well (In Focus has been in amazon.com‘s top 10 sellers for photojournalism since its release in September)Let’s be clear, though: there are no pictures in this book that stink.

Let’s be clear, though: there are no pictures in this book that stink.

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Meet the Yanks!

How it’s New York: You can hear the lads, Dylan Foley, Dan Gurney, Isaac Alderson and Sean Earnest,  together and individually around town at many sessions. And some of the tunes on the CD have become NY session standards (hello, “Anthony Frawley’s”).Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 12.18.53 PM
How it’s Irish: The Yanks play traditional Irish music, filtered through their American sensibilities.

 An earlier version of this article was published in Irish Music Magazine, June, 2013.

When I asked Dan Gurney and Dylan Foley if the boys practiced a lot before recording “The Yanks,” they paused.

“We didn’t really practice at all, actually,”

Dan said. Then they laughed.


It’s hard to believe: the seamless integration of Dan’s accordion, Dylan’s fiddle, Sean Earnest’s guitar and bouzouki and Isaac Alderson’s flute and pipes sound as if they’d been playing together, and practicing, for years. They haven’t: a date at Boston’s Club Passim in 2011 was the first time the foursome assembled as a band.

“We wanted to keep the atmosphere fairly loose,”

Dan explained.

“We put all the sets together ahead of time, but most of the sets were done between one and two takes.”

 

The first album for The Yanks is self-titled, although some people have begun calling it “The Four-Faced Liar,” after the West Village pub that serves as background to the boys on the CD jacket. The CD was recorded in a barn in the back of the Blackthorne resort in the Catskills. (more…)

Holiday Cheer in Song: A Winter Wonderland Roundup

How It’s New York: Holiday CDs are everywhere, played in every restaurant, elevator and shop.
How It’s Irish:  And lots of them are Irish

Mike Farragher is nice to Celtic Woman, before he raves about Ashley Davis,whose lovely CD Songs of the Celtic Winter got packed up with Christmasy things, and has been like an early gift to him when he found it again.

Therese Cox wrote an excellent review of Ashley in concert last year, dsecribing the event as “a sustained journey into a beautiful netherworld of plaintive verses and haunting choruses…

Mike goes on to look at Anita Daly’s excellent compilation,Together for Christmas: A Contemporary Celtic Christmas Collection.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which must mean a fresh new assortment of Irish holiday music is heading for your stockings (as long as you’re not deserving a fresh delivery of coal)!
 

The lasses from Celtic Woman have recorded a new collection of holiday goodies called Home for Christmas. After selling over six million albums there is little incentive to change the formula, and there is little in the way of artistic growth from A Christmas Celebration, their last holiday collection, that was released in 2006. 

Of course, going to Celtic Woman for culture is like going for a meal at Olive Garden when you’re strolling through Little Italy, yet there is something heartwarming about how the voices of Chloë Agnew, Lisa Lambe and Méav Ní Mhaolchatha coalesce with the violin stylings of Máiréad Nesbitt to warm the heart. 

The lasses took a break from their Celtic Christmas Symphony tour to perform songs from Home for Christmas on QVC on December 5 at noon.  If your record collection won’t be complete without yet another version of “Winter Wonderland,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and the Christmas classic “Silent Night,” then this is the collection for you!

If you’re looking for a Celtic woman that is less airbrushed and more earthy, Ashley Davis is your girl.  She has a great disc called Songs of the Celtic Winter.

“Lean into me gently/So I might remember/How this dance felt love/Until next our next winter,” Davis sings on “Winter Jig,” and truer words were never spoken. 

 I was high on this album when I reviewed it earlier this year and forgot about it until I was unpacking the Christmas decorations from the attic and found it in a box. I’ve been playing it around the house ever since. 

Davis made it a point to emphasize that this was not a Christmas album when I spoke with her upon the album’s release, which explains why there are no overt references to Santa or his suit. 

There are, however, plenty of chilled imagery in her beautiful poetry, which is set atop a warm blanket of Celtic harp, acoustic instruments and brushed percussion. 

“Winter is the time of the year when nature takes her rest and we have our shortest days,” she explained during our interview on the album release. “I tried to bring this sense of quiet with the anticipation of rebirth on the horizon to this album. 

“Certainly in many of the Celtic regions there were areas that were quite isolated once winter set in and the nights grew longer. This is when the stories and songs of the Celtic culture became a necessity to pass these dark times. Many long nights were spent around the fire with the promise of spring around the corner.”
 

For more information on Ashley Davis, visit www.daisyrings.com.  

Davis lends her song “Nollaig Moon” to Together for Christmas: A Contemporary Celtic Christmas Collectiona compilation assembled by promoter Anita Daly. 


Daly has worked with everyone from the Pogues to Black 47 and opened her little black book to create an unparalleled look at contemporary Celtic sounds. 

If your tastes veer toward the traditional, you will delight at the sounds of the “Deck the Halls” Christmas melody from Joanie Madden and Cherish the LadiesThe Celtic Tenors offer a spine-tingling read of “Silent Night,” while tough guy Damien Dempsey offers a surprisingly touching rendition of “Oh, Holy Night.”

The voices of Irish women are well represented here with the neo-operatic Emma Kate Tobia covering the song “Walking in the Air,” from the movie The Snowman. Born in Scotland, Tobia is a classically trained soprano who melds her pure lyrical voice with the timeless melodies of her Irish heritage. 

Her debut CD is Aisling na nGael (An Irish Dream). The CD is a combination of classical and traditional tunes sung “as Gaeilge” or in Gaelic. 

You even have a sparkling rendition of “Fairytale of New York” – our generation’s, “White Christmas”  after a wicked hangover in the drunk tank– performed by Tobia and George Murphy, an Irish musician who hails from the north Dublin suburb of Beaumont. 

Murphy had never performed as a singer before his audition and subsequent rise to fame on the Irish TV show You’re a Star, chosen as a stand out by Irish composer Phil Coulter. He is definitely one of those young voices you want to be paying attention to as the years go on–he has that X factor!

Dave Browne’s Temple Bar Band pulls no punches on their cover of The Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” adding an Irish choir and a fury of flutes and fiddles for some Dublin-esque trimmings to this modern rock classic. 

Ashley Davis joins Black 47’s Larry Kirwan for a John Lennon remake.

“I can’t even remember why I recorded John Lennon’s ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’ – probably to protest the Iraq invasion,” Kirwan explains. 

