Sounds Around / By Liz Noonan
I’m so lost in Heidi Talbot’s new album “Angels Without Wings” that I can hardly snap out of my delectable musical cloud to write about it! Her voice is sweet and tender as ever, her lyrics, breathtaking and romantic – it’s music to daydream to.
As I listen to the beautiful new material from the Kildare-born folk singer/ songwriter my mind drifts back about 11 years to the time when I heard her first self-titled album and was swept away by her voice. Shortly after discovering her music I wandered into a local pub in Yonkers on a quiet weeknight and found her there bewitching a handful of captivated bar dwellers.
So much has changed for Talbot since then. She joined the well-loved all-female Irish traditional group Cherish the Ladies in 2002. She toured the world and recorded two albums with them while simultaneously working on her 2004 solo album, “Distant Future.” After leaving Cherish the Ladies in 2007, Talbot went on to record two more solo albums, “The Last Star” in 2010, and “Angels Without Wings,” due out Jan. 29 on Compass records.
In a recent conversation with Talbot, she spoke about her diverse musical influences, from Joni Mitchell to Shane MacGowan, the Fureys and Belle and Sebastian. But her biggest influences in the composition and recording of songs for her latest project were the long list of musicians and songwriters that lent their talents to make “Angels Without Wings” a very special album. “The idea was to write an album of modern day folk songs with input from a lot of different people”, she said. The album features collaborations her band mates, John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine, as well as Mark Knopfler, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien and many more. The relationships between band members and special guests were a major ingredient in the final product. Talbot spoke about her desire to make the album sound as live as possible. “It was more about capturing a performance than having it sonically perfect. We wanted to make it feel like a band playing together, feeding off each other. We are all friends and everyone had input.”
Although Talbot is relatively new to the craft of songwriting, and admits that it doesn’t always come easy to her, my favorite track on the album is her original composition “I’m Not Sorry,” a song that only took her 20 minutes to write. Other highlights include the title track which features a Parisian influence with lovely accordion solos from Phil Cunningham, and “New Cajun Waltz,” a song that paints a very pretty picture of two lovers dancing under the stars. As for Heidi Talbot, her favorite track on the album is the playful song “Will I Ever Get To Sleep.” It’s a song that her 2-year-old daughter likes to listen to on repeat. Now there’s a kid with good taste in music!
Mark your calendars for Jan. 29, the day you can add “Angels without wings” to your collection.
Here are my picks for some of the best Irish music around town this week: Mary Courtney at Christ Congregation Church in Princeton, NJ on 1/18, Jameson’s Revenge at Ulysses in NYC on 1/19, and Bangers and Mash at Good Friends in Mastic Beach, Long Island on 1/19.
Saturday, Feb. 2, from 11:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., the Irish Language & Gaelic Culture classes of the Irish Studies Institute at Molloy College will celebrate the ancient Celtic feast of St. Brigid with song, story, and poetry in Irish. The event will take place at the Wilbur Arts Building on the north side of the college’s campus in Rockville Centre, L.I.
Admission is free and refreshments will be served. Anyone interested in taking part with a song, short tale, or poem in Irish, should email Jerry Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 516-804-2968 (evenings).
Meanwhile, the Irish Studies Institute has announced the expansion of its certificate program in Irish Language & Gaelic Culture for adults and children, which is taught by Kelly. For more information contact Cathy Muscente by calling 516-678-5000 ext. 6218 or emailing email@example.com.
Traditional Music / By Daniel Neely
The melodeon seems to be having something of a resurgence. Back in December I wrote about the Tin Sandwich Band’s lovely new album “By Hook Or By Crook” which features Danú’s Benny McCarthy on the instrument, and now I have in hand “The Genius of Peter Conlon,” a collection of recordings issued on 78 RPM between 1917 and 1929. Produced by Emmett Gill and Gerry Clarke, it is an outstanding offering.
Peter (or more commonly, P.J.) Conlon is a name that will be familiar to Irish music historians as not only an important early melodeon player, but also as one of the earliest Irish-born musicians to record (the only two to predate Conlon were the duo Eddie Herborn and James Wheeler). Until now, those interested in Conlon’s work were generally collecting it on record, but this collection brings together everything available in one place, and in so doing fills major gaps about his life and music.
