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.
Salon Diary / By Charles Hale
“Artists Without Walls,” a new initiative created by Charles R. Hale, co-founder of the Irish American Writers & Artists salon, was held at Lehman College in the Bronx last week.
Hale came up with the idea when thinking of his own Irish roots, “It’s important we honor our own culture and heritage but I believe the more we adopt a multicultural approach, including collaboration between various cultures, races, religions and ethnic groups, the greater the likelihood that creativity and innovation will occur and flourish.”
Ralph William Boone, a lecturer at Lehman College, who has appeared nationally in numerous musical theater productions such as “Man of La Mancha” and “Show Boat” began by referencing the evening’s theme “Artists Without Walls,” eloquently speaking of Paul Robeson, a heroic figure who was known for pushing though barriers regardless of the consequences.
Ralph William followed with a powerful rendition of a song that is closely associated with Robeson, “Ol’ Man River.”
Dancer Darrah Carr’s website opens with words that perfectly fit the concept of Artists Without Walls: “I source from two genres-traditional Irish step and contemporary modern dance-and provide a meeting place for the cultures of Ireland and America.”
And that was dynamically demonstrated Thursday as she and Christopher Armstrong, together and separately, performed Darrah’s vision of dance called “ModErin,” combining New York modern dance with Irish step dancing. John Redmond’s accordion accompanied Darrah and Christopher.
Novelist and historian, Peter Quinn, played it for laughs and the former speechwriter – he was the chief speechwriter for two New York governors, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo -demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his touch, dazzling the audience with his knowledge of Bronx history and his rapier-like wit.
“Novelist and historian, Peter Quinn, played it for laughs and the former speechwriter – he was the chief speechwriter for two New York governors, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo -demonstrated that he hasn’t lost his touch, dazzling the audience with his knowledge of Bronx history and his rapier-like wit.”
Three singers, Tara O’Grady, Niamh Hyland and Liam O’Connell, presented three vastly different styles of song.
Tara swings everything she swings, including Irish traditionals, and she did just that with her “Billie Holiday” take on Danny Boy; Niamh’s big vocal range and bluesy tones were a huge hit with the audience and hip hop artist, Liam, known as L 1 Crackeriffic, cranked it up a couple of notches. As one attendee said after listening to Liam, “This is the kind of rocking Lehman needed.”
Playwright and novelist, John Kearns, whose play “In the Wilderness” had a run in New York City last summer, brought three actors who performed a scene from the play, perfectly capturing a tightly written scene from John’s compelling work.
Malachy McCourt, no stranger to any Irish cultural event, closed out the evening. He touchingly told of his impoverished childhood, which was filled with misery.
But Malachy’s wit was very much in evidence, as well, as he kept the audience in stitches, segueing from one funny story to the next.
The evening ended with Malachy calling singers Hyland and O’Grady up to the microphone. Together they led the audience in a song many of us have often heard Malachy sing, “Will You Go Lassie Go.”
A great ending to a grand evening.
Each time I discover a talented Irish artist who is bringing their music to America it’s like unwrapping a Christmas present.
I admire the packaging, hope that there’s something good inside, tear open the CD track by track and revel in the wonderful feeling of hearing something for the first time.
This week, the discovery was the shiny new CD from the Dublin-born artist, Colm O’Brien.
Currently living in Boston, O’Brien sings from the depths of his soul with a memorable rasp in his voice and serious knack for bringing traditional songs to life and using his strong Celtic roots to inspire great songwriting.
The album, Back to Work?, is the second solo album from O’Brien, a man who has Irish music in his heart and in his blood.
In a recent conversation with O’Brien he spoke of his family’s deep musical heritage – a pipe playing father, a granny who was a championship fiddler, and a mother that sang like an angel. But although he had plenty of instruments at his fingertips as a child, there was one that hooked him.
“The draw of the guitar got me, he said. I always thought it was the perfect instrument because I could play any music that I liked, Irish music, rock and roll, blues”. When I asked him who taught him to play the guitar he said, “Self-taught, I just picked up chords wherever I went” and then he laughed as he told me about the hours he spent hanging out in Dublin guitar shops as a kid waiting for chord strumming shoppers to show him some tricks.