“Well, thankfully, that war is history, but the song and its treatment add a little something different to a Christmas collection.” 

Daly’s collection is so much more than a run-through of shopworn classics. It is a showcase for new voices with new things to say about the holidays.  

It has arrived in one magnificent, eclectic bundle, showcasing the many sides of Celtic music. Celtic rock is represented with the first tune, “Christmas Day” by The Elders, along with Kyf Brewer of Barleyjuice singing his original “Whiskey for Christmas.” 

“I like the ringing bells and the spirits as well as any Christian can/my love says she’s given up whiskey for Christmas/my favorite thing about whiskey for Christmas is finding someone to give it away,” sneers Brewer over a slippery burlesque arrangement with fiddling accoutrements. It calls to mind the quirky pop of mid-1960s Kinks, delivered by a Barleyjuice-dipped deviled egg! 

Tara O’Grady ends the collection on a jazzy note, with a flirty fiddle dancing with her during a sultry read of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” 

I’ve come to know Tara in my association with the Irish American Writers and Artists group, and she is a tour de force of talent. 

Daly hosted a CD launch party at Connolly’s Klub 45 (121 West 45th Street, New York), on Thursday, December 13.

Doors open 8:30 p.m., with $20 admission at the door going to  benefit Hurricane Sandy relief. Visit
www.togetherforchristmas.com/about.html. The CD is available on iTunes and directly on the album’s website.

Susan McKeown “Belongs” in your Collection!

Susan McKeown has just released a tantalizing new CD, Belong. It blends folk, acoustic blues, Country kickin’ beats, and slippery jazz to make a perfect blend for your lazy Sunday morning. “Keep your wits about you somehow/it’s gonna be a cold winter/you’ll find your place to belong” warns McKeown as the fiddles and acoustic guitars provide warmth to the track. Tracks like “Our Texas” and “On the Bridge to Williamsburg are traveling songs that reveal the restless spirit of a fiercely talented storyteller. 
Like so many artists nowadays, McKeown produced the album through funding through PledgeMusic, which allows artists to reach fans for their support. “Once you’ve achieved the target, the pressure is off and you feel that validation,” McKeown says during our chat. “I thought it was important for me to send some videos and blogs along the way during this recording process to give people a sense of what was going on in the studio. That worked well, because fans posted that on their Facebook pages and it built interest in ‘Belong!’”
Opening with ‘On the Bridge to Williamsburg,’ a duet with Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke, ‘Belong’ is a showcase not only for McKeown’s pristine vocals, but for other musicians at the top of their game.  James Maddock (from Wood) and banjo and accordion player Dirk Powell (Irma Thomas, The Raconteurs, Joan Baez) join Susan for ‘Everything We Had Was Good,’ a break-up song about ending well. Erin McKeown guests on ‘Fallen Angel.’
I spoke with Susan about making ‘Belong.’ Here’s how it went. 
How was the experience of doing a pledge drive for album funding? 
It went well, I met my goal. It was the second time I did this thing–the first time I did it was with Kickstarter. It has it’s pros and cons. It’s great that it gives you recognition as an artist. It has changed the way you get compensated as an artists. My albums usually takes $20,000 to make and some people spend more than that. 
Most of the people that funded me knew me anyway. I was able to reach out to people in my mailing list and Facebook pages. Some people go directly to the website. If people love you and follow you, they will follow you through whatever channel you raise funds on. 
In some of the lower amounts, you are simply asking them to buy it in advance
Is there pressure to deliver when you know people have already paid for the album in advance? 
Quite the opposite. It gives you confidence and liberty to pursue this project in accordance with your vision. It’s a vote of confidence, and not pressure. You feel the unconditional love and support. 
Told her friend about me and how this impacts her life and she is a photographer and video guides. He ended up shooting the video for the pledge and cover photo. When the designer did the design.
How would you describe your sound and the music of ‘Belong’ to someone that has never heard your music? 
Trying to describe your music is difficult, so you have to refer to people they know. I embrace a wide array of music. Joni Mitchell meets Emmylou. In other albums, I would say Joni Mitchell meets Luka Bloom. I also draw on traditional music–not just traditional Irish but also Aftican and Mexican Mariachi. 
So, how did a nice girl from Ireland get mixed up in all this American roots music?
After I finished my album Prophecy in 2003, The Brooklyn Academy of Music asked me to work with a genre Jack Ward a wonderful banjo player and he brought me these wonderful bluegrass CDs. I love watching the changes between culture and generations–how did the Irish music make its way over to the States and then how did it change once it came on these shores? 
How does being from Ireland influence your music? 
There has always been a great sense of longing as I look to Ireland and it permeates my work because I’ve been pining for the land I left behind in the past.  
Now, I think embracing this American music is reflective of the fact that I found a great life for myself here in the East Village of Manhattan. People are so supportive of what I do and there’s this great community of fans and musicians around me now.  
I loved “Lullaby of Manhattan.” How did that come about? 
“Lullaby of Manhattan” goes back to the blackout of 2003. I was asked to lend my voice in the Irish section of the NY Tenement Museum. It made me think of the ghosts of an apartment and the years going by and how the walls hold onto those experiences of the people that dwelled there. Life is messy, and that is reflective in the lyrics as well.  
For more information, log onto http://www.susanmckeown.com

Music: Susan McKeown “Belongs” in your Collection!

How It’s New York:
How It’s Irish:

Mike Farragher talks with Susan McKeown, who recently released her new CD Belong. “A perfect blend for your lazy Sunday morning,” Mike says.

Susan McKeown has just released a tantalizing new CD, Belong  . It blends folk, acoustic blues, Country kickin’ beats, and slippery jazz to make a perfect blend for your lazy Sunday morning. 

“Keeep you wits about you somehow
It’s gonna be a cold winter
You’ll gind your place to belong,”  

warns McKeown as the fiddles and acoustic guitars provide warmth to the track. Tracks like “Our Texas” and “On the Bridge to Williamsburg are traveling songs that reveal the restless spirit of a fiercely talented storyteller. 
 


Like so many artists nowadays, McKeown produced the album through funding through PledgeMusic, which allows artists to reach fans for their support. 

“Once you’ve achieved the target, the pressure is off and you feel that validation,” McKeown says during our chat. “I thought it was important for me to send some videos and blogs along the way during this recording process to give people a sense of what was going on in the studio. That worked well, because fans posted that on their Facebook pages and it built interest in ‘Belong!’”


