Monday, October 12, 2015

Celtic Intersections: Harald Haugaard and Low Lily

Fiddle player and composer Harald Haugaard grew up in Denmark; Liz Simmons, Flynn Cohen, and Lissa Schneckenburger, the musicians who make up Low Lily, are based in New England. There are Celtic connections in the stories they tell with their music, and they each bring aspects of their own landscapes and backgrounds to the mix.

Harald Haugaard had thought that he was working on an album that would be a rather dark collection of music. He’d positioned it as work about endings, the final part of a trilogy of recordings which began with Burning Fields and continued with Den Femte Soster. As he worked through what he wanted to convey, though, he found himself appreciating “ the beauty and light to be found in endings, in solitude, in autumn,” as he writes in the notes for the music which became Lys Og Forfald, which translates as Light and Decay in English.

It is music of journeys, to be sure, and music of reflection. There are new compositions as well as several pieces from earlier times reimagined. At varied points along the way he brings in members of his touring band as well as players from a former band of his, Serras, the German string ensemble Fraunhofer Saitenmusik, and musical friends including Hans Mydtskov, Brian Finnegan, and Helene Blum. It is Haugaard’s fiddle which anchors and guides the music, however.

He begins the journey in a clear and thoughtful reflection paring his fiddle with Roger Tollroth’s guitar, in, as Haugaard says, “The clear light of September.” As the music unfolds. in the pieces Prelude and Skye-Havnen there are modern day journeys of exploration, challenge, and discovery -- in a bit of a nod Denmark’s well known spinner of tales, Hans Christian Andersen. Consideration of community and connection that form part of ttravels that goes with being a musician come inot play in the tune Sostre og Brodre/Sisiters and Brothers. Port Orford, named after a small community in Oregon, finds Blume lending her voice to create sound rather than to convey lyrics in a piece considering solitude and wilder places.

As creating the music evolved, Haugaard chose on the one hand to comment a bit on past compositions and join up with musicians he’d worked with on other projects. Abne Ojne/Opne Eyes as a commentary one of Blum’s recordings and the tour they did with that music, Nacht des Unbekannten/Night of the Unknown a return collaboration with Fraunhofer Saitenmusik are among these. It is however the title track Lys og Forfald which became the center of the story, as Haugaard came to see change and ending much as the beauty of falling autumn leaves may let the light in to a woods. In what might be heard as a commentary on that, he ends the recording with his fiddle alone playing Morgen/Morning. All of the music on Lys Og Forfald is a journey well worth the taking and reveals new aspects with each hearing.

In just six tracks on their self titled recording Low Lily the musicians of Low Lily offer dynamic and intriguing expression of the music they make, a collection well worth repeated hearing as well. They kick things off with traditional song House Carpenter, with Liz Simmons taking lead voice in a version which manages to be both lively and moody as the enigmatic tale of promises and deception unfolds. Schneckenburger’s original song This Girl’s Not Mine tells a story you might find in the north woods in days past -- and in the present too. There is a fiddle solo in the midst of the song which adds to the storytelling atmosphere, and trombone lines which enliven the contemporary side of the song.

Mandolin from Cohen and fiddle from Schnekenburger lead the conversation in Cohen’s driving original Northern Spy -- you have to think of the crisp flavor of the apple as you listen. Simmons on rhythm guitar and Corey DiMario of double bass anchor the rhythm on this and other tracks on the recording.

Simmons and Cohen follow with an original piece each, each story having to do with travel and journeys and how those may be experienced. Simmons steps up to lead voice again on her song Adventurer, while Cohen’s is the lead voice on All Roads Lead to You. Contemporary songs both, but ones rooted in tradition in both idea and arrangement.

Liz Simmons, Flynn Cohen and Lissa Schneckenburger have individual careers which include solo projects, teaching, playing with musicians across the spectrum of roots music. They are each top notch at what they do. When they join up as Low Lily there’s even more to enjoy in the conversations they share in voice and instrument. They finish off the EP Low Lily with the instrumental set Cherokee Shuffle/Lucky which joins tradition and newly written tunes, and sets the stgae for more to come from this gifted trio.

Celtic connections and intersections inform the music of Harald Haugaard and the songs and tunes of Low Lily, as they bring together ideas from past and present, center and edge, to create music all their own.

