By Earle Hitchner
The Irish Echo’s Traditional Artist of the Year for 2001 is Kevin Crawford, a flute, whistle, and bodhr_n virtuoso born in Birmingham, England, of parents from Miltown Milbay, Co. Clare. The 34-year-old musician joins an illustrious line of previous honorees: Charlie Lennon, James Keane, Joe Derrane, Seamus Egan, Joanie Madden, John Whelan, Mick Moloney, and Liz Carroll.
A resident of Ennis, Co. Clare, since 1989, Crawford had an exceptional year of music, releasing his second solo album, “In Good Company” (Green Linnet), which finished as the Irish Echo’s best Irish traditional recording of 2001, and appearing on L_nasa’s third album, “The Merry Sisters of Fate” (Green Linnet), which finished No. 3 in the Irish Echo’s top 10 list.
Like past award winner John Whelan, Crawford displays an effervescent humor and spirit on stage that, ironically, underscore how seriously he takes his music and his performance. He understands the difference between self-expression, of which virtually every musician is capable, and communication, a skill far fewer possess. He believes Irish traditional music is personal in creation and communal in effect, and so he engages audiences through a combination of talent, wit, imagination, and joie de vivre.
His deep respect for well-established masters of Irish music is obvious on his second solo album, where he played with nine fiddlers, including two too rarely heard on record: James Cullinan and Conor Tully. What a tribute it is, in turn, to Crawford himself that fiddlers of the caliber of Tommy Peoples, Frankie Gavin, Tony Linnane, Martin Hayes, Manus McGuire, Se_n Smyth, Mick Conneely, Cullinan, and Tully, along with guitarist Arty McGlynn, bodhr_n player Jim Higgins, and keyboardist Carl Hession, all joined him in the studio.
So many all-star lineups on albums fail because they were intended to gain commercial clout rather than achieve an ‘sthetic goal. There’s nothing remotely “kitchen-sink” about how Crawford conceived and executed the 17 tracks on the aptly named “In Good Company.” It is highly diverse yet remarkably consistent, full of savory tunes and even more savory playing, and should stand the test of time.
Crawford’s playing also distinguished “The Merry Sisters of Fate” by L_nasa, an all-instrumental quintet of no peer in Irish traditional music today. On the title track, the flute-fiddle opening by him and Se_n Smyth is propulsive, while on such tunes as “Scully Casey’s,” he brings a relaxed, inventive grace to his flute playing.
L_nasa concluded their 2001 summer U.S. tour by giving a free concert for about 4,000 people outside lower Manhattan’s World Trade Center on Aug. 28 — exactly two weeks before a terrorist attack destroyed both towers and killed thousands. When he heard about the destruction, Crawford immediately conveyed his sympathy and support from his home in West Clare, and his words circulated on the Internet.
A veteran of such past bands as Long Acre in England and Grian_n, Raise the Rafters, and Moving Cloud in his adopted County Clare, Crawford greatly enhanced his reputation as a recording and performing artist in 2001. His gesture of comfort after the tragedy of Sept. 11 showed his awareness of how life can preempt art and how art can renew life. And the art he created in 2001 has surely done that. He has richly earned the Irish Echo’s highest year-end accolade in traditional music.
These three musicians were also seriously considered for the Irish Echo’s Traditional Artist of the Year and deserve recognition for the singular year they had:
This flute, whistle, uilleann pipes, and Jew’s harp player and lilter, born in Ballinakill, Galway, and living in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., appeared on the Irish Echo’s No. 9 album of the year, “The Road From Ballinakill,” and on the No. 13 album, Cherish the Ladies’ “The Girls Won’t Leave the Boys Alone.” He was also featured on two Rounder CD reissues, “Light Through the Leaves” and “Traditional Irish Music in America — The East Coast.”
A 10-time All-Ireland fiddle champion from Killaloe, Co. Clare, who’s lived in America since 1976, he is the creative force and organizer behind one of the finest and most successful summer music schools and festivals, Gaelic Roots, held on the campus of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Connolly also played a key role in establishing the family fund and producing the two Boston College benefit concerts for the late Tony Cuffe, and his own concert with button accordionist Joe Derrane and guitarist John McGann on March 11 at The Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., was a highlight of 2001.
Mfche_l + Raghallaigh
This 30-year-old Rathmolyon, Co. Meath, concertina and button accordion player had the kind of year musicians twice his age would be proud of. Besides releasing the Irish Echo’s No. 2 recording of 2001, “The Nervous Man,” he appeared on three albums receiving honorable mention: “A Fig for a Kiss” by Providence, “The Tain CTilf Band,” and “All-Ireland CTilf Band Champions Reunion Concert.”
Rest of the Best
The top 10 traditional albums of 2001 appeared in last week’s Irish Echo. Here are albums Nos. 11 through 20:
11. “Memories From the Holla,” by Peter and Angelina Carberry and John Blake (no label).