[NOTE: One of those friends was New York Irish Arts. We posted a mini interview in July when she was taking pledges; there’s a video of “No Jericho” here as well)

Opening with ‘On the Bridge to Williamsburg,’ a duet with Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke, Belong is a showcase not only for McKeown’s pristine vocals, but for other musicians at the top of their game.  James Maddock (from Wood) and banjo and accordion player Dirk Powell (Irma Thomas, The Raconteurs, Joan Baez) join Susan for Everything We Had Was Good, a break-up song about ending well. Erin McKeown guests on Fallen Angel.

I spoke with Susan about making ‘Belong.’ Here’s how it went. 
How was the experience of doing a pledge drive for album funding? 

It went well, I met my goal. It was the second time I did this thing–the first time I did it was with Kickstarter. It has it’s pros and cons. It’s great that it gives you recognition as an artist. It has changed the way you get compensated as an artists.
My albums usually takes $20,000 to make and some people spend more than that. 

Most of the people that funded me knew me anyway. I was able to reach out to people in my mailing list and Facebook pages. Some people go directly to the website. If people love you and follow you, they will follow you through whatever channel you raise funds on. 

In some of the lower amounts, you are simply asking them to buy it in advance

Is there pressure to deliver when you know people have already paid for the album in advance? 

Quite the opposite. It gives you confidence and liberty to pursue this project in accordance with your vision. It’s a vote of confidence, and not pressure. You feel the unconditional love and support. 
Told her friend about me and how this impacts her life and she is a photographer and video guides. He ended up shooting the video for the pledge and cover photo. When the designer did the design.

How would you describe your sound and the music of ‘Belong’ to someone that has never heard your music? 

Trying to describe your music is difficult, so you have to refer to people they know. I embrace a wide array of music. Joni Mitchell meets Emmylou. In other albums, I would say Joni Mitchell meets Luka Bloom. I also draw on traditional music–not just traditional Irish but also Aftican and Mexican Mariachi. 

So, how did a nice girl from Ireland get mixed up in all this American roots music?
After I finished my album Prophecy in 2003, The Brooklyn Academy of Music asked me to work with a genre Jack Ward a wonderful banjo player and he brought me these wonderful bluegrass CDs. I love watching the changes between culture and generations–how did the Irish music make its way over to the States and then how did it change once it came on these shores? 
How does being from Ireland influence your music? 
There has always been a great sense of longing as I look to Ireland and it permeates my work because I’ve been pining for the land I left behind in the past.  
Now, I think embracing this American music is reflective of the fact that I found a great life for myself here in the East Village of Manhattan. People are so supportive of what I do and there’s this great community of fans and musicians around me now.  
I loved “Lullaby of Manhattan.” How did that come about? 
“Lullaby of Manhattan” goes back to the blackout of 2003. I was asked to lend my voice in the Irish section of the Tenement Museum of New York City. It made me think of the ghosts of an apartment and the years going by and how the walls hold onto those experiences of the people that dwelled there. Life is messy, and that is reflective in the lyrics as well.  

For more information, log onto http://www.susanmckeown.com

Theatre: Jim Norton’s Success makes Drood Mysteriously Good

How It’s New York: The show runs at The Roundabout, which was once Studio 54, so, very New York indeed!
How It’s Irish: Jim Norton is one of the best Irish actors out there.

A version of this article first appeared in Irish Examiner USA, Nov. 13.

“You know the Irish, they’re always singing and dancing.” — Jim Norton. 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood is a sugarplum of a show, with Norton as the Music Hall actor-manager like a secular Santa, providing treats..

There’s a moment in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which opened November 13 at the Roundabout Theatre’s Studio 54, where the Chairman, played by Jim Norton, stands in a box and pours snow down on the stage.

He looks bored.
He looks crabby. It’s hilarious.
It’s genius.

It was Norton’s idea.

Norton, a Dubliner, is best known in New York for knocking great Irish roles out of the park, particularly the Tony-Award winning role of the blind Edward Harkin in Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer in 2008 (I reviewed that for Celtic Cafe then) and the title role of Finian McLonergan in Finian’s Rainbow in 2009- 2010.
We interviewed him for this newspaper then, and he told us then, among other things, that his grandmother told him that acting is what “the fairies leave in the cradle.”

In Rupert Holmes’ brilliant adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished 1870 novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Norton plays an English actor-manager who runs a rag-tag Music Hall company.
The conceit of the show is that all of the cast are playing both characters in the story, and the music hall actors who play them.

Because Dickens died while writing the story of a young man who vanishes wearing his evil Uncle Jasper’s cloak, which is found covered with blood, we can’t be sure whom Dickens intended for the guilty party, or even if young Edwin is dead. The audience vote in the middle of Act Two for the character they think is the likeliest person wearing the bad fake wig as “Detective Datchery,” and for the killer.
Is it evil Uncle Jasper, played by Will Chase? Is it hotheaded Neville Landless, played by Andy Karl? Edwin’s former fiancée Rosa Bud, played by Betsy Wolfe (yep, Rosebud. Dickens was not subtle about names)? Was it Princess Puffer, the proprietess of an opium den, played with wry charm by Chita Rivera?

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Music IntReview: ‘The Anvil’ pays tribute to father’s memory

How It’s New York: Marie Reilly is the Protocol Officer of the Irish Consulate in NYC.
How It’s Irish: Reilly is from County Longford, and the tunes on the CD are trad but relatively uncommon.

Dan Neely attended the launch of Marie Reilly’s CD The Anvil a few months ago, and reported on the launch and the very unusual and fascinating CD, which he calls a “delight”:

Comprised of tunes from South Leitrim and Longford, much of the music was taken from manuscript collections compiled in those areas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.   which captures tunes Marie learned from her father.

This article was originally published in Irish Echo, May 9th, 2012

Marie will be playing at the Concert for the Mercy Centre, which will now also benefit victims of Sandy in the Rockaways, on Monday, Nov. 19 at the Irish Arts Center.

