Thursday, February 13, 2020

Love Songs, Love Stories

Love is an eternal source of inspiration for artists. Here are five stories about romatic love you may not have heard, or may enjoy hearing again. The stories come with recognition that love holds its own challenges, of varied sorts.

The singer in Fear a Bhàta is waiting for her boatman to come home. That’s not an uncommon theme in songs from older times when, really, nobody knew if a loved one would return, for all sorts of reasons. In this song it is mot clear if th weather, the dangers of the work, or the possibility of change of heart are on the woman’s mind, but nonetheless, the longing is clear, even if Scottish Gaelic is not your language. Karen Matheson sings it here, with the band Capercaillie. You may find it recorded on their album The Blood is Strong. This video was recorded at a concert during the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow.

Tha mo Geal a Aird a Chuain/My Love is on the High Seas, is also a song of waiting for a man who works on the waters to return. This one has a bit of a more defined ending, though, which Julie Fowlis, who sings it here, talks about in the clip. The baby Julie is cradling in the story is a big girl now, but it is still a lovley way to see and ehar the song presented. You may find it on the album Mar a tha Mo Chride/ As My Heart Is.

There’s a swirl of hope, a challenging of invitation, a suggestion of strength, of passion, of the power of love in the face of heartbreak and danger; a lot going on in a few short minutes of the song What’s Closest to the Heart. Cathie Ryan sings it, and she also wrote the song. You may find it on her album The Farthest Wave.

There’s certainly a mystical aspect to the tale of King Orfeo and his lady, whose happy life together is disrupted in an unexpected way. The power of music, and the power of love, brings things right in the end, however, in this song which comes from Shetland in Scotland’s Northern isles. Emily Smith sings it here, and you will find it on her labum Echoes.

Scotland’s far north plays a part, at least through the visual aspect, in the song. Thugainn, It is by the band Mànran and it is part of the soundtrack for a forthcoming film on Scotland’s North Coast 500. The director of the film made this vidoe to go along with the song. Thugainn means Come with me in Scottish Gaelic.

At Valentine’s Day and beyond, may you.enjoy celebrating love through these songs.

You may also wish to explore
Capercaillie:At the Heart of It All
Cathie Ryan: Through Wind and Rain
Music for a New Year at Wandering Educators
Seven Ways to Explore Scotland through Music at Perceptive Travel

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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Celtic Connections: 11 Choices for the Third Weekend of the Festival

As the Celtic Connections Festival heads into its final weekend of 2020, there is a packed schedule of concerts and workshops.Artists from Finland, Mali, the United States, Ireland, and other places as well as musicians of Scotland from Shetland to the Borders will take part.

Early on Thursday evening, Charlie Grey and Joseph Peach will present work they created while on a sailboat journey to some of Scotland’s uninhabited islands, including the Shiants and Saint Kilda. The project is called Air Iomall/On the Edge.

During the 18th and 19th centuries more than 80 percent of Canada’s Hudson’s Bay Company workers came from Orkney in Scotland’s northern isles. As the Company marks its 350th anniversary, fiddle and mandolinist Graeme Rorie offers a new piece drawing on stories of these Orcadians, at the Mitchell Theatre.

Old time and American specialist Joe Newberry is well loved by festival audiences. For this return, he comes to the Strathclyde Suite at the Royal Concert Hall in partnership with Ottawa Valley step dancer, fiddler, and singer April Verch. It’s a collaboration at once high energy and thoughtful, which was a hit with audiences at the Celtic Colours International Festival this past autumn. Opening for them will be The Ledger, a trio project in which Findlay Napier, Gillian Frame, and Mike Vass, who explore a selection of Scottish songs drawn from a ledger kept by a Napier family connection.

At the Mackintosh Church, fiddle and guitar duo Hannah Fisher and Sorren Maclean offer song and tune as they open for a highly anticipated gigi from Isobel Campbell. The combination of acts should make for a Highly creative evening all round.

On Friday, the fiddles, guitar, and mandolin of Kinnaris Quintet bring their passionate and creative approach to string music to the New Auditorium.

Earlier on the Friday evening, Chris Stout and Catriona McKay offer an intimate acoustic take on their fiddle and harp music at the recital room at City Halls.

On Saturday, the four fiddlers of Rant return to the Mackintosh Church, where they recorded their recent album Portage. Svang, from festival featured country Finland, will open with harmonica music ranging from blues to classical.

Also on Saturday, Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan bring Americana influenced songs from their duo project Small Town Stories along with Scottish material from their back catalogue. They open for Dirk Powell, whose musical creativity includes Celtic, Cajun, and Appalachian music.

Sunday will find the band Rura heating things up at the Old Fruitmarket as they celebrate their tenth anniversary in the company of special guests.

Two Sunday traditions at the festival are in place this year, too. The finals of the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year will see six finalists perform. It’s always a great chance to celebrate Scotland’s rising stars.

The same could be said of another tradition of the final Sunday afternoon: the Big Sing. The third weekend of the festival is when daytime workshops focus on song. This year the two days will offer chances to learn songs in Gaelic, explore beat boxing, hear and learn song of Scotland’s places, pick up some lullabyes, try out singing in chorus and more. At the conclusion of the weekend, late afternoon of the Sunday, participants are invited to gather at the main staircase at the concert hall to share a song or two or three. It’s always good fun, whatever your plans for later on the final evening of the festival may be.

You may also wish to see
Scotland’s Magic Year of Coasts and Waters
Emily Smith: Echoes
Cherish the Ladies: Heart of the Home
Celtic Colours: Heritage and Heart on Cape Breton

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Friday, January 24, 2020

Celtic Connections 2020: 7 Concerts to explore on the second weekend

Celtic Connections: it is a gathering of musical talent, inspiration, and collaboration which lights up the winter in Glasgow from mid January through early February. There is always a range fo events from which to choose each, some from well known artists, some from people perhaps less high profile, and usually one off collaborative projects you’ll rarely see anywhere else. There is still a great deal to come as the festival is in its second week, and plenty of time to join in.