12. “Celtic Fire,” by John Whelan (Narada/Virgin).
13. “The Girls Won’t Leave the Boys Alone,” by Cherish the Ladies (Windham Hill/BMG).
14. “My Name Is Napoleon Bonaparte,” by Frank Harte with D=nal Lunny (Hummingbird).
15. “The Rolling Wave,” by Cfan (Cfan Music).
16. “Stormy Weather,” by Beginish (Inis).
17. “Forgotten Days,” by Davy Spillane and Kevin Glackin (Barrowstone).
18. “Thirsty Business,” by the Quinn Brothers (Glen Arm).
19. “The Humours of Piping,” by uilleann pipers Claire Byrne, Darragh Murphy, Barry Kerr, and Patrick Davey (Lochshore/KRL).
20. “Briseann an D_chas,” by Ann Mulqueen and Odharnait and Sorcha Nf ChTilleachair (Cl= Iar-Chonnachta).
The bounty of good music released in 2001 and, in a few cases, 2000 includes “Traditional Irish Music on Flute and Guitar,” by Jack and Jimmy Coen; “Suantraf,” by John Canny, Kevin Carey, and Terence O’Reilly; “Spring in the Air,” by Vincent McGrath; “Ragairne,” by STamus Begley and Jim Murray; “Music for Whistle & Guitar,” by Cormac Breatnach and Martin Dunlea; “Down the Ivory Stairs,” by Padraic O’Reilly; “Both Sides of the Coyne,” by Mick Coyne; “Music From the Edge of the World,” by Cran; “Like a Wild Thing,” by CTide; “Tippin’ Away,” by Damien Connolly; “East to Northeast,” by John Redmond; “It’s No Secret,” by Hammy Hamilton, STamus Creagh, and Con + Drisceoil; “Where I Am,” by Brendan Callahan; “Troublesome Things,” by Brendan Ring; “The Phantom Shadows of a Connaught Firelight,” by STamus Tansey; and “Big Guns & Hairy Drums,” by Scithereedee (aka Tim Lyons and Fintan Vallely).
There were also “A Fig for a Kiss,” by Providence; “Mirth-Making Heroes,” by At the Racket; “A Touch of Clare,” by Kitty Hayes; “Yeh, That’s All It Is,” by John Carty; “Selkie,” by Mick Conneely; “Kieran O’Hare”; “The Lakes of Sligo,” by Carmel Gunning; “Little Blue,” by Thomas Bartlett; “Cara Dillon”; “The Second Jimmy McHugh Memorial Concert”; “Steam,” by John Williams; “The Flying Pig,” by Slide; “The Maple Leaf,” by Jimmy Noonan, Chris McGrath, Michael Shorrock, and Ted Davis; “This Is the Day,” by Christy Moore; “The Galway Rambler,” by Ena O’Brien with Pat O’Gorman; “An Bh_b=g sa Bh_d=g,” by Kevin Crehan; “mi.da:za,” by North Cregg; “The Wynd You Know,” by Ronan Browne; “Bosca Bfdeach,” by Mfche_l Darby + F_tharta; “Athchuairt,” by Paddy Glackin and Mfche_l + Domhnaill; “Somewhere Along the Road,” by Cathie Ryan; “Bridgetown,” by Johnny B. Connolly; “The Tain CTilf Band”; “All-Ireland CTilf Band Champions Reunion Concert”; “+igse Dhiarmuidfn”; and “Nan Tom Teaimfn.”
Hands (and feet) down, it was “The Crossing,” a beautifully realized stage presentation featuring the exciting percussive dance ensemble known as Footworks, along with such musicians as Tim O’Brien, Liz Carroll, and John Williams, at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis, Md., on Aug. 18.
Runners-up: Altan at Tomlinson Auditorium in Fairfield, Conn., on April 8; L_nasa at Cooper Union’s Great Hall in N.Y.C. on Feb. 10, and STamus Connolly, Joe Derrane, and John McGann at The Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., on March 11.
Carrefour Mondial de l’AccordTon in Montmagny, Quebec, from Aug. 30 through Sept. 3. It is the Mount Olympus of showcases for accordionists, Irish and otherwise, performing for a combined audience of more than 50,000 in a town of under 12,000 residents. Utterly unforgettable.
“An Historic Recording of Irish Traditional Music From County Clare and East Galway,” by Paddy Canny, P. J. Hayes, Peadar O’Loughlin, and Bridie Lafferty (Shanachie).
Best Radio Program
Kathleen Biggins’s “A Thousand Welcomes” on WFUV-FM, the Bronx, N.Y.
Runner-up: Brian O’Donovan’s “A Celtic Sojourn” on WGBH-FM, Boston.
Most disappointing albums