In New York City, we’re privileged to have strong institutional support for traditional music.  Organizations like Irish Arts Center, Glucksman Ireland House and the New York Irish Center, for example, each do myriad things for the advancement of the traditional arts in New York City and their work is of great benefit to the community at large.  Another such entity doing great work is the Consulate General of Ireland in New York, led by Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife Hanora O’Dea Kilkenny Since arriving in New York in 2010, the Kilkennys have shown an unusual commitment to Irish music and dance by opening wide the Consulate’s doors to the community countless times.

One such moment occurred at the Consulate on April 25, when they hosted the launch of Consulate Protocol Officer Marie Reilly’s new CD,  The Anvil.  The launch drew people from all over the tri-state area, including Reilly’s friends and family and a phalanx of musicians.  People like Tom Dunne, Don Meade, Cillian Vallely, Marie Barrett, Desi Groarke, Marie Reilly (who also plays fiddle, and would be known for her work with her brother Martin and with Cherish the Ladies), Marian Makins, Donie Carroll, Niall O’Leary and Dan Milner (to name several, but not nearly all), proved an engaged audience and – after a few short speeches and a brief spotlight performance from Reilly and Gabriel Donohue – all took part in a lively session that lasted well into the evening.  The goodwill in the room was palpable.


I spoke with Reilly a few days after the event about her life in music, and her album.  Born into a musical family in County Longford, she began playing the fiddle at six years of age and learned from her father Michael, who in addition to being a musician (and the album’s dedicatee), was also a blacksmith.  His work is an important detail here: as a child, Reilly would spend time with her father as he worked at the forge.  There, they would “perform” together – he would whistle tunes and she would lilt along with them.  At the end of every tune, he’d tap the anvil with his hammer.  The sound of her father’s anvil is one of Reilly’s dear memories, and the inspiration behind her album’s title.

Unfortunately, her father died when she was a young woman, and in time she drifted away from her instrument.  She missed it, however, so once her family was grown she found her way back into playing – a process she found thrilling and immediately rewarding.  She credits her friends at the Doonbeg Social Club (a group of over 250 members that meets at the Kerry Hall in Yonkers, and which just celebrated its 50th anniversary) with providing the support and encouragement she needed to not only get back to the music, but to pay tribute to her father’s memory with an album.

The Anvil is a delight.  Comprised of tunes from South Leitrim and Longford, much of the music was taken from manuscript collections compiled in those areas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Although some of the tunes will be familiar to experienced listeners, Reilly’s versions all have delicate touches that many will find pleasantly surprising.  Several of the tunes, however, are rare and unusual, and will likely be unfamiliar to even experienced listeners!

Reilly’s playing on the album sensitively demonstrates the “slur-and-cut” style of bowing she inherited from her father.  In combination with Gabriel Donohue’s nuanced backing, Reilly has yielded an album of light, flowing music that bounces along with a pleasant gait.  The CD’s final three tracks – archival recordings of Reilly’s father Michael playing – complement the package perfectly and help make The Anvil a wonderful tribute.

Music and Books InteReview: Talking with Black 47’s Larry Kirwan and author Thomas Keneally

How It’s New York: Larry Kirwan can often be seen at the Irish American Writers & Artists evemts, when not playing gigs at Connolly’s, Paddy Reilly’s, B.B. King’s and others around town. Author Thomas Keneally came across Larry’s work when Thomas was teaching at N.Y.U.
How It’s Irish: Larry originally hails from Wexford, and the play Transport on which he collaborated with Keneally, is about Irish prisoners transported to Australia.
As of tomorrow, we will be reprinting the blog posts of rocker and author Larry Kirwan. Larry, who formed the band Black 47, named for one of the worst famine years, is one of the pioneers to blend trad and rock and roll.
By way of introduction, I’m reprinting an interview I did with Larry two years ago for Irish Examiner USA. The occasion then was the debut of a musical with book by Thomas Keneally, author of SCHINDLER’S ARK  later turned into the film Schindler’s List.
This interview is two years old, so look for an update aroumd the time Larry’s new play Hard Times debuts in September!

No Sleep For Larry

Black 47’s Larry Kirwan’s Been A Busy Chap

Larry Kirwan is not sleeping. And that’s how he likes it. Asked how he can front the rock group Black 47, release a new CD with the band Bankers &Gangsters, publish a novel, Rockin’ the Bronx , put out his weekly radio show for Sirius, write his colum for The Irish Echo, gear up for a 20-year anniversary concert at Paddy Reilly’s (on May 7) with members of seminal Irish band Horslips (who are making a documentary), AND work on the musical Transport, with book by Schindler’s List author Thomas Keneally, which just finished three sold-out concert presentations at the Irish Arts Center, Kirwan replies simply “I don’t watch television.” He doesn’t even turn it on on the road.

Then he admits “I’m not a big sleeper.” He averages about four hours.

The wiry red-head is calm, not suspiciously manic, after the second presentation of Transport, kicking back at Druids with a Smithwick and discoursing on literature, music and the creative process, greeting fans and well-wishers as they wander by the table, never losing the thread. It’s impressive.

Kirwan says his weekly activities keep him sharp-writing the column (he wrote one before going to rehearsal that day) keeps his literary juices flowing (this is his second novel, and he’s also published a memoir and a collection of plays) and he produces the national radio show himself, so he knows what he has to do for it.
Still, most creative work done on four hours of sleep looks less terrific in the light of the next day.

But the novel is good-not good for a musician, but good, with vivid prose full of idiomatic speech from the narrator Sean Ryan, a young immigrant who follows his lost love to the Bronx in the early ’80s, during the time of Bobby Sands, the beginning of the AIDS crisis and the onset of the Reagan era.

Kirwan came to the Bronx from Wexford in the ’70s, and his own memories of the time and place infuse the work.Keneally praises the book on its cover as “Angela’s Ashes for a new generation.” The book comes out in Ireland and the UK next week.


When the narrator joins a band, the novel includes some of the best descriptions of Irish music, both listening and playing, you’re likely to read. Here’s a description of a brilliant fiddler, though a dissipated man lighting up a session:

For the first round, all four played in unison, but Johnnie soon tired of this drudgery. He began to dance around them, and I swear the air changed. With dainty licks and ornamentals, he tripped across their melody like a ballerina, pirouetting ahead of them, allowing them to catch up, then lingering in their wake, before leapfrogging gaily into the lead again.