His days in Dublin set Colm O’Brien on a musical journey that would eventually take him to the United States as a member of the five piece rock band, Fatal Flower.
He would later join up with the ballad group Hiring Fair, and Celtic Rock band The Prodigals, but his longing to record his favorite traditional ballads alongside his own original songs led O’Brien to set out on his own and record his first solo album “It Is What It Is” back in 2004, and the highly anticipated, recently released, follow-up “Back to Work?”
Our conversation revealed that O’Brien is quite proud of his most recent project – he had very clear idea of what he wanted it to sound like, spent a lot of time preparing the material, and then got in and out of the studio with fantastic results in just six days.
For O’Brien, beyond his talent and passion, the special ingredient for success is his song choice.
“These are all songs that get me going”, he said. “The album is a reaction to what is going on economically and socially here and around the world. I needed to say something”.
And he says a lot in his songs, about the plight of the undocumented Irish, about greed, and economic hardships, all with the fervor and enthusiasm of the great Irish balladeers that have come before him. Colm O’Brien is back to work for sure, in a big, big way.
To learn more about Colm O’Brien visit colmobrien.com and stay tuned for news of a NYC gig in the New Year.
“He says a lot in his songs, about the plight
of the undocumented Irish, about greed, and economic hardships, all with the fervor and enthusiasm of the great Irish balladeers that have come before him. Colm O’Brien is back to work for sure, in a big, big way.”
* My picks for the best Celtic Sounds around town this week: Padraig Allen at The Pig & Whistle in New York City on 12/6, “An Irish Christmas” with Mick Moloney and friends at The Leonard Theatre at Fordham Prep in The Bronx on 12/9, and Eileen Ivers at The Berrie Center at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ on 12/9.
Traditional Music /
By Daniel Neely
For the past several years, New York City’s Irish Arts Center has presented “An Irish Christmas,” Mick Moloney’s wildly satisfying multi-cultural musical celebration of the winter solstice.
Now a New York holiday season institution, Moloney will once again bring his musical cohort to the Arts Center on Manhattan’s West Side for another baker’s dozen “Irish Christmas” shows.
In so doing, he will treat audiences to a signature holiday tradition that uses song, folklore and performance to celebrate family, friendship and community in a concert series that offers something for everyone.
This year’s cast includes a familiar group of players drawn from music’s upper echelons, including fiddler Athena Tergis, button accordion master Billy McComiskey, fiddle player Liz Hanley, dancer Niall O’Leary, singers Grace Nono and Tamar Korn and the storyteller Macdara Vallely.
In addition, the great piano player Donna Long (who played with Cherish the Ladies, but who has distinguished herself musically in myriad other ways since them) will come up from Baltimore and join the gang for the first time as well.
As always, Moloney gives space in each performance to a special non-musical guest or two. Some of this year’s visitors will include authors Colum McCann and Malachy McCourt, noted academic Dr. James Murphy and David Mulkins of the Bowery Neighborhood Association.
Moloney never fully tips his hand in advance of these shows, though, so you never know who else will stop by. But you can be sure he has a few surprises in store.
The standard set with these shows is impressively high. Each performance is thoroughly entertaining, and I’ve watched how people leave absolutely glowing.
But because Moloney gathers the best around him, he’s able to find unexpected ways to draw in the audience.
The inclusion of Filipino singer Grace Nono and jazz singer Tamar Korn, for example, brings an impressive variety that lifts the show in its entirety.
In addition, Moloney brought Macdara Vallely in for the first time last year to lead a mummers play during show intermissions. People could not have been more delighted, nor more a part of it, as the plays happened in the lobby with people milling about – it was an absolute hit.
Those interested in holding onto a piece of the show’s magic should pick up “An Irish Christmas, A Musical Solstice Celebration,” the live concert CD that Irish Arts Center released last year.