You may also wish to see
Long Time Courting: Alternate Routes
Music of Maine: Lissa Schneckenburger
Denmark’s Harbor of Music: Harald Haugaard at Perceptive Travel
Winter and Music in Denmark: Helene Blum at Perceptive Travel

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Friday, October 02, 2015

Folk with edge: Sarah McQuaid: Walking into White

Time of changing seasons, a turn of light, a lift in the air, time of telling stories...

Sarah McQuaid tells her stories through word and melody rhythm and tone and timbre. For her fourth recording, which she has called Walking Into White, she found inspiration from sources as different as the landscape of Yellowstone, the flight of jackdaws, a pattern used for ringing church bells, and stories she has been reading to her children.

The title song, a story which spins out in McQuaid’s imagination into an elegant and spare mediation on the nature of trust, began with an image of two children walking across moorland and being caught in a fog. She drew this from a story by Arthur Ransome which she came across in one of his tales, part of a series she’d been reading to her children each night at bedtime. It seemed to her, she says in her liner notes, “like a parable for life... so much so that I decided to make it the title track of this album.”

All this is framed in McQuaid’s distinctive alto and her DADGAD guitar playing. That’s a tuning which often contributes to Celtic music’s haunting aspect and one of which McQuaid is a master. Throughout the album, these elements anchor adventures both in story and in the way the music is presented.

Traveling from her base in Cornwall, England to Cornwall, New York to work for the first time with producers Adam Pierce (who is McQuaid’s cousin) and Jeremy Backofen, who had not worked in the folk genre before, McQuaid and her road manger and sound engineer Martin Stansbury created a collection which weaves in rhythms and sonic placements you might not expect from and artist known as a folk musician. All the while, though, they stayed true to the spirit and ideas of the songs while creating an album that fits in as a natural next step in McQuaid’s musical progress

On her tours supporting the album (at this writing at the beginning of October, she’s in the midst of a US run; she regularly tours internationally). McQuaid has been devoting the first half of her concerts to playing music from the album as it is sequenced, moving from Low Winter Sun, in which her guitar rings in a pattern drawn from the peal church bells to frame atmospheric and enigmatic lyrics that suggest the beginning of a journey, to a sparse and distinctive take of Ewan MacColl’s classic love song The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.

Between those two Where the Wind Decides to Blow and The Tide find McQuaid taking furtherinspiration from images in Ransome’s stories to explore ideas of uncertainty, persistence, trust, and reading signs. There’s a lot going on both lyrically and musically, though the songs themselves are rather short, at three verses with a twice repeated chorus for Where the Wind Decides to Blow and six verses for The Tide. The singer raises as many questions as she answers. The idea of walking through and with uncertainty to find trust and connection comes up again in the song Yellowstone, which was in part inspired by conversations McQuaid had with her ten year old son. All of this leaves plenty of room for listeners to explore, and material upon which to reflect.

That is true of each of the songs on Walking Into White, actually, including Sweetness and Pain, an a capella song whose three verses are spaced through the rest of the music at intervals, making a sort of recurring theme and comment which works both in word and melody. There’s also a very fine instrumental called I Am Grateful For What I Have.

Jackdaws Rising came about when McQuaid was playing music one evening with her friends Pete Coleman and Claire Hines. They got to playing an instrumental the pair had written and they suggested that if she wanted to write words to go along...

She was up to that challenge, and it went a step -- okay, several steps -- further when it came to recording the piece, which in lyric is dark and light, falling and rising. So are the production choices, with stamps and handclaps and rhythms which might seem out of time but actually work perfectly to express the energy of the lyric.

McQuaid’s voice is in varying ways the center of things through the recording, and that comes full circle as she draws things to a close with the hymn Canticle of the Sun and that take on The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. It’s thoughtful journey Sarah McQuaid leads on Walking Into White, one filled with interest, surprise, and challenge, as she creates music well worth repeated listening.

You may also wish to see
Buildings, songs, England: Sarah McQuaid at Perceptive Travel
Ireland's Music: Cara Dillon: A Thousand Hearts
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain

Photograph of Sarah McQuaid by Phil Nicholl

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ireland's Music: Altan: The Widening Gyre

There’s mystery, legend, and magic in the landscapes of Donegal, in Ireland’s far northwest. There you’ll also find deep community, lively humor, and strong connections to the past. Each of these things makes its way into the music of the band Altan.

