Cherish the Ladies.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
Finally, it’s December, the month where Christmas music finally becomes appropriate! And with it comes lots to do with regard to Irish music. For example, those in Michigan, Maryland, New England, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Colorado, Arizona, and California, have “Irish Christmas in America” (irishchristmasinamerica.com) to look forward to. Celebrating its 15th season, the show features Niamh Farrell, Séamus Begley, Oisín Mac Diarmada, Samantha Harvey, Gráinne Hambly, and Sean Gavin, and is traveling now through the 22nd. It’s worth checking out – they’ve even produced a live CD, “Last Night in Chicago,” recorded at the close of last year’s tour (which I’ll give a listen to and report back on in coming weeks).
Also on now through the 22nd is Cherish the Ladies’s “Celtic Christmas Tour.” Joanie Madden will lead the group through shows in New York, Connecticut, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, Alabama, Massachusets, and New Jersey. CTL is always a great time and you won’t want to miss them if they come to your neck of the woods.
New England audiences will want to check out “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn With Brian O’Donovan." Celebrating it’s 16th anniversary, O’Donovan’s acclaimed show will include Seamus Egan, Maeve Gilchrist, Chico Huff, Owen Marshall, Natalie Haas, Jordan Perlson, Liz Carroll, Haley Richardson, Olov Johansson, Siobhan Miller, Matthew Byrne, Maureen Berry, Jason Oremus, and Ashley Smith-Wallace, and will perform around New England from the 11th to the 22nd.
And, of course, at home here in New York, Mick Moloney will once again charm audiences at the Irish Arts Center’s Winter Solstice Celebration (irishartscenter.org), Dec. 11-15. Moloney’s star-studded cast will include Green Fields of America members Athena Tergis, Billy McComiskey, Liz Hanley, Brendan Dolan, John Roberts and Niall O’Leary, and have crack jazz musicians Tamar Korn, Dan Levinson, and Dennis Lichtman in as special guests. Should be some special shows.
Being that time of the year, lot of folks out there will most certainly want to be on the lookout for excellent CDs to gift to their Irish music loving family, friends and grandkids, and I have a recommendation: “Sligo Made,” the newest from fiddle master Kevin Burke. It’s a fabulously simple but incredibly refined album, with Burke leading top players like John Carty & Steve Wickham (fiddle), Leonard Barry (uilleann pipes), John Joe Kelly (bodhrán), Seamie O’Dowd (guitar), and Brian McDonagh & Michael Holmes (bouzouki) in small, intimate configurations. It’s brilliant stuff.
Readers will of course know Burke from the Bothy Band, Patrick Street, Celtic Fiddle Festival, his collaborations with the likes of Mícheál Ó Domhnaill & Jackie Daly, and his own assorted solo endeavors, each of which has its own character. (I mean, there’s a reason he’s a National Heritage Fellow and a Gradam Ceoil awardee, right?) What he’s done on this album is look toward the Sligo fiddle tradition. Although he grew up in London, Burke was a frequent visitor to Sligo in his youth (it was his parents’s home county) and has a keen insight on the music from there, which he explores on this recording.
The collection is full of outstanding tracks. Burke takes front seat on “Humours of Castlefinn / The Ewe Reel / McFadden’s” and the “Ballydesmond Polkas” (a tribute to the 50th anniversary of Julia Clifford and Denis Murphy’s album “Star Above the Garter”) to delightful effect. His playing has so much lift and Holmes gives him great support on bouzouki. Burke and Carty shine together on “Fahy’s Hornpipe / The Foxhunter’s Reel” and “Owen Davey's Reel / Patsy Sean Nancy's Reel.” It’s very interesting to hear how these two musicians, both of whom are grounded in the music very particular ways, articulate with each other. Although they’re playing the same tunes, each expresses them with his own distinctive voice, the two going so nicely together. Contrast this to Barry’s phrasing is on “The Clog / Abbey’s Green Isle / O’Keefe’s” and “The Millstream / The Geese in the Bog / The Devils of Dublin.” There, the pipes and fiddle sound as if with a single voice, producing the warmest of effects. Again Holmes and Kelly give great support.
Burke is extremely knowledgable about traditional musics outside the Irish tradition and has brought a bit of this understanding to bear on one of the album’s standout tracks, “Jesusita En Chihuahua,” a Mexican polka composed after the Mexican Revolution of 1912 (and a favorite, it seems, among mariachi bands). The tune consists of Burke and Wickham playing complex, twin harmony fiddle runs over a backing by O’Dowd & Kelly that has an almost gypsy jazz feel to it. It’s distinctive and virtuosic work that is very enjoyable.
“Sligo Made” is a lovely album and a must have for Burke’s fans. The music is well-heeled, played with extraordinary nuance, and gets to the spirit of the Sligo fiddle tradition in a way that longtime aficionados will appreciate. The album will also have great appeal to anyone who loves iconic fiddle playing in general. There’s a special swagger and depth in this music that is immediately engaging. Like I said earlier, it’s a great album in general, but one that would make a superb gift this holiday season. For more information and to purchase, visit www.kevinburke.com.