Many (including my predecessor here at the Echo, as well as several of my colleagues in other local and national Irish media outlets) considered the album to be one of the best Irish Christmas albums out there – so it’s well worth having.
If I may play proud participant for a moment: I worked on the album, both as its production coordinator and as a performer with the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Orchestra.
It’s a great document and a testament to the hard work all the artists involved put into this show. I cannot recommend it more highly.
Staged with an intimacy more reminiscent of someone’s living room than of a midtown Manhattan theatre space, “An Irish Christmas” will run from Friday, December 7 through Saturday, December 22 at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan (553 West 51st Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues) and will take place at Fordham University on December 9.
Visit irishartscenter.org to buy tickets online, or call (866)811-4111 to book by phone.
Finally, congratulations to Kathleen Biggins for being inducted into the Museum of the City of New York’s “People’s Hall of Fame.”
Kathleen’s program, “A Thousand Welcomes,” is one of the nation’s most important Irish radio programs and it broadcasts Saturday mornings, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. from Fordham University’s radio station, WFUV 90.7.
Those living outside WFUV’s broadcast area can listen to Biggins live via WFUV’s online stream: www.wfuv.org/listen.
For 26 years, Biggins has used her show to serve the tri-state’s Irish community and all of us here in New York owe her a debt of gratitude. It’s fantastic to see her great work recognized.
Good on you, Kathleen!
Silver Screen /
By Karen Butler
Double Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis has admitted that playing America’s 16th president in “Lincoln” was initially a daunting prospect, but he insisted he found the courage to do so after he discovered through the man’s own words how accessible he was.
Directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner, the film is an adaptation of the book “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. It follows the president through the tumultuous four months leading up to his 1865 assassination at the age of 56 and co-stars Sally Field as Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones as Congressional leader Thaddeus Stevens and David Strathairn as Secretary of State William Seward.
“It’s the man himself that invites you because he was so open and that was one of the most beautiful surprises about getting to know him,” Day-Lewis said of playing Lincoln.
“How insanely accessible that man was in a time that was physically dangerous, in his case, to be accessible,” the 55-year-old actor laughed. “The White House had an ever-open door. People could come and go. I think it was Seward that probably finally said, ‘Enough already!’ Because his open houses were just bedlam. He was accessible. Some part of him was. That became an opening, in a way. One almost felt welcome, so really he put me at my ease, strangely. Having first made me very uneasy, it was him that put me at my ease and gave me the thought, ‘Maybe I could try to do this.’”
The London-born actor, who has held dual British-Irish citizenship since 1993, is the son of celebrated poet Cecil Day-Lewis, husband of writer-director Rebecca Miller and father of three sons. Famously selective about his roles, he has starred in a string of critical darlings including “My Left Foot,” “Last of the Mohicans,” “In the Name of the Father,” “The Boxer,” “Gangs of New York,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Nine.”
Talking about how helpful the Irish-American Goodwin’s tome was as he prepared to play Lincoln, Day-Lewis noted, “I loved everything about that book, so that was a great beginning.
“But reading objective accounts about the life take you so far,” he added. “Most of what becomes more interesting to me at a certain moment is to try and grow towards a subjective understanding of that man’s experience, whoever he may be. In that case, the legacy of his writing was hugely important. You get such as sense of him through his wonderful… not just his speeches, but also stories he told and there are many contemporary accounts of those stories, which seem fairly accurate, give or take. But to get a sense of his thought and the movement through his thought towards a conclusion… that is a unique treasure, to have that available.”
Day-Lewis also praised Kushner’s screenplay for capturing the spirit of such a famous American icon.
“In such a rich way, Tony had already suggested the man through his intellect, through his humor and through his melancholy, both domestically and in public office, the contrast between those two things, which is always something that is like food and drink to me,” he said. “To see someone whose life is lived at one in the same time in that strange paradox of public and private.”
So, what was it like to share the screen with Field?
“The best thing I can say is that it was easy,” Day-Lewis recalled. “It was what it needed to be in the very best sense. I enjoyed every moment that I spent in her company. Even when we were tearing each other’s eyes out, I enjoyed every moment of that because she was real to me.”