The first thing one notices about this set is the cover, which features an illustration by the great (and reclusive) artist R. Crumb of Conlon playing. It’s a bold choice because the producers could just as easily have used the brilliant and rare photo of Conlon they ultimately reserved for the cover of the set’s booklet. Instead, however, they used the stylistically distinct Crumb image, and in doing so gave the set both a special look that ties it to a greater tradition of record collectors and collecting. (Crumb is a well-known 78 RPM record collector and old time musical themes feature prominently in his work.)
The set includes a lavish 44-page, full-color booklet comprising several sections. The first, a deftly researched biographical sketch, comes from Alan Morrisroe; Emmett Gill (about whose brilliant album with Jesse Smith, “The Rookery,” I happened to write in December) wrote the second, a brief descriptive essay about the recordings; while the third, an essay called the “Accordion in Irish Music During the 78 RPM Era” was provided by Charlie Harris. The booklet also includes several tributes to Conlon’s playing from notable musicians, two transcriptions of Conlon’s tunes, label scans and a complete discography of Conlon’s work.
As one might expect, the music itself is outstanding. One can hear Conlon’s virtuosity shine, for example, on “Paddy on the Turnpike” and the “Broken Pledge.” However, tracks like the “College Grove / …”, “Phil the Fluters Ball” (with singer Shaun O’Farrell), the “Banks of Newfoundland (with banjoist Walter Lally) and the “Tap Room / …” (with fiddler James Morrison) are all brilliant. The digital transfers are well handled and are generally clear. With few exceptions, the source material was in good, playable shape and helped contribute to this fine presentation.
The set’s presentation of a comprehensive booklet in a plastic DVD-style case is reminiscent of Viva Voce’s lovely 2003 collection of John Feeney’s recordings, “When It’s Moonlight in Mayo,” Gael Linn’s wonderful 2004 set “Seoltaí Séidte/Setting Sail” of recordings that label issued on 78 RPM between 1957-1961, and Gael Linn’s 2011 re-reissue of their absolutely essential Michael Coleman collection, “1891-1945.” This is the way archival collections should be released.
This is the fourth of Oldtime Records’s reissue projects. The first two, “Vol. 1. U.S. Recordings” and “Vol. 2. U.S. Recordings” include several great tracks by major artists of the period, while the third, “Vol. 3. Piping Rarities,” is a collection of early piping recordings. Although I regrettably don’t possess these discs, each of them appears fabulously curated; if this P.J. Conlon set is any indication of prior success, then these earlier releases are of a similarly high quality.
Ultimately, this an outstanding and loving tribute to one of Irish music’s earliest leaders and to an instrument that is currently under appreciated. Although this set probably isn’t for the casual listener whose sensibilities aren’t accustomed to the comparatively low fidelity of acoustic era recordings issued during the 78 RPM era, it is an absolute must have for any lister or institution with an interest in traditional Irish music’s history.
To learn more about the P.J. Conlon set, visit oldtimerecords.com.
Page Turner /By Peter McDermott
In the 1963-set novel “Ratlines,” Irish Minister of Justice Charles J. Haughey has a mission for Lieut. Albert Ryan of the Directorate of Intelligence. Three former Nazis who were given asylum in Ireland have turned up dead. On the last of the bodies there’s a note addressed to Col. Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favorite commando who now has an estate in County Kildare. It says: “We are coming for you.” President John F. Kennedy is about to make a visit to Ireland on a trip that also takes in Berlin, and Haughey wants it all out of the way before then. “Ryan, a World War II vet, has very mixed feelings about the investigation,” Neville said, “To say the least.”
“Ratlines” is the follow up to the much-praised Belfast Trilogy, comprising “The Ghosts of Belfast,” “Collusion” and “Stolen Souls.”
The Dubliner John Connolly, perhaps the best known of the Irish Noir novelists, has said: “‘The Ghosts of Belfast’ isn’t just an extraordinary debut novel, it’s an extraordinary novel.” Indeed, it won the 2009 L.A. Times Book Prize in the mystery/thriller category, as well as the Spinetingler Award for Best First Novel, and was a New York Times Notable Book in 2009.
Joseph Long, a graduate of NYU’s Master program in Irish and Irish-American studies, has been fan of Neville’s work from the beginning. He described “Ghosts” as “stunning, the proverbial page turner.”
