Hide your Barry’s, ladies and gentlemen, the Teetotalers, “a sensational new trio in Irish traditional music,” has hit our eastern shores! With a lineup that consists of three superstars in Martin Hayes (Dennis Cahill, The Gloaming, Masters of Tradition), Kevin Crawford (Lúnasa) and John Doyle (Joan Baez, Solas, Liz Carroll, Green Fields of America), the Teetotalers are about to become the talk of the U.S.
The first time Hayes, Crawford and Doyle played together was at the Sebastopol Celtic Festival in California in 2010, thrown together onstage in haphazard fashion and saddled with the “Teetotaler” mantle. A somewhat inauspicious start, yes, but things seemed to click right away. The music they made was magisterial. They got along personally. From there, a tour seemed like a logical next step. “It’s the kind of side project that doesn’t happen very often and it’s been great for all involved,” Doyle told me.
The group toured Ireland earlier this year, giving their show a chance to season and take root. The music is “very ‘Clare’ and very melodic,” Doyle says, which is only natural given the roots Hayes and Crawford have in that area. For his part, Doyle has selected a group of songs – some new, some old, many prepared specifically for this tour – that complement the trio’s instrumental offerings. Ultimately, their aim, Doyle explained, is to “create an atmosphere of that area. Martin’s always been great putting together a mood and a feel, and we’ve been expanding on that.” This is a show you do not want to miss.
The tour (which is presented with the support of Culture Ireland) starts this week and will take them up and down the east coast: May 24 (Diana Wortham Theatre, Asheville, NC); May 25&26 (Circular Congregational Church, Charleston, NC); May 27 (Red Clay Theatre, Decatur, GA); May 29 (C’ville Coffee, Charlottesville, VA); May 30 (Takoma Park Community Center, Takoma Park, MD); May 31 (World Cafe Live at the Queen., Wilmington, DE); June 1 (Wilde Auditorium, West Hartford, CT); June 2 (Stratford Theater, Stratford CT) and; June 3 (Joe’s Pub, NYC).
The group also has plans to make an album, which will happen once schedules permit – stay tuned! While you’re waiting on the Teetotalers debut, you’ll want to check out Chicago Reel’s eponymous debut. It’s a crisp, tightly executed affair with powerful drive and a lovely lift, and it will bring a smile to the face of anyone who loves traditional music.
Chicago Reel comprises Pauline Conneely (banjo), Devin Shepherd (fiddle), Rose Duffy (fiddle), Gerry Carey (button accordion), Jonathan Whitall (piano) and Denis O’Sullivan (vocals). The group formed two and a half years ago in bandleader Conneely’s kitchen. Although they had all known each other as musicians for some time (in some cases, decades), families and job commitments conspired to keep them all apart. Formalizing a group project, she explained, “was a way to keep the music alive in each of the member’s own worlds; the CD just developed from there.”
The musicianship is brilliant throughout. Nine of the album’s 13 tracks are instrumental, and each has a delightful dance band feel that harkens back to Chicago bands of an earlier era. Conneely’s banjo shines, especially when she’s playing with Carey. The two fiddle players are outstanding and it’s all anchored by the strong foundation Whitall provides with his piano. “Most of our music is pure traditional,” Conneely told me, “we’re not jazzing things up.”
You can definitely hear this sentiment on “The Haymaker/Devaney’s Goat/Paddy’s Gone to France,” a set of old standard reels the group breathes lovely life into. On the other hand, “Are You Joanie Madden?/Liam Childs,” a pair of slip jigs composed by Liz Carroll, reveals a more contemporary taste. Finally, a track like “The Killimor/For the Love of Music,” showcases the group’s smart arranging and nuanced ensemble work.
The album also features O’Sullivan, a three time All-Ireland singing champion who Irish American News named top Male vocalist for 2011, on four tracks. While “Lakes of Pontchartrain” and “Bright Blue Rose” are crowd pleasers and done exceptionally well, the powerfully delivered “Ballyseedy Cross” stands out as one of the album’s great highlights.
Chicago Reel plays regularly throughout the greater Chicago area, and will be a featured at the Catskills Irish Arts Week in July.