And then the band they form later on, including the fiddler, whose “intensity and profusion of grace notes and ornamentals” the band struggles to follow:

On the second go-round, Shiggins added a sixteenth on his high hat, whereupon Bugsy threw caution to the wind and plucked a harmonic on his G-string, allowing it to hang until the end of the line, when he plunged down in a perfect series of triads to hit the floor again on a one. A crack on the snare every eight kicks, and we had entered some kind of crazy Rocksteady Céili heaven. Danny struck a lofty sustain and held it, occasionally modulating up a fifth to sound like a cross between Ladder 33’s siren and David Gilmour ripping off Curtis Mayfiled on speed. So fast was the tempo, it was all I could do to lay down a skanked-out chord, laced with vibrato, at the top of every bar. And all of a sudden we clicked, and every cynical bastard in the Olympia knew it.

Kirwan spent a lot of time on those passages, he said. Most writing about music is not written by musicians, and doesn’t capture “feeling it from the inside.” 

Wexford, Kirwan says, “is a music town, showbands, music, opera… My father was sailor, very much into calypso and tango, I knew reggae before it came out.”
Traditional music also always affected him – and Bothy Band were “a big influence on everyone. Bothy Band were a rock band, they were doing more drugs than all the rest of us.”

He uses his musical chops, specifically his improv background, in writing, too.
Back in the ’80s he would get up on stage with other musicians and play for an hour or so, drawing on the energy of the other musician. That feeling of freedom helps him when he goes to create something from nothing on paper, though he likes to have a plot in mind when writing (particularly important when writing a play).The lushness of the descriptions of the Bronx, the romanticism of the narrator’s yearning, is not such a departure from Black 47 lyrics, says Kirwan.

“After 14 albums, I try to make the lyrics forceful yet imagistic. With a novel you can let it spread, but with a band if people get the idea that it’s going after poetry, it doesn’t become rock anymore. It doesn’t have that edge. I go by the Yeats dictum, that poetry should be cold and passionate as the dawn.”

Elisabeth Ahrens, Terry Donnelly, Georgia Warner, and Robin Kemp

So if the song is soft, he looks for a hard edge, and vice versa.

“‘Fanatic Heart’ is so romantic, yet it’s one of the most popular Black 47 songs… it could borderline on tragic, but I’m glad I did it. We’re trying to get rid of the tears in the beer. I like to set up the situation in a song and then have the instrumental part explain it.”

The book”s title is the same as one of the band’s most famous songs; much of the book is set on Bainbridge Avenue, also memorable from the song.

It’s also an expansion/adaptation of one of Kirwan’s plays, both a play and musical of the same name.
The lyrics in Transport are quite different. They are far more straightforward – characters announce what they want, what they are doing. It’s all part of moving the action forward, Kirwan says.

Keneally’s play is based on his 1998 history The Great Shame. Where the book looks at both political prisoners and petty convicts transported to Australia from Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, the play focuses on women, specifically four women on the Whisper, a female convict ship “of 440 tons, during its voyage from the Cobh of Cork to Sydney, Australia,” according to the program.

The crimes range from stealing butter to sheltering a rebel brother. Other characters in the play include a priest, a soldier, a somewhat hostile English captain, and a surgeon.
Payment to shipping companies was based on delivery of living prisoners, so surgeons had quite a lot of power, Keneally explained by phone from Australia.Convicts to Australia, shipped against their will, had a better chance of arriving at their destination healthy than those in Irish coffin ships.

Keneally, whose own family hails originally from North Cork, was inspired by the story of his wife’s great grandmother, who was sent to Australia as a convict. Although many presumed convict women would all become prostitutes in Australia, that was not the case.

“I’m interested in how they negotiated a bit of power, from powerlessness,” Keneally explained. Their transformation and journey from rural Ireland to Australia “would have been enough to kill a timid soul like myself.” 

From writing Schindler’s Ark and also from having once studied for the priesthood, “I have got an obsession with prisoners and what the soul does in imprisonment.”

Keneally also had a personal connection to the fate of female Irish convicts.
His wife’s great grandmother, who sailed on the Mary Shields, married and had five Australian kids, dying in childbirth from the fifth.

When his cousin by marriage Nina Keneally, a theatrical producer, suggested he work on a musical (Keneally had already written a few produced plays), Keneally immediately thought of Larry Kirwan as a collaborator. 

The hard edge of Kirwan’s music, which Keneally knew from Black 47 gigs he attended while teaching at NYU, would be right for the project.

 “I like Irish folk music, but I like rock music that fights against it and turns it on its head. He wouldn’t sing ‘Danny Boy’ unless it was about being strung out on heroin in the bowery.” 

Cast and producers at Irish Arts Center

But Transport is “anything but” a rock musical, Kirwan explains. The sixteen songs now in the play (more were written and the show is still a work in progress; during the week of rehearsal director Tony Walton helped cut the play down from over 90 pages to about 40) have the musical complexity of some of Black 47’s songs but are much closer to the sound of folk music or showtunes.

“I wanted to allow Tom’s story to come through the prism of his music, that might have something to do with these particular characters in this particular time.” 

What the music does share with Black 47 is that “it is character driven, dramatic.”
For Kirwan, one of the most striking things about the project is the way Keneally writes women. Also, it’s a story of redemption.

“These women are at the bottom of existence, sent to the moon basically, sent to Botany Bay. Yet we are plugging for them.” 

The two men have been working on the play on and off for ten years, with much of the collaboration over snailmail and cassette tapes.

 “Over a two week period not on the road with Black 47 I wrote a song every day; often I’d just whistle into the tape recorder, sometimes in the bath. Those became known as the bathroom tapes.”

All of those songs remain in the musical – he knew they were good. That’s no different than a carpenter knowing when he’s made a good table, Kirwan says, if he doesn’t know by now when he’s written a good song, I shouldn’t be in the business. It’s a good table.

Twenty years on, nobody would say that it isn’t. “We formed for six weeks, we had six weeks of gigs to do,” Kirwan laughs. “Twenty years is a f***ing sentence. If you’d told me that, I might not have done it.”

Kirwan is now arranging a Horslips tune for Black 47 to play at the show commemorating the band’s early days at Paddy Reilly’s. He also manages the band, arranging travel, deciding on the gigs. And he’s working on two theatre pieces. This summer, he will lead a literary tour to Ireland, which includes readings from his novel.

Who needs sleep?

Music InteReview: Dan Neely on Irish music in Cleveland

How It’s New York: Brian Holleran grew up in New Jersey.