He added: “This guy is a special talent. In his short career, he has taken chances and makes those of us who love Irish crime fiction relish in knowing he is force to reckon with.
“Stuart brings a voice from the North and augments Connolly’s writing from the South. They are the anchors that, I believe, will finally give Irish crime fiction the recognition that it deserves,” said Long, who helped organize the “Down These Green Streets” seminar at Glucksman Ireland House in the fall of 2011.
“With ‘Ratlines,’ Neville continues on his path of investigating aspects of Irish history under the veil of crime fiction. In turn, he makes his readers want more,” Long said. “Look at the amount of work that has been published in the last six months. Without doubt, Stuart’s success has influenced other writers as John has before him.”
Date of birth: Jan. 25, 1972
Place of birth: Armagh
Children: One daughter, Issy
What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?
I try to stick to a normal working day, but it isn’t always easy. Most of “Ratlines” was written in the study room of my local library after my daughter was born; it was the only place I could get the necessary peace and quiet.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A common mistake is to invest everything in the first novel you write without moving on. As soon as you’ve finished writing one novel, rewritten it several times, and made sure it’s as good as it can be, start writing another. Too many people keep flogging that one book without exploring other stories. In reality, many, if not most, published authors write several books before they come up with something that can sell. My debut was actually the third novel I’d written; the previous two will never see the light of day.
Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.
“American Tabloid” by James Ellroy for its complexity, and its blend of historical fact and fiction. “Marathon Man” by William Goldman because it’s just about the perfect thriller. “Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris because it’s the best serial killer novel ever written. That list could change on any given day.
What book are you currently reading?
My UK publisher just reissued all of Fleming’s James Bond novels, and they very kindly sent me a bunch of them. I’m reading “Live and Let Die” right now, and I’m enjoying it despite the horrendous racism and misogyny. It’s very much a book of its time.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
I wish I had the talent to write something as layered and huge in scope as “Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe. He weaves so many threads over so many pages, it’s dizzying.
Name a book you were pleasantly surprised by.
“JFK in Ireland” by Ryan Tubridy. I bought it initially for research purposes, but found it a very enjoyable and accessible glimpse into Ireland of the early 60s.
If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?
I’ve been very lucky to meet so many of the authors I admire, like James Ellroy and John Connolly. I’d like to meet William Goldman; I admire him both as a novelist and as a screenwriter.
What book changed your life?
“On Writing” by Stephen King gave me a lot of help when I was starting out as a writer, in terms of how to approach it as a craft. I can’t recommend that book enough to aspiring writers.
What is your favorite spot in Ireland?
I’ve always been fond of the north coast of Antrim. It features a lot in “Game of Thrones.” The family of a childhood friend of mine had a cottage in the little fishing village of Cushendun that overlooked the bay, and we used to go there for weekends. You can see Scotland from the window on a clear day.
You’re Irish if . . .
You like cheese’n’onion crisps with your beer.
Theatre / By Orla O’Sullivan
“Airswimming” * Written by Charlotte Jones * Directed by John Keating * Starring Aedín Moloney and Rachel Pickup * The Fallen Angel Company at the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd St., NYC * Playing Wednesdays through Sundays, extended through Feb. 17 * Contact: 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org.
How is it possible not to be submerged by the most depressing life circumstances? asks “Airswimming,” which opened at the Irish Repertory Theatre on Sunday.
“Mummy said you must never say never,” chirps Persephone (Rachel Pickup) one of the play’s two characters, adding plaintively, “but you can imagine never in here. I’ll never dance again—the weight of it all kills me!”
“Here” is a mental asylum and Persephone and her cellmate, Dora (Aedín Moloney) find themselves there because they had children outside of wedlock in 1920s England.
This was the era of the Magdalene laundries, state-sanctioned, clergy-run workhouses for “fallen women,” previously fictionalized in an Irish context in the play “Eclipsed” and the 2002 film “The Magdalene Sisters”.
“Airswimming” focuses on the coping mechanisms two completely opposite types of women use to rise up when dragged down to the emotional deep.
One is swimming. Since they never leave their cell—at least within the 75-minute confines of the play—this is all mime, or airswimming. And it is synchronized swimming, now that this odd couple has acclimated to each other after years of close confinement. The play was inspired by a true story.