For their album The Widening Gyre they chose to explore and express another sort of connection, too, the one that reaches across the ocean to the music of Appalachia and the American south. With this in mind, they traveled to Nashville, to the studios of Compass Records, to record.

The result is a clear and sparkling set of song and tune that interweaves these connected yet distinct ways of sharing and thinking about of music. The members of Altan -- Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh on voice and fiddle, Ciaran Curran on bouzouki, Ciaran Tourish onfiddle, vocals, whistles and low whistle, Dáithí Sproule on guitar and voice, Mark Kelly on guitar and voice, and newest member Martin Tourish on accordion and keyboards -- explore these connections and travels of song in collaboration with longtime musical friends from the American folk scene, among them Bruce Molsky, Tim O’Brien, Garry West (who produced the recording), Natalie Haas, and Alison Brown. “We’ve made lifelong friends through music,” Mairéad says. “ The circle has expanded over the years, and our new album celebrates those relationships.”

The fourteen track disc opens with a set which sets the path for that, taking a journey through a lively tune from Scotland, a reel from the Irish tradition, and an original reel composed by Mairéad. Molsky and Ní Mhaonaigh turn Walt Aldrige’s old timey Americana song No Ash Will Burn into a vocal and instrumental collaboration that unlocks the Celtic nuances of the piece, and although it is a rather sad love song, also calls to mind the partings and stories of those who moved from one place to another in earlier times. Tune For Mairéad and Anna Ní Mhaonaigh is a slow air which was composed some years back by Dáithí Sproule for the birthdays of Mairéad and her sister Anna, and is done here in lovely spare fashion.

White Birds is a quiet piece too, one which evokes travels across land and sea in reality and imagination, with Mary Chapin Carpenter adding in her to voice to Mairéad’s for lyrics written by poet WB Yeats set to music by Fiona Black. Only right to have words by Yeats here; a different Yeats poem is the source the band turned to for the album’s title. “The title The Widening Gyre appeals to us and depicts the spiral of life, widening and embracing the new. It has an innate energy. We think that idea is reflected in the album’s music,” says Mairéad.

That energy is readily apparent in the Buffalo Gals/Leather Britches/Leslie’s Reel set, which evolved from the musicians siting around in the studio swapping tunes. It’s a fast paced event which holds the energy of Appalachian bluegrass along with fiery Donegal style music and creates its own place between. That also holds true of The Triple T, a tune which Ciaran Tourish wrote for his son Thomas and which invited in the talents of musical guests Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Sam Bush on mandolin, Darol Anger on fiddle, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Jim Higgins on bodhran, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Bryan Sutton on guitar, and Alison Brown on banjo -- an all star jam in deed, and all these fine talents in collaboration in service to the tune.

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh’s distinctive soprano is as much a hallmark of Altan’s music as are her fiery fiddling and thoughtful compositions. All are in fine evidence here. She sourced the song Má Théann Tú ‘un Aonaigh, which offers advice (in irish) to a young man setting out in the world, from a field recording from the Arranmore Islands in northwest Donegal, while Cuirt Robin Finley/Moladh Shliabh Maoineach has as its substance a love song to a mountain in Donegal. She trades voices and stories with bluegrass/Americana master Tim O’Brien on The House Carpenter/ Gypsy Davy and her slow reel Samhradh and Aniar Aduaidh Jig pair naturally in a set with Martin Tourish’s The Donegal Jig. Far Beyond Carrickfinn is a song composed by Ian Smith and Enda Cullen to help give Mairéad perspective after the death of her father Francie, a himself a fine musician. It is a lasting piece that’s beautifully sung and presented here by Mairéad and Scotland’s Eddi Reader and could indeed apply to journeys of many sorts. “Stars lead the way, as your journey begins...”

There is much more to explore and enjoy. The mountains of Ireland’s northwest and the Americna south, seacoasts and hollows, journeys through them and stories told across time: all these come into play in Altan’s The Widening Gyre.

