By Daniel Neely
A strong showing at St. Patrick’s Day is a sign of good things to come and suggests a glimmer of light at the end of this long, tiresome tunnel. Chatting with my musician friends, it appears that fortune is trending in a positive direction. Sessions are slowly but surely on the return, bands are talking about gigs again, and folks are thinking about recording new music on a scale that suggests a measure of normalcy. And while we’re still a ways away from the standard to which we’ve become accustomed, there are many who have managed to rise to the occasion, regardless.
For example, fans of the supergroup Danú (Nell Ní Chróinín, Benny McCarthy, Oisin McAuley, Tony Byrne, Eamon Doorley, Ivan Goff, and Billy Sutton) have been looking forward to a Patrick’s Day live stream. The one hour long show was shot a year ago at the Midwest Trust Center at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas and will include messages from each band member. The show posts at 8 a.m. EST on St. Patrick’s Day and can be viewed at tinyurl.com/Danu2021.
Speaking of supergroups, that great band from Donegal Altan (Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Dermot Byrne, Ciaran Curran, Ciaran Tourish, Dáithí Sprouley, and Mark Kelly) has reissued its acclaimed 2005 album “Local Ground,” just in time for the St. Patrick’s Day buzz. This will come as most welcome news to the group’s many fans who have surely developed quite a thirst since the group’s last album, “The Gap Of Dreams” in 2018. “Local Ground” was a great album and ripe for re-discovery – it featured an impressive round of guest appearances from the likes of Steve Cooney, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Graham Henderson, Jim Higgins, Dónal Lunny, and Carlos Nunez and this new reissue includes a bonus track, “Andy Dixon’s/Ríl Chois Claidigh/The Swilly Reel,” which until now was only available on the album’s hard-to-find Japanese release. This is an album that’ll not only get you through St. Patrick’s Day, but for the rest of the year as well! For more info, visit altan.ie.
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And just in time for a bit of the Patrick’s Day buzz is the first single from “I Am Of Ireland: Yeats in Song,” an album that features 23 poems by W.B. Yeats set to music by Raymond Driver. If you dig the poetry of Yeats and love traditional music, this project is really something you should look forward to checking out.
Driver, who is a composer and arranger in addition to being a renown illustrator, has put out two previous albums of Yeats poetry set to music, “Words That Sing in the Night” and “Never Give All The Heart,” both of which featured classically-trained soprano singer Laura Whittenberger (www.laurawhittenberger.com). The music on “I Am Of Ireland,” on the other hand, is largely built around of traditional music and sports a stellar cast of luminaries, including John Doyle, Mick McAuley, Kevin Burke, members of Lúnasa, and others, such as Christine Collister (Richard Thompson), Jackie Oates (Rachel Unthank), and Eleanor Shanley.
The premiere single, “I am of Ireland,” released last week and features Cathy Jordan (Dervish) on vocals and the great Seamie O’Dowd on guitar. It is a brilliant and expressive track that adds additional color to Yeats’ already gorgeous work. Through Driver’s arrangement, Jordan and O’Dowd have created something lovely that would stand well on its own even without a Yeats connection.
“I Am Of Ireland” won’t release until June 23, but you can listen to Jordan and O’Dowd’s premiere single and learn more about the project at yeatsinsong.com. Definitely check it out!
To close out this St Patrick’s Day column, I want to put the spotlight on a short, moving video called “My Gentle Harp” by Boston-based percussionist, composer, and producer Julian Loida (www.julianloida.com). Loida is an all-rounder with experience in a number of styles, including jazz, folk, and classical, and has collaborated with musicians and songwriters as well as dancers and visual artists.
In this video, Loida memorializes and celebrates his grandmother’s life by talking about how he experienced the news of her passing and what she meant to him. Bridget Patricia Albright (Foody) passed away just before St Patrick’s Day in March 2016 and led, by Loida’s account, a charmed and happy life. From there, we learn some details of her life, but most of all we learn about what she meant to her family, what they meant to her, and what being “Irish” meant to them. Loida’s narrative is paired with a gorgeous rendering of Thomas Moore’s piece “My Gentle Harp” and video of an interpretive dance performed by the brilliant Kieran Jordan.
It’s a moving piece, and one that not only fits with the season, but with the times in which we’re living. Yes, it’s a video about loss (especially when you can’t be there when it happens, something that too many these days know all too well), but also one about healing and remembrance. The few minutes it would take to have a look are well worth it – I encourage you to do so. The video can be accessed at tinyurl.com/MyGentleHarp.