How It’s Irish: Holleran’s album with Brian Bigley is called traditional irish music on flute + pipes,and this essay considers the long history of Irish music in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dan Neely discovers that Cleveland, Ohio is a happening place for Irish trad, as he looks at the evidence in Brian Holleran and Brian Bigley’s new CD

CD is evidence of Cleveland’s potential

Ohio – and Cleveland in particular – has long been a great place for Irish music.  Before World War II it was the home of fiddler and dancer Tom Scott, and later on, that of flute player Tom Byrne and fiddler Tom McCaffrey.  More recently, the likes of Jimmy Noonan (flute) and Francis Quinn (fiddle) set an important standard that the young students of the now defunct Irish Music Academy of Cleveland were able to follow well into the 1990s.  These days, there is a handful of people who set a similarly high standard and who are encouraging a younger generation of people to the music.  Two such musicians are Brian Holleran and Brian Bigley, and together they have a new album, traditional irish nusic on flute + pipes.

Multi-instrumentalist Brian Bigley grew up in a musical family in Cleveland.  Although he also plays whistle and flute, he is best known as a uilleann piper, an instrument he took up when he was eight under Michael Kilbane’s tutelage.  He is also a uilleann pipe and reed maker and a champion step dancer.  Brian Holleran grew up in New Jersey, a student of the East Galway flute legend Mike Rafferty.  He earned wide respect on the session scene in New York, and was a featured performer on the seminal 2004 album Live at Mona’s.  Both were members of Cleveland’s “Burning River Ceili Band.”
The album grew from when Holleran and Bigley first did sessions together in Cleveland.  They found a tightness in their playing, which was borne out of their shared love for Matt Molloy and Liam O’Flynn’s duo playing on Planxty’s After the Break and Matt Molloy and Paddy Keenan’s playing on the Bothy Band’s Out of the Wind into the Sun.

Holleran told me that it turned out they were “both inspired by the kind of music that turned on any 15-16-year-old American kid playing Irish music.”  With this, their intention was to record a four-track demo to get session work in Cleveland.  Instead, they wound up doing the full album.

Holleran and Bigley are both excellent players and the combination of unaccompanied flute and uilleann pipes is both unusual and distinctive.  The album’s mix of tunes – some of them better-known and others that sound as if they just had the clay shaken off them (to borrow a phrase from last week’s column) – suggests a shared great good taste.   However, what makes this album relevant is its smart performances and pacing.  There’s a relaxedness in both Holleran and Bigley’s music that is deceptive, because while they play fairly briskly they never sound rushed.  It’s a disciplined, swing-dependent approach that speaks well for the respect the musicians have for the tradition itself.

This is a great album for your collection.  Tracks like “Rub the Bag / …” and later, the “Eel in the Sink /…” are both very satisfying, as are “O’Neill’s March / …” and the “Hills of Coore / …” which provide a contrasting sense of pace.  Holleran’s playing on “Seoladh na nGanhmna,” a slow air he learned from the magnificent singer Susan McKeown, is full of nuance and grace and is a thoughtful indication of the feel Holleran has for his craft, while Bigley’s playing of “An Buachaillín Bán” (a slow air he learned from Michael Kilbane, his mentor) reveals a musician with a keen ear and a firm understanding of his instrument’s subtleties.

This excellent album (which is available through CDBaby and iTunes) is evidence of Cleveland’s strong trad music community and its potential for great things.

To hear more of what’s going on there, trad fans can tune into Roger Weist’s “Beyond the Pale” (WRUW 91.1, Sundays 4-6pm) and Bill Kennedy’s “Sweeney Astray” (WCSB 89.3, Saturdays 2-4pm) radio programs.  Those wishing to get out and patronize the music more directly can see trad concerts at Pat Campbell’s pub “PJ McIntyres,” while those interested in the less formal sessions scene should visit Karen O’Malley’s pub “The Harp,” Pete Leneghan &Eileen Sammon’s “Stone Mad,” and Sara Pat’s “Plank Road Tavern.”

Music: Dan Neely says James Keane’s ‘Dog’ is a winner on every track

How It’s New York: Accordion player James Keane lives in NYC now, and can often be seen at the Lillie’s session.

How It’s Irish: This Irish trad album, which will be launched at Willie Clancy Week in Miltown Malbay on July 12. James will also give a talk there called “Living in the Tradition.”
Says Dan Neely:  Keane’s playing is outstanding!
A version of this article was first published in the Irish Echo, June 27 2012.

Champion accordionist James Keane was only 14 years old in 1962 when he co-founded the Castle Ceili Band with his brother Séan and their friend Mick O’Connor.  To see pictures of them from back in those days you’d scarcely believe they were allowed out of the house past dark, much less the fervency with which they lived traditional music.  But together, they made a near immediate impact on the trad community and attracted the respect of some of the best older players of the day.

“We fully understood what the real McCoy was,” Keane explained.

 John Brennan, John Kelly, Joe Ryan, Sonny Brogan, Bill Harte – these were people we knew.  Not only did we hold them up as heroes, but we also had the nerve to ask some of them to join our group.”

Over time, Keane would not only count Kelly, Ryan and Brennan as fellow Castle members, but the likes of Michael Tubridy, John Dwyer, Liam Rowsome, and Bridie Lafferty as well. “There were no passengers in that group,” Keane laughed, adding “we were always chasing down the new tunes and shaking the clay off them.”  The group’s taste in tune and arrangement was as much a part of their legend as their musicianship:

 “When we played the ‘Foxhunter’s Reel’ at the Fleadh Cheoil in 1965, we absolutely ripped it and the people went crazy.  Because Séan collected it from Patsy Kelly for Breandán Breathnach, we were playing it long before anyone ever heard it outside Cree in County Clare.”


The Castle’s drive and vision for traditional music not only inspired dozens of Keane’s contemporaries, but it continues to influence present-day ceili bands like the Innisfree and Shannon Vale Ceili Bands in Ireland, and the Old Bay and Doon Ceili Bands in the U.S. (to name but a few).  But beyond the music, it’s the friendships and the memories that Keane forged in those early days – a special connectedness to music all over Ireland that few have – that is the stuff of legend.

It’s this legend that inspired Eamon McGiveney (at Angela Crotty’s suggestion) to invite Keane to speak at the Willie Clancy Week’s 40th AnniversaryCalled “Living in the Tradition: people, places and musical memories,” Keane’s talk, which will happen at the Miltown Malbay Community Centre on Thursday, July 12 at 2 p.m., will be one to remember and will most assuredly attract a powerful crowd.