...and while you are at it, note the fine cover artwork by Édaín O’Donnell.

photographs courtesy of the band, Compass Records, and Colin Park and Joseph Mischyshyn. thank you for respecting copyright

You may also wish to see
The Wild Atlantic Way: Music of Donegal and Derry part of a 4 part series I’ve done for Wandering Educators
Music of Donegal: Altan: The Poison Glen/Gleann Nimhe
Music for the first week in Advent: candle in the window
Alison Brown: The Company You Keep
Tim O'Brien: The Crossing

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Canada's Music: Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy: One

There’s a tune in the first set on One called So I’m Off with the Good Saint Nicolas. It’s a Scott Skinner tune, bringing in connection to Scotland that lives in the fiddle playing of Cape Breton and Ontario in Canada, and rightfully so, as Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy are two of the best to play this sort of music. It also invites a sense of humor and an idea of journey, two things which are borne out through all the music they have chosen for the recording.

It is the first album they have done together. When they married, twelve years ago now, that was an idea they had in mind, but they each had well booked solo careers and commitments, and then there was the matter of children coming along. They kept the idea, though, and began working how to do it. What has emerged is on the one hand not surprising to anyone who knows their musicianship, but on the other hand a creation of music that is an immediate joy and likely to prove a lasting one as well.

That comes from a conversation in music between two of the world’s top class fiddle players. Both grew up in families where music was a part of daily life. MacMaster comes from in a community on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia where music was part of day to day life in the surrounding area; Leahy, on the other hand, was raised on a family farm in rural Ontario, an area, he recalls, where the interest was more likely to run to sport that music. “The area we come from isn’t a musical area, so I grew up not hearing fiddlers that much and was able to develop my own style,” Donnell recalls. With parents who both played music and ten siblings to join in, it became a family adventure to create music, and eventually, a family band.

Over in Atlantic Canada, MacMaster's mother began teaching her daughter to step dance, and she started learning the chords of Cape Breton style piano playing too. It was the fiddle, though, that captured her heart. "I had a very unique childhood," she she says, "in that I was surrounded by a culture that was rich with fiddle tradition, and that is why I am a fiddler. That is why I do what I do. If you saw where I grew up, and the environment I grew up in... there was really no other instrument of that magnitude. The fiddle was, and is, the most popular instrument in Cape Breton. It was very natural for me to start playing.” When a relative sent a small size fiddle over for whoever of the kids in the extended family wanted it, Natalie was drawn to it. “I remember Dad taking me to see the fiddle and I just fell in love with it. I'm like -- can I have it?" she continues, her voice warming at the memory. "Nobody else wanted it, so I took it, and that night, I started playing." She was nine.

They each grew in music, MacMaster in the strongly Scottish based yet uniquely Atlantic Canada shaped style of Cape Breton music, Leahy in the mix of Scottish, French, Nordic, and Irish influences that make up the music of Ontario, with in Donnell’s case, a touch of the Maritimes, as his mother is from Cape Breton. Along the way, they each earned awards and award nominations including Junos and Grammys, and collaborated with artists ranging from Edgar Meyer to to Alison Krauss to Mark O’Connor to Shania Twain.

So, when they married a dozen years ago, they had in mind to do a recording together. Though it took a time to work it out. the result has clarity and grace that brings in their varied and similar understandings of music.

The Saint Nick’s set offers that connection to Scotland and the landscape of Cape Breton, and a sense of joy in the journey and a call to dance, ideas which continue through the music MacMaster and Leahy offer. Fiddles drive the journey and draw you in to The Chase, a tune they wrote together and one which seems to echo with a call to dance.

Through the music on One MacMaster and Leahy are supported by musicians who tour with them often as well as musical friends sitting in for these sessions. Among them are the Cape Breton fiddle contingent of Kinnon Beaton, Brenda Stubbert, and Dawn Beaton, Betty Beaton, Rachel Aucoin, and Mac Morin on piano, Tim Edey on guitar and accordion, and Kenneth MacKenzie on fiddle and Highland pipes. There are two other collaborators you might not expect, as well: producer Bob Ezrin and producer and recording engineer Justin Cortelyou, who have between them worked with musicians including Pink Floyd, Alan Jackson, and Taylor Swift, among others.

The producer connection came about after Natalie was invited to sit in as a guest on a track fellow Canadian artist Johnny Reid was recording in Nashville, produced by Ezrin. MacMaster got to talking with Reid about the duo album she and Leahy were planning. Reid asked if he could share the information with Ezrin, and “Five minutes after I got home from Nashville, Bob called to say he enjoyed working with me and that maybe we could do it again, “ MaMaster says. “After Donnell and I met Bob and, through him, Justin Cortelyou, we all very quickly realized this project was meant to be a collective effort, a passion shared by all."

