Irish-American supergroup Solas have always been great. Now they’ve upped the ante again with a new concept album titled Shamrock City, which officially hits the streets on Feb. 5. Band leader and producer Seamus Egan set out to tell the true story of his great-great uncle, Michael Conway, who left County Mayo, Ireland in 1910 and boarded a ship bound for the copper mines and boxing rings of Butte, Montana. Six years later, in a cloud of mystery, he was dead at the hands of local police.
The breadth and depth of this record reward the listener at every turn. From snippets of archival sean nós singing to pounding feet and clawhammer banjo, the material here spans from east to west and from trad to modern. And the guest artist list reads like a who’s who of the folk star galaxy: Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Dick Gaughan, Aoife O’Donovan (Crooked Still), Natalie Hass, Dirk Powell, Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), and others. Here’s a medley of American tunes and a song written by band members Mick McCauley and Seamus Egan.
Bay Area fiddler Chad Manning has an excellent new record out with the whimsical title “Chicken on a Rocketship.” His third solo release showcases a variety of styles, and his complete mastery thereof. Fiddlefreak was drawn in by the compelling old-time tunes and songs, especially the new lyrics that Jody Stecher and Chad grafted onto the Edden Hammonds classic Sandy Boys. Other guests on this album include David Grisman, Laurie Lewis, Suzy and Eric Thompson, Jim Nunally and more… the cream of the crop in the NorCal bluegrass scene.
Chicken on a Rocketship
Chad is an amazing sawyer who is fluent in the languages of bluegrass, Western swing, Texas style, and old-time fiddling. He is in great demand among California bands, performing regularly with Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands and The David Grisman Bluegrass Experience, among many others. Tom Rozum created the cartoon artwork on the cover depicting yes, a chicken on a rocketship. Enjoy!
Two weeks til Christmas!? Time to recommend a holiday album for all the Celtoids out there–and a bonus spring-themed record as well, from the same artists. I’m talking about Hanz Araki and Kathryn Claire, who recently sent me two CDs that are certain to put you in the holiday spirit, with none of the “been there done that” feel of most Christmas music. Presenting A Winter Solstice Celebration, and As I Roved Out: Songs of Spring, both from Hanz Araki (flute, whistles, vocals) and Kathryn Claire (violin, guitar, vocals), with various guests. Note the crisp ethnic percussion by Joe Trump, a regular at Portland area Irish sessions.
As I Roved Out
The music here harkens back to a time when the function of Celtic music was more than just a backdrop for the sale of Guiness and Jameson. The music used to remind people that the dark, cold days of winter would not last forever, and it filled them with warmth and hope. The songs and tunes here lean to the Renaissance and Medieval side of things, with a mellow classical beauty that fits the season just right. The same lovely feel permeates the spring-themed album. Here is one sample from each, and a sweet video clip with an older setting of Auld Lang Syne . Enjoy!
Hanz and Claire are in the midst of their annual Winter Solstice Tour, check here for DETAILS.
Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac are stalwarts of the Cape Breton (Nova Scotia, Canada) traditional music scene. In September they released a duo album titled Seinn (pronounced “shane”) that represents their first studio collaboration. From old-school strathspeys to smooth jazzy jigs and rocking reels, and silvery songs sung in Scots Gaelic, this record rewards the ear from start to finish.
Lamond (pronounced lah-mund with the acccent up front) sings and plays accordion, while MacIsaac plays fiddle, mandolin, and piano. A multitude of guest artists appear here and there, with the guitar backup and banjo work of Seph Peters standing out. Here are two examples of the shimmering beauty that the ladies captured on Seinn. First, a song with origins on the island of Skye that tells a young man’s story of being conscripted into the army. Second, a blazing medly of reels that includes The Lass with the Yellow Coat, The Boys of Ballinacha, Angus the Winemaker (from Kinnon Beaton), and The Green Fields fo Glentown (from Tommy Peoples). Enjoy!
One can almost feel the inner torment of the 19th century sailor as he leaves his love at the door and sets out into the rainy gloom of a New England seaport, off to sea once more. Fiddlefreak favorite Tim Eriksen has a new record hitting the streets in October 23, titled Josh Billings Voyage (previous posts here and here.) Once again, he utilizes haunting vocals, bajo sexto, fiddle, and banjo to link vintage ballads to the modern world in his own inexplicable way. Here and there he deviates from the traditional format and experiments with modern sounds, but he always returns to his “northern roots.”
From his press release: Eriksen transforms global fragments into a tale of an imaginary town, told with a keen emotional edge… To tell this story, the story of the New England village of Pumpkintown, Eriksen draws subtly on decades of intensive study of the South Indian veena and its repertoire, on years of wrangling with the difficult but rewarding bajo sexto, and on a lifetime of singing deeply rooted, highly emotional traditional ballads. In Pumpkintown, young men set out on journeys over the sea, people live and love and die and dance, and the graveyard and hills mark time.
Rayna Gellert & Scott Miller. Photo by Dan Gellert
Old-time fiddler Rayna Gellert has a new record coming out today that marks a beautiful new direction for her. Over the years, old-time American music has grown many roots and branches: southern fiddling, country blues, bluegrass, gospel… the list goes on. And then there are the mellow modernists who invoke a sense of mountain melancholy while making the listener feel glad to be alive: artists like Gillian and Rawlings, Pharis and Jason, and the Honey Dewdrops. Rayna Gellert’s new record “Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds” falls into this latter category. Let’s call it Sunday-morning music for us non-churchgoers.
You’ll find nary a fiddle tune on Old Light. Instead, Rayna shares a cohesive collection of lush and languid ballads both old and new. She is joined by a stable of stellar artsts that includes her father Dan Gellert, Alice Gerrard, Scott Miller, Abigail Washburn, Nathan Salsburg, and Kai Welch, among others. The result is dark and deep, like a high mountain swimming hole: inviting and yet chilling. Enjoy.
Nuala Kennedy‘s third solo record came out last month, titled Noble Stranger (Compass Records). With a deep background in traditional Irish and Scottish music, and a youthful sense of adventure and fun, she has produced a wonderful mashup of old and new on her latest release. Her playful flute and crisp vocals tumble out of the moors like a cold Scottish burn that escapes the loch and rushes to the sea. Old songs find new life as they soar above a bedrock of mandolins, guitars, vintage keys, and ethnic percussion. Noble Stranger knocks at the door of an ancient stone bothy and enters therein on a 21st century groove.
The album was recorded over the course of a week in the hills near Biggar, a little town nestled between Edinburgh and Glasgow by Kennedy, her percussionist Donald Hay, 10-string mandolinist Iain Macleod, guitarist Mike Bryan and guest vocalist AJ Roach. “The tracks were laid down live, all together, with generally sparse overdubs,” says Kennedy on the Compass press release. “The whole album is a real reflection of our live sound.”
Have a listen to these two bonus tracks, and enjoy!
Fiddlefreak reviews old time, bluegrass, Celtic, blues, and other music of the people, on a purely subjective basis. MP3 samples are provided for preview purposes only and are not downloadable. Please support folk musicians by buying the music you enjoy. If for any reason you want something taken down, let us know.
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