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Milwaukee Fest makes bold statement

February 13, 2017

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“Atlas” is an outside the box album.

 

By Daniel Neely

I want to start this column off by reminding readers of a subject I wrote about in September, that is, the dire circumstances artists from abroad face when they want to tour the United States.  It was, I thought, a good article that covered a decent amount of ground.  However, last week the organizers of Milwaukee Irish Fest (irishfest.com) took a major step forward in raising awareness about this important issue by publishing a spectacular piece that put it in intensely detailed and plainly reasoned light.  In it, they completely break down, line by line, the many fiscal and legal burdens artists from abroad – and their presenting organizations – must contend with should they want to perform here.  The steps and requirements they outline apply to all artists, no matter how much or, as would be the case of most traditional musicians, how little money they intend to make.  What Irish Fest’s statement ultimately shows is a needlessly complicated and burdensome system that treats musicians unfairly.

That it’s the Milwaukee Irish Fest that’s making so bold a statement is particularly important, as it is the largest Irish music festival in the United States, attracting over 100,000 visitors each year.  An event so large holds great clout in Milwaukee’s economy; hopefully the weight of their support will attract the needed positive political attention.  In the end, it comes down to this: we need a better system, one that makes it easy for small scale artists to perform legally in the United States.  Such a thing would add needed energy to the creative economy and benefit artists and audiences alike.  You can access Milwaukee Irish Fest’s statement directly via the following URL: http://tinyurl.com/IrishFestVisas.  I urge everyone reading this to check it out.

In other news, I’ve been listening to “Atlas,” the new album from guitarist Cillian Doheny and concertina player Cillian King.  “Atlas” is an album that seems to stand entirely outside the traditional music fold.  There are no familiar tunes and no pretension toward the pure drop.  What they offer, rather, is an exploratory, ethereal, and progressive musical experience fashioned on familiar instruments, drawing from the language of rock and electronica.

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The two primaries here would be well known in traditional music.  The two Cillians are both from Limerick.  Doheny is a member of the group Moxie, while King is an active session player. They’re joined by several guest musicians, all of whom have important roles in the final project’s sound, they include Maria Ryan & Lucia Mac Partlin (violins), Seán Warren (cello), Michael Shimmin (drums & percussion), and Nicky Scott (bass).  The wild card here, it seems, is Padraig Rynne, who is credited with the albums sound design.  Rynne’s name should be familiar to readers of the column through his Notify project and it would appear that that Rynne has brought a great deal of the artistic sensibility he’d worked out with Notify to this project.  “Atlas,” I would say, is better for it.

The music itself, which is concertina and guitar heavy overall, is adventuresome and exciting.  The band’s bio invokes electronica artist Jon Hopkins and post-rock band Sigur Ros as influences, which are fair comparisons.  However, I hear other things as well.  “Affinity ii,” for example, seems to have shades of Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age, while the mood on parts of “Fail Better” strikes me as similar to something I think I heard on one of Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucía, and John McLaughlin’s albums.  They’re great, wonderfully thought out tracks, regardless, that are exciting to hear.

 

Others are harder to pin down.  For instance, I’m not sure how to describe “Amaryllis & The Birds of Paradise.” It’s a 12 ½-minute track that’s epic in outlook. minute track that’s epic in outlook.  It’s overall mood is atmospheric and cinematic with occasional splashes of symphonic texture, but it alternates between being very large and very small in tone.  Compared with “Tontine,” a lovely track that sort of feels like a more conventional, high-energy neo-trad outing (but which also goes way beyond), “Amaryllis” is a positively different sort of musical experience in general.

“Atlas” is an outside the box album that takes advantage of all the modern conveniences.  Doheny and King have stepped out of their trad space into a new sort of musical plane to explore something very fresh and unusual. The results are fabulous: their compositional approach is very solid, the arrangements they’ve come up with are inventive, and their playing is top shelf.  The album’s eight tracks provide a very rewarding listening experience that fans of groups like Notify and the ICE/Irish Concertina Ensemble will resonate with, and although it may not appeal to the hardcore traditional music fans out there, it would be very easy to see more mainstream audiences dig this album hard – check it out!  For more information, visit www.generationatlas.com.

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