Natalie and Donnell had already chosen the music for the project by the time Ezrin and Cortelyou came on board, but it was in fact Ezrin’s idea to record the project in Cape Breton. The respect and encouragement among musicians and producers came through in the recording process. "There is very little that is as exciting as working with people who are masters at their craft," Ezrin says. Donnell points out that in working with Ezrin “You feel challenged to give your best, and so “There is a real intense vibe and a live feeling on the record, with everyone just going for it."

That holds through out the music, including places where several of the tunes have unusual touches. On the Pastiche for Anne set, for example, there is a distinct piano presence, which is common in Cape Breton music -- but in this case, it was created by having two players working on one piano at the same time. Percussion is a part of Cape Breton style as well, often created by tapping feet or the beat of a bodhran. For the Joyous Waltz set -- which does include that waltz time tune and then moves into the faster beat of a polka -- the drum kit included paint cans and other recycled materials. There are touches of electric guitar on a track or two as well. Equally ideas suggested by the artists as by the producers, these flavors are all in service of the tradition from which the tunes arise; they just add a shading now and then.

None of which you have to know to appreciate the music, creativity, and connection Natalie and Donnell share through out the album. There is a set in tribute to Natalie’s uncle, late fiddle music great Buddy MacMaster, a Clog Medley set which brings in the flavors of Donnell’s Ontario background, and Wedding Day Jig, which the couple wrote together as a gift to give to guests at their wedding. After the spice and fast paced high energy of most of the sets, Ezrin suggested they end the album with a lullabye, and that Natalie sing it. At first reluctant as she doesn’t consider herself that much of a singer -- she’s been known to sing occasional harmony on stage but little more -- she got into the spirit of the idea. The result is the lovely traditional song Cagaran Gaolach, which Natalie sings in Scottish Gaelic.

...and that’s not quite the end, after all. There is a bonus track, The Balkan Hills set, which makes a lively and engaging full circle to the music of One and which begins with a bit of banter among the musicians, suggesting the idea of music shared, as is common in Cape Breton and in Ontario, at an informal party in the kitchen.

There is a joy, a connection to land, heritage, to family, and the spirit of sharing music that comes through clearly in these tracks. Several years back, I had the opportunity to ask Natalie to reflect on playing the music of Atlantic Canada.

"It's just in me strong, it's my favorite music. Nothing makes me feel the way I feel when I hear Cape Breton music, and I'm not talking about my own music, I'm talking about all those who have come before me and those who are my peers," Natalie MacMaster said. "When I go home and I hear a good fiddle tune, there is no music that makes me feel like that. It does many things at the same time. It makes me feel just wild, like I want to get up and dance, and at the same time it soothes me. It has a crazy effect on me. It just fills me with pure peace."

Flying notes, fast paced jigs and reels and polkas, paint can percussion and Gaelic lyrics, original music and tunes from Scotland, Ireland, the Maritimes, and elsewhere, piano, bagpipes, guitar, accordion, and of course fiddles: all those, in the hands and spirits of gifted musicians, will likely have a similar effect on the listeners of One.

Photographs courtesy of Cambridge Artist Management and Paquin Entertainment. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Sounds of Cape Breton: Mary Jane Lamond & Wendy MacIsaac
Celebrating Canada and Newfoundland: The Once
Coffee and the Mojo Hat: Neil Pearlman

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Monday, July 06, 2015

Road Trip Music: Americana from Alabama to Fur Peace

The winding roads of New England, the quiet places of the deep south, the welcoming towns of the midwest, the expanse of prairies north and south, the high desert, the coasts east, west, south and north -- it is a time for road trips and explorations. There is music to go along.

Amy Black lives in Boston these days, but her family roots go deep into northern Alabama. That is a musical connection she has been exploring of late. Her recording The Muscle Shoals Sessions finds her delving into the rootsy, southern, bluesy, old time aura that rises from north Alabam’, forging creative covers of music from Sam Cooke and Dan Penn among others, and adding her own songs to the mix. Black is well equipped to do this, with a voice that holds hints of Bonnie Raitt and Etta James yet remains uniquely her own, and with a creative imagination that recasts Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody and the Black Keys’ Tighten Up in ways that completely fit the roots infused story Black is telling. Those are standout tracks; so are Black’s own Please Don’t Give Up On Me and Cooke’s Bring It On Home. Really, though, each of the dozen tracks is a keeper.