Dora is a repressed, dry-witted, intelligent lesbian, probably lower middle class. Persephone is a flighty, upper-crust beautiful blonde with wit to match the stereotype. Her heroine later on is Doris Day; Dora’s is Joan of Arc, together with a whole succession of women who went into battle.
One wonders how Dora wound up conceiving, though incest is mentioned in the play. Persephone’s story parallels her namesake from Greek mythology, who was taken by Hades, God of the underworld. Her father had her locked away after she was impregnated by one of his friends, a man 30 years this ingénue’s senior.
The play opens with Persephone’s arrival to the asylum in 1924. She condescends to the inmate she finds, repeatedly distinguishing between herself and Dora and emphasizing that she is merely passing through. It ends in 1972, by which time she is inseparable from Dora.
The scenes move very well back and forward in time to show Persephone’s transformation from denial to resignation and assimilation.
Crucially, she and Dora indulge each other’s fantasies, the coping mechanisms that keep them almost sane.
In a beautiful scene, Persephone imagines herself at a ball, “I’m in a full-length shimmering gown, hair-up, a handheld, diamante cigarette holder… ” Dora, stumped, cannot go there. Persephone enters her world. “Oh, come on Dora! What regiment?”
Both actresses are very credible characters and the isolation of their world—or partially overlapping Venn-diagram worlds—is palpable.
Kortney Barber’s sound design adds the evocative touch of regularly played footsteps echoing on hard surfaces, footsteps that won’t stop at this cell, and instantly echo familiar prison or courthouse scenes.
What feels less solid is the broader context. How are the inmates so au fait with the outside world when no engagement is suggested?
Playwright Charlotte Jones seems not to have quite the ear for period-piece language that, say, fellow Briton Julian Fellowes of “Downton Abbey” fame has. Speech patterns in “Airswimming,” her first play, feel at times too contemporary for the 1920s. Dora uses modern-sounding slang (for example, “carpet muncher”) well before the 1970s and Persephone talks quite early on of the Doris Day Pet Foundation, which wasn’t established until six years after the play is supposed to end.
Still, “Airswimming” is a quirky, moving, funny and provocative play. And it has lovely singing. Persephone’s convincing Doris Day impersonations that grate on Dora are both soothing and sinister, as the lyrics successively speak the unspeakable, from “Que Sera, Sera” on to “Once, I Had a Secret Love.”
Shilelagh Law: “Live at Connollys”
A 19-track disc that captures the excitement of a live Shilelagh Law show! Recorded at Connollys Klub 45, a venue with a long history of welcoming passionate Shilelagh Law fans, the album features all of the band’s greatest hits complete with special ingredients provided by the crowd – clinking glasses, thunders of cheering, and a lot of singing a long.
By Liz Noonan
“The Orchard” is the third solo album from the immensely talented New York City-based singer-songwriter from County Meath. It’s a collection of 13 powerful songs, and includes a guest performance by the Dublin-born Academy Award-winner Glen Hansard. There you have it, 10 of my favorite albums or 2012. Cheers to a new year and new musical discoveries!
In my very first article for the Irish Echo, published in the Jan. 4-10, 2012, issue, I shared with you my New Year’s resolution – to step it out, follow my ears to find the best music the city has to offer, and to spread the word to Irish Echo readers about all the music there is to be heard. A look back at 2012 reveals that it was a mighty year for Irish music.
As a rookie music columnist in my first year on the job, my fears about writer’s block quickly subsided. Each week that passed, the community proved that there is a deep, deep well of music to explore and share with fellow music lovers.
So before we dive into the Irish music of 2013, let’s take a look back at the best releases of 2012. Here are my top ten picks, in no particular order.
Finbar Furey: “Colours”
The latest release from the Irish musical legend is a mix of fresh renditions of classic Irish songs and powerful original songs. The album features a charming duet with Furey’s long-time friend Mary Black, “Walking with My Love,” a really lovely version of the classic song “Dan O’Hara,” and the most heartfelt rendition of Phil Coulter’s “The Old Man” that I’ve ever heard – all with a distinct rhythmic groove that runs through album weaving the songs together beautifully.
President Michael D. Higgins has led the tributes to the poet Dennis O’Driscoll who died suddenly on Christmas Eve at the age 58.
The career civil servant was rushed to hospital after being taken ill at his home in Naas, Co. Kildare. Higgins said O’Driscoll, a native of Thurles, Co. Tipperary, combined the delivery of poetry of the deepest insights and response to contemporary life with decades of committed public service to the state.
