Folks, a reminder that this weekend the second annual Irish Tenor Banjo Summit will happen at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance. It starts with a céilí on Friday at 7 p.m., called by Catherine Brice with music by Seamus Egan (tenor banjo), Billy McComiskey (accordion), Matt Mulqueen (piano), and Mike Noonan (drums). Workshops with Seamus Egan, David McKindley-Ward, and Peter FitzGerald take place Saturday morning and afternoon.
Afterward, I will give a lecture about the history of the Irish tenor banjo and in the evening there’ll be a concert featuring Egan, Mckindley-Ward, FitzGerald, alongside Julia FitzGerald, Peter Brice, Eamon Sefton, Sean McComiskey, Sarah Collins, and Conor Hearn. Masterminded by Richard Osban, a fellow banjo driver who has been doing a lot for the scene in recent years, it promises to be a brilliant weekend of music. For more info or to book your spot, visit https://creativealliance.org/.
This week I’ve had “Reverie Road,” the debut album by a new band of the same name, in my media player and I’m happy to report that the album is fabulous. This should come as no surprise, as the group’s lineup, which includes fiddle player Winifred Horan and accordion and flute player John Williams, both founding members of the supergroup Solas; fiddle and banjo player Katie Grennan (Gaelic Storm, Trinity Academy of Irish Dance, STEAM Quartet, and others); and pianist Utsav Lal (a “jazz and raga” player who has worked in Irish music extensively alongside Jarlath Henderson, Colm Mac Con Lomaire, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, among others), is astonishingly good.
The music here reflects the achievements of all involved, but also a collective vision – it is virtuosic, carefully conceived and wonderfully arranged. “The Gap of Dreams,” the album’s first track, fits this description well. Although it’s made up of just three tunes, “Hardiman’s Fancy,” “Girl of the Big House,” and “The Gap of Dreams,” it feels like there’s far more going on here. The arrangement they’ve worked out here into is stacked with a complexity rooted in well mobilized textures and colors, all grabbing at the listeners’ attention in different ways. But again, although each musicians delivers at a high individual level, the track – and all the others – feel very much the team effort.
“Naked and Bare” changes the character of the group’s intensity. This is a slow, brooding track that opens with piano, fiddle, and bass (played by Chico Huff) setting the tone. It has an almost “Gloaming” vibe until a lush string arrangement takes it in a far different direction. It’s gorgeous, emotive music.
“The Calico Set” stands out as well. It opens “small,” with fiddle, mandolin and piano evoking a sort of stark, pastoral sensibility that is reinforced by dramatic string swells hinting at something more. Then, a break that leads to a dramatic Shepard tone-like swipe transforming the track into driving, technicolor life. The guitar, played here is by Donogh Hennessy (a founding member of Lúnasa, among many other credits), gives the fiddles extra lift and moves the track along boldly.
The album has a good bit of stylistic variety as well. A great example is the track “Très Elégante,” which pairs two waltzes, “Très Elégante” (by Bob Pasquarello) and “Valse Pour Yvette” (by Sebastian Lagrange). Visionary arranging gives this track a very “romantic” flair, but it’s the musicianship that gives this track its strong appeal. The waltzes here are gorgeous and will surely turn heads.
“Reverie Road” is an outstanding album that takes Irish music and uses it to look beyond the horizon of the tradition. There are many moments that are cinematic in its expressivity, which I think is what one would expect from musicians as sophisticated as these. Highly recommended to lovers of traditional music, especially those who are interested in when it’s done with a modern twist, but this is an album that will have very broad appeal. Great stuff! Look for Reverie Road on tour January - April in the new year, with dates in 16 states. To learn more, visit https://www.reverieroadmusic.com/.
By the way, it should come as no surprise that “Reverie Road” has been getting a good bit of play on WFUV! But did you know that in 2024 “Ceol na nGael,” one the country’s most important Irish music shows, is turning 50 years and that they’ll be celebrating Saturday, Jan. 20 at Peter Norton Symphony Space? The concert will be a big one, too, featuring Cillian Vallely and Kevin Crawford with Patrick Mangan and Alan Murray; Seamus Egan and band; Celtic Cross; and more. Tickets are already on sale and it looks like half the theater has been sold. So if you’re interested in going I suggest you not hesitate – book now! You can reserve your seat here.