Rock, blues, country, Zydeco, Cajun, and Creole -- Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have been working on a musical mix of these genres for more than two decades now, with an accent on the Cajun southern Louisiana roots they come from, The title of their album Voyageurs is well chosen, as many of the songs settings and images have to do with travel, and the driving pulse of their style and of the music itself connects and suggests movement, travel, and dance along the way. Old friend and new band member Kevin Wimmer adds his fiddle to the band this time out, joining in with Riley’s accordion, Sam Broussard’s guitar, Brazos Huval’s bass, and Kevin Dugas’s percussion. The men trade leads and backing on instruments and voice through a range of original and traditional music that’ll have you traveling down to Cajun country in no time. There is music from the tradition, original songs and tunes from Riley and Wimmer, and covers of music from Canray Fontenot and Boozoo Chavis among others. Standout cuts include Au Revoir Grand Mamou, Plus Creux, La Danse de Mardi Gras, and Malcolm’s Reel, but once you begin to listen to Voyageurs chances are you’ll not stop.

Further West is the name Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson, who as a duo go by the name Hungrytown, chose for their third release. In part that’s because they have been doing quite a bit of traveling, taking their Americana based songs from their base in Vermont on tours through North America, Europe, and New Zealand. The title is also a nod to the fact that the songs, many with music written by the duo and lyrics by Hall, reference travels both physical and those which may not be measured by physical distance. The title song is just such a piece, one with references open to many understandings. Other cuts to note are the duo’s fine a capella take on Woody Guthrie’s Pastures of Plenty and the originals Hard Way to learn and Don’t Cross That Mountain.

Jorma Kaukonen has done more than a bit of traveling in his time, time which has included growing up in the Washington DC area and making his way west to California, where he became a founding member of Jefferson Airplane, and later, of Hot Tuna, with which he still tours. Along the way he received Grammy nominations and was named to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and founded the Fur Peace Ranch, a concert and workshop venue and art gallery in Ohio. All the while, in addition to touring with Hot Tuna and teaching at Fur Peace, he has continued to put out stellar solo albums as well. It seems no surprise, then, that his 2015 solo recording is called Ain't in No Hurry.

Blues and country, soul and a hint of jazz with a touch of rock lingering on, and flavors of musics from other parts of the world as well: more than fifty years into his musical adventure, Kaukonen knows well how to frame his musicianship as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist with a distinctive and unique sound and point of view. You will find that well presented in the eleven tracks of Ain't in No Hurry. There’s Suffer Little Children to Come Unto Me, a piece derived from and unfinished song by Woody Guthrie which melds gospel, folk, and country; there’s the depression era song Brother Can You Spare a Dime?, a cover of A.P. Carter’s Sweet Fern, and Kaukonen’s own Seasons in the Field, a reflective look at time and change which closes the album. Those are standouts. It is an album, though, well worth your time to let unfold through all the tracks as Kaukonen has sequenced them. “At this point in time perhaps I should be in more of a hurry,” he writes in the liner notes, “but for me it’s more important that each piece fits in the right place at the right time. The songs you hear on this album cover a lot of ground for me. Some are very old, some quite new. From where I came from to where I am is all here.”

Origins and travels, journeys of music, place, and imagination -- wherever your travels take you, these recordings will make good companions.

This is the first in a series of music of North American roads. In between stories of music and musicians of Ireland and Scotland and about creative practice, stay tuned for more such adventures in the coming months.

Photograph courtesy of James Wilkinson. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Tab Benoit’s take on Louisiana in music at a Traveler’s Library
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain
Road Trip Music in Alabama: bluegrass, faith, and architecture

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Monday, June 01, 2015

Scotland and New Zealand: Inge Thomson and Maisey Rika

Fair Isle, Scotland, is a small place, lying about half way between Orkney and Shetland to the far north of mainland Scotland. North Island, New Zealand, is quite a bit larger in area and ar distant from Fair Isle, lying as it does at the opposite end of the world in the southern hemisphere off the coast of Australia. Both places, though, are connected and bound to sea and weather and distance. Those things arise in and influence their music, as well.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons the music of Maisey Rika, who is of the Maori people indigenous to North Island, and Inge Thomson, who comes from Fair Isle, seemed to resonate one with the other on a winter evening in Glasgow.