In addition to speaking, Keane (who now lives in NYC) will also be there to launch his new solo album, Heir of the Dog.  Dedicated to east Galway master Jack Coen and featuring Kathleen Boyle (of Cherish the Ladies) on piano, Eamon O’Leary on guitar and bouzouki and Tom English on bodhran, Heir of the Dog is a superior recording that explores Keane’s life in the music through his tunes, from those of his early days in the Castle all the way through to those of his more recent work with the group Fingal.

Keane’s playing here is outstanding and he delivers on every track.  Fans will notice that while he’s pulled back on the speed in places (a “more of a kitchen-style tempo,” he ex­plained), his characteristic fire can still be heard on reel tracks like the “The Ladies Panta­­lettes/…” and “Julia Delaney’s/….”  He’s also adjusted his sound, employing his box’s master “three block” voice, which gives him a more “open” tone than on previous recordings.

Keane’s choice of accompanists could not have been better.  O’Leary is one of the most tasteful backers in Irish music, and brings a relaxedness to tracks like the “Joys of Summer/…” reels or the “Slieve Russell/…” jigs that balances perfectly with Keane’s drive.  Boyle’s buoyant playing keeps Keane on a light but steady course, and blends perfectly with O’Leary when the two are playing together.  One of the album’s best examples of this is on “O’Carolan’s Dream,” where the two provide a brilliantly transcendent ambience over which Keane’s playing floats effortlessly.

With informative liner notes guided by the invisible hand of tune guru Don Meade and production by Greg Anderson, Heir of the Dog is a welcome return to form and one trad music lovers will want to look out for.

Music: Vote for Caitlin Warbelow and Manhattan Sessions!

How It’s New York: Caitlin Warbelow teaches at New York’s Irish Arts Center, and this album was recorded at sessions around town.
How It’s Irish: Manhattan Island Sessions, from Caitlin Warbelow & Friends, is Irish traditional music, played fresh and fierce!
This review was originally published in Irish Music Magazine. 
In the blog post we also have a Q&A with Caitlin done around St. Patrick’s Day, and a video with her playing a jig on Fox Business News! Why? Because afternoon host Gerri Willis said she would dance a jig if Bank of America dropped its plan to charge debit card uses $5 a month. 
The bank did just that, so Caitlin went on TV!  Caitlin also appeared with some friends on The Today Show during St. Patrick’s Day week, and talks about it below.

Manhattan Island Sessions has been nominated  for the “People’s Choice” (Vox Populi) award for the Independent Music Awards: voting ends at the end of June. It really is a GREAT album, so buy it if you haven’t already, and vote for Caitlin! (I gave you the link to log in and register; the album is at “Live Performance.”

It’s one of the most exciting albums around. It’s exuberantly musical, young and energetic.

 
 Get the album here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/manhattanislandsessions


There’s a session every night in Manhattan, with terrific players. Alaska fiddler, Caitlin Warbelow’s Manhattan Island Sessions really captures this. You can hear players joking around, shouting “D” or “G”. Players are listed, but not who’s on which track. You can hear glasses being set down. You can hear the hush when Liz Hanley sings “After Aughrim’s Great Disaster.” It was recorded live at three Irish trad sessions: the Wednesday night session at Trinity Pub (299 E. 84th St), the Sunday night session at O’Neill’s Pub (729 3rd Ave.), and the Monday night session at Wilfie &Nell’s (228 W. 4th St.).

Asked who is playing on which, Caitlin replies that they didn’t always know. Some purists may find this messy, but for me, that’s a charm of the album. Its rawness has an edge of danger to it–anything might happen. It’s one of the most exciting albums around. It’s exuberantly musical, young and energetic.

In the liner notes, Caitlin writes that

“All tunes and songs were selected and arranged mere moments before they were captured on electronic medium for your listening pleasure – form best results, listen with a glass in hand, around two in the morning.” 

When the first track, “Goodbye to Ireland,” ends, someone says “aw, we were just getting going.” After the wild final medley, someone says “cool.” 

Caitlin with Sephira, at Michael Londra’s Beyond Celtic

There is virtuoso playing on many of the tracks, including Warbelow (who also teaches fiddle at the Irish Arts Center, and plays with Michael Londra and others), flute from Dan Lowery and Isaac Alderson, Sean Farrell and Tom Dunne on box, Kyle Sanna, Johnny Cuomo, Alan Murray and Ryan McGiver on guitar. Vocalists include Hanley, Cuomo, Allison Barber, Tom Bailey (who also plays mandolin). Marta Cook plays harp, Anna Colliton, bodhrán.

The songs are lovely, but, as in sessions, sometimes feel long. But the mixture of American intonations with the trad is outstanding, especially on Gilian Welch’s “The Devil Had a Hold of Me.” There’s some nice Western American style in the fiddling and banjo too accompanying Kate Rusby’s “Who Will Sing Me a Lullaby.”

But it’s the instrumentals that are really outstanding. “Willie’s Shaskeen Reels” is a toe–tapper, and just try sitting still during “My Mind Will Never Be Easy/The Dusty Miller.” The final set begins with a tune from Brendan McGlinchey called “Splendid Isolation,” and that has got to be Caitlin playing it.

She connects the tune to New York, “where such a sentiment occurs both never and always.” 

But the “whoo” whistles, the energy of the guitar strums and the flute ornaments feel anything but isolated. You’d be buying another round.

And playing the CD again.


Interview with Caitlin

NYIA: What do you love about St. Patrick’s Day?

