Alex Boatright and Shannon Dunne.
By Daniel Neely
Have you been paying attention to We Banjo 3’s fiddle player Fergal Scahill’s tune-a-day project for 2019? The first of the month was day 244 and he was by Scrumpy Ewe Cidery, up past the Catskills in Schoharie Valley (www.scrumpyewecider.com), playing the “Ewe Reel.” It’s noteworthy, as Scrumpy Ewe’s proprietor is Ryan McGiver, a brilliant singer and trad guitarist originally from upstate New York who, among other things, was a founder of the great session at the Dead Rabbit and who has toured with the likes of Lúnasa’s Cillian Vallely. G’wan Ryan and Fergal! Keep track of Scahill’s popular tune-a-day project via his Facebook page www.facebook.com/FergalScahillMusic.
Speaking of the Catskills, while I was up at Arts Week this summer I had the opportunity to attend Alex Boatright’s launch of “Won’t You Stay for Tea,” the new album she made with Shannon Dunne, and Donna Long, and it was lovely.
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This week I’ve been having a listen to the album itself. Boatright (concertina & harp) and Dunne (vocals, dance) are very well known in and around Washington DC, Boatright a renowned teacher (www.alexboatright.com) and Dunne the artistic director of Shannon Dunne Dance (shannondunnedance.com), a company committed to the preservation and performance of sean-nos dancing. Together, they perform as the group “Síneadh Fada” (www.sineadhfada.com).
Long, who has joined them for this recording, is widely recognized as one of the finest piano players in the Irish tradition and has contributed to a long running list of exceptional musical projects.
It should come as no surprise that the musicianship here is very fine.
Boatright is a powerful player on both concertina and harp (and fiddle, which she doesn’t play here) and her skill shines on tracks like “Johnny O’Leary’s / …,” “Loftus Jones” and “The Strayaway Child / …,” each of which reveals an expressive, inventive player. The same can be said for Dunne, whose dancing is heard throughout, save for the album’s final track which is her vocal feature. Her percussive footwork on tracks like “Gerdy Commane’s / …” and “George White’s Favorite / …” (which also features Boatright’s brilliant harp playing) provides rich counterpoint to the album’s melodic side and confers the album its stylistic character. Underneath it all is Long, who does a masterful job at providing engaging yet transparent accompaniment throughout.
“Won’t You Stay for Tea” is a charming collection of unpretentious music and dance. Boatright and Dunne have a great reverence for tradition and share an artistic chemistry that this album shows well. One to check it out if you love the pure drop!
In other news from the greater Washington, D.C. area, the duo Lilt have released “Lilt X” to commemorate their 10-year anniversary. Lilt are Tina Eck (flute, tin whistle) and Keith Carr (bouzouki, banjo, mandolin), and to help them celebrate their diamond anniversary recording they’ve recruited a long list of guest musicians to contribute, including the aforementioned Donna Long, Billy McComiskey (accordion), Seán Heely (fiddle), Peri Leightly (fiddle), Philippe Varlet (fiddle), Jim Stickley (bodhrán), Zan McLeod (guitar), Josh Dukes (guitar), Seth Kibel (clarinet), and Kate Bole (dance). It’s a special lineup of players and the results will appeal to Lilt’s fans and trad music lovers from all around.
Eck and Carr have a terrific rapport – the 10 years they’ve been playing together as a duo have clearly given them great insight into how to connect musically, and the way they show this on “Lilt X” is what gives the album its strength. Eck is an excellent player with a lovely tone and an effortless flow. Carr has a sensitive ear for her playing, which lets him explore his creativity as an accompanist using smart chord choices and rhythmic variety. Carr is also a fine banjo player, and the tracks on which he and Eck shares the melodic lead (I think specifically of “Going To Mass Last Sunday / …” and “The Jiggery Pokerwork / …”) are standouts.
The guest musicians deserve great credit here as well. McComiskey is in fine form. Dukes and McLeod’s guitar playing are well mobilized on the tracks they appear on, and the fiddle playing of Heely, Leightly, and Varlet all caught my ear, as did that of Kibel, whose clarinet work on “Dha Chich Dannan / …” shied away from the conventions of traditional Irish phrasing by playing over the melody and bending notes in a most engaging way.
“Lilt X” is a tuneful album that is a terrific reflection on a decade together. The music is sweet and is certain to delight fans of the band. Give it a spin! For more information, visit www.liltirishmusic.com.