The two artists did not perform together at their concert at The Tron, which was part of Celtic Connections. Yet there was resonance.

Rika began the evening with a song in Maori telling of the legends of the sea and how the Maori people came to be in New Zealand. Many of her songs through evening were in Maori -- she has won many awards for her work as a songwriter and a tradition keeper in that language -- and, recognizing that however international the audience at Celtic Connections concerts often is, not many would be fluent in Maori, she gave gracious and thoughtful and occasionally witty insights into the meaning of the words she sang. Sharing several songs she has recorded in English showed another side of her music, a more easy listening sort of sound. While listeners at The Tron enjoyed both aspects of Rika’s music, it was the music of her native language and the stories told with that music that clearly kept the audience engaged. Rika also often shared the spotlight with her supporting musicians, stepping aside as they took lead voice or instrument, and at times supporting them with harmonies as well. It was, however, Rika’s powerful voice and engaging storytelling through music which anchored the time -- and the audience enjoyed her inclusion of swirling the traditional poi, as well.

Rika’s most recent recording at this writing is Whitiora with all songs in the Maori (Te reo) language, which includes a song referencing the earthquake in Christchurch and that song telling of Maori legend with which she opened her Celtic Connections concert, called Tangaroa Whakamauta.

For her part of the evening, Inge Thomson focused on the music of her project Da Fishing Hands.

Inspired by consideration of the geography, natural environment, and stories of Fair Isle, the music she and her bandmates offered readily evoked wind, water, sea, northern travels, and the interconnection of these things. Thomson herself sang, in a light soprano, and played accordion as well as the occasional bit of electronic addition to the atmosphere, which fit in surprisingly well with acoustic instruments and human voices. The songs she offered, with lyrics of her own and also ones by her cousin poet Lise Sinclair, who passed away as they were working on the project together, included Wind and Weather/The Fishermen and The Sea, The Snowstorm, Dark Stacks, and Here We’ve Landed.

As Rika did in her set, Thomson also made the music a truly collaborative journey with her supporting musicians, who included Sarah Hayes on flute and vocals, Fraser Fifield on sax, pipes and other instruments, and Steven Polwart on guitar and vocals. Thomson, who was perhaps best known to most of the audience as member of songwriter Karine Polwart’s band, delivered music and stories creative, thoughtful, and unusual, and showed that she is well able to carry a concert in her own right.

Both Maisey Rika and Inge Thomson offered music that draws from their home lands and their knowledge and love for the stories told in word, music, landscape, weather, and change drawn from those lands. Stories of an island in the South Pacific and one the North Sea: differing one from the other, but connected by experience of water, weather, time, and music. Indeed, this concert offered just the sort of thoughtful and unexpected -- and not so likely to occur elsewhere -- connection and resonance that marks out Celtic Connections as one of Europe’s top music festivals.

At this writing, World Oceans Day is on the near horizon. Listening to the art of these two talented musicians would be a good way to celebrate.

“From a cultural point of view the sea has always been a life giver to the island, it is so important we look after our marine resources for future generations.” ~ Inge Thomson in an interview with Folk Radio UK.

Photographs are by Kerry Dexter and were made with permission of the artists, the festival, and the venue. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Julie Fowlis: Every Story
Celtic Connections 2014
Scotland's music: Capercaillie: At the Heart of It All

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Celtic Connections 2015: images

Celtic Connections is perhaps Europe’s best winter festival -- it is certainly one of the world’s best music festivals. Held in Glasgow, Scotland, in the latter part of January each year, the festival hosts concerts of music both traditional and not, from the many traditions of Scotland and the Celtic lands, from the Commonwealth countries, and from other traditions such as, in recent years, those of Malawi, Mali, and Mongolia.

Events are held in venues across the city center, ranging from the Royal Concert Hall to the repurposed church that is now Oran Mor, from the National Piping Centre to City Halls to the Old Fruitmarket to The Tron Theatre. There are exhibits of visual art, late night song and music sessions and an after hours festival club, as well as competitions for rising stars and live radio broadcasts.

Here is a bit of what some of the events looked like this winter past

... and there will be more to come.

Photographs are by Kerry Dexter and were made with permission of the artists, the festival, and the venues involved. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Celtic Connections: 20 Years of Extraordinary Music at Wandering Educators
Celtic Connections 2014: reflections, part one
Celtic Connections 2013: Images

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