The actor confessed it is sometimes difficult to walk away from such a larger-than-life character when the cameras stop rolling.
“You’re not quite sure what to do with yourself when it’s finished,” he said. “The investment is usually — for most of us — if not a total, then close to total, investment of that period of our lives in the process of telling that particular story, so it’s very hard to conceive any kind of life after it. Of course, there is one waiting, usually impatiently. In this particular case, I felt two things at one and the same time. One was a sense of immeasurable privilege at having been able to explore that man’s life and the other directly as a result of that was a sense of great sadness and loss that the time allowed me was now over. There’s never been a human being that I never met that I loved as much as him. Ever. And I doubt there ever will be.”
“Lincoln” is in theaters now.
Between the LInes /
By Peter McDermott
In a 1998 Newsday article about a Queens neighborhood, a local said: “We’re not Utopia, but we’re the closest thing to it.”
He and several others talked up its finer points: “95 percent graduate high school and go on to college, and some of them the best schools in the country,” the man said.
“This is the kind of place where people sit down together for Sunday dinner. Breezy Point is a village within the city,” he added.
It was a different world three years before 9/11 (the neighborhood lost 29 people in that catastrophe) and before Hurricane Irene of 2011 and the tornadoes of this September and the calamitous Hurricane Sandy, which hit on Oct. 29. That last event precipitated a fire that destroyed more than 100 homes in the neighborhood.
If, though, in some ways 1998 seems like yesterday to you and me, consider that a first-time voter who just made the age requirement to vote in this month’s general election was then a 4-year-old.
Only 10 percent of American households had access to the Internet at that time. Most people still didn’t have cell phones in the dying days of the 20th century (in contrast to Ireland where everybody seemed to have one). Freelancers pitched Newsday by U.S. Mail or fax and then followed up with a phone call. I wrote about 20 features in those years for a page that was called “Queens Neighborhoods.” The Breezy Point piece cited above was among them, but the only one for which they called me. Calvin Lawrence (a great editor who has since moved to ABCNews.com, another sign of the times) said he had read that, according to 1990 census projections, Breezy Point’s zip code had the highest proportion of people claiming Irish ancestry in the country – 63 percent.
Lawrence, who is African American, knew nothing about the place, which is off the beaten track even by Queens standards, but he was curious and so sent an Irish guy to find out about it. There were actually very few Irish-born people living there, I recall; the neighborhood, however, defined tight-knit Irish American.
It had been long associated with what one woman described as the “civil service middle-class,” employees in the police and fire departments and the utilities. “But the children of the people who founded the cooperative in the 1960s are professionals,” she said for the piece reprinted in the Irish Echo later in the year.
At least half of all homes flew both the Stars and Stripes and the Irish national flag. A small group of enthusiasts meeting in someone’s house developed an annual arts festival that featured “music, soliloquies, poetry and recitation,” including readings from Yeats and Joyce. Most civic groups had an annual Irish night; the biggest was organized by the 2,800-home Breezy Point cooperative itself.
I heard about its fascinating history, which it shared to an extent with other parts of Rockaway. It began with vacationing Manhattan residents pitching tents at first and then in subsequent years building cottages or bungalows. One man told me that his grandparents built the ninth summer home in Breezy Point back in the 1920s. He remembered barefoot summers in the neighborhood in the 1960s, but in early middle age was living there year-round with his wife and three young children.
Let’s be clear about one thing, however: the near Utopia did not flip over to the other extreme on Oct. 29. Dystopia, at least according to movies and novels, suggests a war of all against all. Instead, we’ve seen people in the city, many of them Irish or Irish American, step up to help their neighbors.
City Harvest executive director Jilly Stephens traveled to Rockaway with a truckload of food supplies last week and reported that the “scope of the storm’s impact is staggering,” but she spoke generally of New Yorkers’ “resilience, spirit and camaraderie” in response to Sandy.
She added: “People’s lives have been turned upside down and their homes turned inside out, and yet they continue to find ways to take care of themselves and others.”