Monday, March 19, 2012

learning about Irish music: a bouquet of albums for spring

With Saint Patrick’s Day and the feast of Saint Bridgid, spring is a time when Irish music is heard all around, in forms from high sweet harmonies to gritty street stories to hearty drinking songs. There's more to Irish music than this, though. Irish music is as varied as its makers and its listeners.

Music, landscape, and history intertwine in in ways direct and subtle, in lives and emotions past and present. In honor of Irish saints and coming spring time here is a look some of the best recordings to take you deeper in to the many ways Irish artists make their music and hand it on.
cathie ryan farthest wave
If you follow the links in this story, you’ll find to longer articles about these recordings and artists, and places where you may hear their music. While you are at it, explore other work by these artists. All of it is well worth your time. Yes, they are all that good.

The title of Mary Black’s album 25 years 25 songs will suggest to you that this singer has been at the making of her music for a while. Thoughtful song selection along with voice and phrasing which illuminate both the narrative and the emotion of the songs she chooses are hallmarks of Black’s work. You’ll also want to take a listen to By the Time It Gets Dark and Stories from the Steeples

Tommy Sands knows quite a bit about narrative too. Almost all the songs on Arising from the Troubles are ones he has written himself, and he’s joined by his son and daughter, both fine musicians in their own rights. The Sands Family is from Rostrevor in Down, not far from the border of the REpublic and the North. The songs in this collection raise good questions and put a human perspective into events sometimes made distant by new reports.

Cathie Ryan knows about asking good questions, both in the songs she writes herself, and in the ones she chooses from the tradition and from contemporary writers. Her album The Farthest Wave proves a fine balance of these three aspects of her work, with humour and passion, grief, love, and resilience, myth and present day all given their places through connection of people and land.

Heidi Talbot and John Doyle both have ways of weaving old and new songs and melodies john doyle karan caseyaround and through each other with a result that old songs sound fresh and newly composed pieces stand as counterparts to ones burnished by tradition. Take a listen to Heidi work on her album The Last Star and check out John’s collaboration with Karan Casey, Exiles Return.

Niamh Ni Charra speaks of story and legend through her fiddle and her concertina rather, but her stories are as vividly told as those with words, which you may hear on Súgach Sámh / Happy Out The same is true of Donal Clancy, on his reflective guitar focused meditation called Close to Home, while Davy Spillane gets to the heart of Ireland's landscape with the voice of his pipes on A Place Among the Stones.

Matt and Shannon Heaton explore many aspects of connection between Ireland and America, and the season of winter, with their recording Fine Winter's Night. Altan take you straight to the heart of Donegal, and to a few songs which have made their way across the ocean to that far northwestern part of altan poison glenIreland, on Poison Glen -Gleann Nimhe while Dervish and Grada offer sets of song and tune that invite you in to the feeling of good friends sharing tunes around the kitchen table.

That is a characteristic Irish music holds, whatever season you listen or play it , that of sharing good friendship through music.

you may also like to see
Music Road: Concerts, Conversations, and Travel: Ireland

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posted by Kerry Dexter at

6 Comments:

Anonymous Living Large said...

We have some good friends who love the Irish culture and music. You've given me some great ideas for gifts for them this year. It is nice sharing friendship through good music!

10:50 AM  
Anonymous Donna Hull said...

Listing to Irish music is the next best thing to traveling there. I'll be listening to these albums.

11:28 AM  
Anonymous Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart said...

Silly question, but I wonder how many hours a day you listen to music so that you can offer us these insights and recommendations.

9:53 PM  
Blogger kerry dexter said...

Roxanne,
it's not about the hours, it's about the years...

12:24 PM  
Blogger MyKidsEatSquid said...

I'm so glad that it is Spring, even tho it's been a mild winter this year. I'm going to check the library for these CDs.

10:19 PM  
Anonymous merr said...

Those album covers alone are beautiful.

10:49 AM  

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