“In addition to his nine highly regarded volumes of poetry, Dennis O’Driscoll was the author of a number of works of valuable literary criticism, including his seminal ‘Stepping Stones’ based on his interviews with Seamus Heaney on his life and work,” the president said.
“Dennis O’Driscoll’s own work was recognized as of such quality that it merited inclusion in a number of the major poetry anthologies,” Higgins added.
Joe Woods, the director of Poetry Ireland, said he was an “absolute giant” as a poet and critic, adding that his book on the Nobel laureate Heaney was the “definitive biography.”
Belinda McKeon, the County Longford-born, New York-based novelist, described O’Driscoll as a “scholar, a gentleman, a character, a friend.”
O’Driscoll read at the November 2011 PoetryFest at the Irish Arts Center in New York, which was curated by McKeon as part of Imagine Ireland.
An Irish Times obituary commented: “For Dennis, poetry was to be found in the supermarket aisle and in the recycle bin. The middle-class blues of the new estate and the rituals of the office were among his preoccupations. He was a keen-eyed observer of life at its most fragile – its ‘last chill breath.'”
The piece quoted the American critic Adam Kirsch who once said that O’Driscoll was the “poet after Larkin who has made the most of his day job, both as a subject for verse and as part of his poetic identity.”
Traditional Music /
By Daniel Neely
In my very first column for the Irish Echo, I made allusion to John Whelan’s cameo (alongside Joanie Madden and Anna Colliton) on the TV show “Gossip Girl.” I was impressed, because it’s not often you see good trad music on bubblegum teenage dramas.
But network TV is not such a surprising a place to find Whelan, considering his musical presence has been known in all manner of high profile context over the years. (His music has been used for productions on HBO, the History Channel, NBC, FOX and PBS, in several major motion pictures; he several production credits to his name as well.) His new CD “Passage of Time,” an offering that includes 33 of his own instrumental compositions, collects some of the storied and often groundbreaking music upon which he built his reputation, and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the career of one of the world’s top box players.
The album’s liner notes (deftly written by my predecessor, the pre-eminent Celtic critic Earle Hitchner) are testament to Whelan’s musical renown. It’s not just that Whelan is a man of inarguable trad bonafides (which include, among other things, several All-Ireland titles, entry into Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Hall of Fame and the honor of being named the Echo’s “Traditionalist of the Year” in 2011), it’s that he projects his deep musical heritage into a musical vision that extends far beyond the boundaries of strict traditional music.
From his first album, made in 1974 when he was only 14, to his forward-looking work with Eileen Ivers in the 1980s, Whelan’s output was never less than stellar. In the 1990s, his solo efforts on the Narada label galvanized his role in developing the “Celtic” musical style. These albums captivated world audiences and thrust John into the international spotlight. Whelan’s return to his trad roots came in 2002 with his album “From The Heart.”
Over the years, Whelan developed a reputation as a gifted composer, crafting tunes and recordings that found great appeal not only in session circles, but also in mainstream culture. This album includes many of these tunes, including “Trip to Skye,” which features some lovely playing by Lisa Gutkin; “Desaunay / The Petticoat I Bought in Mullingar,” which for me is a strangely familiar pair of tunes that I must have picked up at sessions (I didn’t know they were John’s) and “January’s Journey,” a track with a hardcore, percussive Celtic feel.
A couple of the loveliest tracks I find are “Song For Hillary” (with Seamus Egan) and “Lost Souls” (which features the Sirius String Quartet). Both project an air of haunting romance, and have a very cinematic feel. The album includes a long list of top guest musicians, including Seamus Egan, Seamus Connolly, Felix & Brendan Dolan, Cillian Vallely, Jerry O’Sullivan and Winifred Horan (to name but a few). It reads like a who’s who of traditional music in America. The only thing this album lacks is a comprehensive booklet telling the story of each of Whelan’s compositions, but this is information that could easily be added to Whelan’s website.
Whelan sets the bar very high with this one. “Passage of Time” is a monument to his talent, hard work and creativity, and reflects the collected vision of one of America’s most accomplished traditional musicians.
“Passage of Time” is available through www.shamrockirishmusic.org. For more information about Whelan and his music, visit johnwhelanmusic.com.