Caitlin: My favorite thing about St. Patrick’s Day is that myself and all of my musician friends are over-employed for the months of February, March, and oftentimes April as well.  Strange as it is to me that there exists a “St. Patrick’s Day Season” in America, it is always exciting to hear which musicians are touring with which other musicians, to get random calls to play on TV and radio shows, and to have gigs in fancy venues that you wouldn’t usually have the rest of the year.  St. Patrick’s Day is like the Irish musician’s version of Christmas bonuses. 
NYIA: What do you not love about St. Patrick’s Day:
Caitlin: To be perfectly honest, even though I benefit from all of the hubbub surrounding St. Patrick’s Day, I don’t really like the over-commercialization of the holiday and I don’t like that it is so associated with drinking to excess.  Another problem, from a musician’s standpoint, is that often what people want to hear on St. Patrick’s Day is not what you would ideally like to play – i.e., the general public wants to hear pub songs, “Danny Boy,” and maybe “Mason’s Apron” if you’re lucky.  I think that stems from the commercialization problem, and it is a vicious circle!  Shows like Michael Londra’s “Beyond Celtic” and others in that genre try to blend elements from a number of different sects of Irish culture – true trad songs, tunes, and dances mixed in with a popular or pub song here and there, and a few obligatory references to shamrocks and Guinness.  I think shows like this provide a good middle-ground for both connoisseurs of Irish music/culture and those who just want to have an excuse to have a good time on St. Patrick’s Day.
NYIA: How did the appearance on The Today show come about?
Caitlin: My friend Sebastian MacLochlainn, a banjo player (and also a great artist, incidentally!) NYIA note: and blogger for us!) contacted me regarding the Today Show appearance – except, as usual with these things, none of us really knew what show it was for or what exactly was going on until right before we filmed.  (A similar thing happened to me earlier this year when I was asked to play a jig on the set of a financial show on the Fox Business Network – I was contacted about 1.5 hours before taping and had no idea why I was being asked to play until the producers told me the host of the show had said she would “do a jig” on air if Bank of America dropped their debit card fees, which they did that day!)  As it turned out, the Today show spot featured a reporter learning to do various “Irish” things, like pouring a perfect pint of Guinness and learning to make a shepherd’s pie.  The last thing she “learned” to do was to “play” the uileann pipes…which was quite an experience for all of us!  I have a new-found respect for beginning pipers after hearing the sounds she made with those pipes!!

 NYIA: Now to the album! How did it come about?

Caitlin: The album was recorded over a two-month period from February to April of 2011, at four sessions in Manhattan (two at O’Neill’s, one at Trinity, and one at Wilfie and Nell’s).  After the recording was finished, it was my job to sort through the 13+ hours of raw material and select tracks that could be workable for a CD release.  Unfortunately, we ran into some difficulties with such things as incredibly loud bar patrons, the foot-tapping of musicians (you don’t notice how loud it is until you record!), various musicians being on tour, people being a little hesitant about playing around a big mic set-up on the table in front of them, etc. etc.  One whole night of recording at O’Neill’s was ruined because of a birthday party that came in, exceptionally drunk already when they walked through the door, with no desire whatsoever to quiet down for the music.  Eh, I guess that’s live recording!  The mastering, mixing, and production for the CD took place in May and June of 2011, and the official release happened in Alaska at a festival at which I am the artistic coordinator for the Celtic program in July 2011. 
NYIA: What’s unique about it?
Caitlin: The album is about as truly live as you can get.  We recorded with three mics set on a table around which the musicians sat.  Our recording engineer, the great Michal Olownia, sat a few feet away with a laptop and headphones.  We did not do any second takes of anything – the goal was to capture the essence of an NYC session in its entirety. 

I encouraged everyone to ignore the microphones and play as they usually would, in an effort to catch that amazing vibe that you’ll find in O’Neill’s when all of the musicians are in their own words but totally locked in with each other, playing the melodies but also weaving little “extras” into the tunes and spontaneously and immediately reacting to little conversational moves made by the other musicians.  It truly is an amazing thing to be a part of, and to watch and listen to.
For people who haven’t played in or been to a session, I equate it to being able to talk to a group of people using a language that doesn’t have any words and doesn’t come from your mouth.  You’ll see little musical battles, courtships, Q&A sessions, proverbial sword-fights, and all sorts of other human interactions playing out in the microcosm of an Irish session, and that is what I wanted to put down on the recording. 
 I think those microphones on the table did subconsciously change the way people played just slightly – knowing that what you’re playing is being recorded changes the way you play to some extent.  But I am happy with the moment we captured.  We may not have had a large budget (eh, we didn’t really have any budget to speak of!), which meant we didn’t have the ability to keep on recording until everything was exceptionally perfect, but then again I don’t think we would have fulfilled the goal to capture the spontaneity of the sessions if we had done that.  If a listener is looking for the clean, studio-based sound we are increasingly used to with CD releases these days, this is not the album to get.  If you want to hear what a real NYC session sounds like, from the clinking glasses to the foot tapping to the moments of pure sublime musical conversation between friends, this album might just pique your interest. 
NYIA: What is your favorite track on the CD?

Caitlin: Oh man, I don’t think I can pick a favorite track!  I chose to put the first track, “Goodbye to Ireland”, on the CD because, besides the lovely playing, we had a slight miscommunication at the end of the tune – Dan thought I was going into another tune, and I thought Dan was going into another tune, but instead we just ended unexpectedly after the one reel and you can hear Alan saying in the background “awww, we were just getting started!”  I love that.  It was the first things we recorded in the entire project, and it turned out to be the first track on the CD.  I also love all of the songs on the CD – there are five, and they range from old traditional songs to Kate Rusby to Gillian Welch to Bob Dylan.  The O’Neill’s session is a bit unique in that Johnny Cuomo, the leader of the session, encourages the singing of both traditional Irish songs and songs from the American folk repertoires.  To me, this is what makes the session quintessentially New York – it is a true blending of people from all over the place, playing and singing tunes from all over the place. 

 Is it the type of session you’d go to if you were looking for a staunchly traditional reels-and-jigs Irish music experience?  Eh, not most of the time.  But personally, as the cultural mutt that I am, being an Alaskan girl with a German last name and a musical background spanning from classical to Irish to American trad to whatever strikes my fancy, I love this sort of musical blending.  It’s not for everyone, though.  In terms of the tune tracks, I have to say that the final track, which starts with one of my favorite tunes, “Splendid Isolation”, is probably my favorite.  It is also the most “out of control” of the tracks, with Dan and I swirling furiously around the melody of the tunes.  Most of the time, we land on our feet, but a couple of times we nearly crash headlong into each other’s notes!  That’s exactly what I wanted to capture on the recording, and this was one of the only tracks were we did manage to get that sort of interaction on tape.  

NYIA: Would you do it again?
Caitlin: I‘d love to do a couple sequels showcasing other sessions around NYC.  Whether we get to do that will depend on the success of this CD, and whether I can scrounge up funding for sequel(s)!  I’m hoping it can be done!