Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Back in 2012, I wrote about a series of solo performances Kevin Burke had been doing called “The Naked Fiddle.” Then, I mentioned how I thought they “provide(d) a rare and intimate glimpse into his playing” because “the variety and complexity he conveys in this sort of ‘naked’ context energizes audiences in a way that few are able.”
Burke’s developed his so-called “naked” approach quite a bit over the intervening years. We’ve chatted a few times over this period and he’s always made it a point to say how much he relishes his solo gigs, for their practicality, yes, but also for their intimacy and the connection they allow him to make with his audiences.
I suppose it should be no surprise, then, that Burke’s new album, “An Evening With Kevin Burke,” is a live album designed to capture the complexity and spontaneity of his solo performances. The result is simply wonderful. Recorded over three nights at three different venues (Crossroads Music in Philadelphia, The Alberta Rose Theater in Portland, Ore., and Matt Molloy’s in Westport, Co. Mayo), the music is as expressive and intense as one would hope, but because it’s presented as a “performance,” the listener can follow Burke’s warmth, humor, and audience rapport as it unfolds, and better feel how he fits into and draws from the tradition.
What I found myself really loving about the album out of the gate were the spoken introductions to each track that tell stories and speak to Burke’s life in music. The album begins with a long introduction for a group of Sliabh Luachra polkas and it sets an incredible tone, immediately drawing in the listener. Some of these spoken tracks are fairly brief and a few of last a couple of minutes, but they always feel “correct” in terms of length – never too long or undersold. It’s great to hear Burke talk about his experience and insight, but it’s his ability to speak to an audience – a skill that sets great performers apart which Burke is utterly brilliant at – that makes all the difference.
And then there’s the music, which is majestic. Going track to track is a bit like taking a musical tour through Ireland (indeed, a notion confirmed by the spoken tracks), as Burke seems to embrace the stylistic gestures of region (Clare or Sligo, for example) when appropriate, without ever losing tough with his own style. Listening to Burke talk about his experiences with the likes of Bobby Casey, Lucy Farr, John Carty, and Tommy Potts, and then hearing him play tunes that he learned from them (or from being around them) really adds something drives home his virtuosity. It’s deeply confident but utterly relaxed music, done in a way that, yes, “few are able.”
In 2012 I wrote that “performers of Burke’s scope and caliber of are rare and worth experiencing, especially since what they play says so much not only about traditional music’s past, but [also] its current direction.” “An Evening With Kevin Burke” offers exactly that sort of experience. The album successfully captures the vibe of a live show, but it’s Burke’s delivery and his clear love for solo performance that makes the album special. Fans of fiddle music will love this album, as will fans of Kevin Burke – definitely one to check out. The album is available to buy from Burke’s website, and can be heard on streaming services like Spotify.
Burke is currently on a solo concert tour of the northeast that runs through the 9th. He will continue with his solo tour on the west coast Dec. 12-Jan. 19. From Nov. 14 to Dec. 1, however, he be in England, Ireland, Scotland, and France with Celtic Fiddle Festival. To learn more about his rambles, visit www.kevinburke.com.