Here are ideas to explore during the packed second weekend of Celtic Connections. If you happen to be reading this at another time, seek out the work of these artists anyway, live or recorded. You will be well rewarded.

At the Old Fruitmarket on Friday evening, there will be two reunions of sorts. Flute player, uilleann piper, and composer Michael McGoldrick marks 20 years since the release of his album Fused, a creative leaps which saw tunes from Celtic tradition infused with and infusing musical ideas from funk, jazz, ambient and work music. The artists who played on the album gather again. Singers Karan Casey and Karen Matheson will join in.

Sharing the bill with McGoldrick and friends are Dochas, a six piece ensemble who rarely perform together these days as they’ve gone on to top solo carers and participation in bands including Blazin’ Fiddles. Offering top class playing and Gaelic song are Jenna Reid, Eilidh MacLeod, Carol-Anne Mackay, KT Boyle, Martin O’Neill, and Julie Fowlis.

Also on Friday, at the re-purposed church that is Oran Mor in Glasgow’s West End, it promises to be a lively evening as the Paul McKenna Band offers their take on Scottish and Irish tradition with rock and pop accents, and fine songwriting and singing. Not to be outdone, The East Pointers, from Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada, offer Celtic song and tune enlivened by bluegrass element and touched with a fresh Atlantic breeze.

Robert Burns will be celebrated on his day, Saturday 25 January, as Eddi Reader joins the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra to perform her choice of pieces from their collaborative project from 2003, Eddi Reader sings the Songs of Robert Burns. Karen Matheson, Jarlath Henderson, and Shona Donaldson will add theirs takes on Burns music to the evening at the main auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall as well.

Coming from different musical geographies, Les Amazones d’Afrique, a female supergroup whose founders include Angelique Kidjo and Mariam Doumbio, take the stage Satuday at the Tramway. Their support act includes festival artists and groups representing five of Glasgow’s diverse communities, a finale to the new Celtic Connections in the Community strand, presented in partnership with BEMIS.

Two other geographies join the mix as group Cimarron, from Colombia in South America, join up with acclaimed Welsh artist Caitrin Finch, united by their love of and expertise with the harp. They will take the stage at the Fruitmarket on Sunday.

Also on Sunday, Lauren MacColl brings it back to the Highlands with an early evening program of haunting fiddle music, at the REctal Room at City Halls. Later that Sunday evening, Aoife Scott comes rom Ireland to premier her second album, Homebird. She travelled to Nashville to work with Ron Block of Alison Krauss and Union Station to produce the album. Block returns the favour for this concert, joining gifted singer and songwriter Scott and members of her band. They will share the bill at the New Auditorium of the Royal Concert Hall with firm festival favourites, the ever creative fiddle and cello duo of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas.

Seven fine concerts to explore during the second weekend of Celtic Connections -- and that’s just a taste of what’s on as the weekend infold with concerts, workshops, sessions, and other events across Glasgow city centre.

Also, there’s another whole week of Celtic Connections ahead: the music goes on through 2 February. Ideas on what to expect in the third week coming up soon...

You may also wish to explore
The album Abundance from Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas
Eddi Reader’s album Cavalier
Celtic Colours Festival: Heritage and Heart on Cape Breton

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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Celtic Connections 2020: 5 highlights for the first days of the festival

Winter is often a time for gathering in, for sharing stories. Winter in Scotland especially invites this, which is one of the reasons for the continuing success of Celtic Connections, which takes place for eighteen days beginning in mid January in Glasgow.

Collaboration, both planned and spontaneous, is also a hallmark of Celtic Connections. This year, the festival runs from 16 January through 2 February. There will be concerts, workshops, talks, walks, and even a mini festival within a festival in venues across Glasgow. Here is bit about what’s planned for the early days of the festival.

Grit Orchestra, an 80-piece ensemble of folk, jazz and classical musician originally founded to perform and celebrate the late Martyn Bennett’s musicUnder the baton of founding conductor Greg Lawson, the orchestra will première pieces by multi-instrumentalist Fraser Fifield, saxophonist Paul Towndrow, fiddlers Chris Stout and Patsy Reid, harpist Catriona McKay and cellist Rudi de Groot. The pieces will draw from each composer’s reflections on the Declaration of Arbroath. Scotland will mark the 700th anniversary of this document of freedom in April.

Another highlight will see the band Breabach marking its 15th anniversary, a journey which saw them winning an award for up and coming musicians at Celtic Connections in 2005 and this year finds the five musicians, known as one of Scotland’s most innovative groups, headlining the main stage at the Royal Concert Hall. Special guests including former band members will join Breabach and The Seamus Egan Project will debut their new album in support on the night, too.

The first Saturday of the Festival will see a mini festival celebrating Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, with talks, plays, and music, all with connections to Scotland’s waters, coasts, and islands. Musicians will include Gillian Frame, Fara, Daimh, Julie Fowlis, Capercaillie, and others.

Julie Fowlis will appear later that evening too, when she joins Eamon Doorley, Zoe Conway, and John McIntyre for a rare performance of their stellar collaborative project, Allt, in which the four explore connection of Scottish Gaelic and Irish language music.

On another evening, Hamish Napier will introduce his nature focused project The Woods, and Sarah-Jane Summers will offer music from her album Owerset, which comprises music she’s composed inspired by connections between words in Scots and words in Old Norse.

That’s a taste of a few highlights of what’s on the schedule just in the first few days of this year’s Celtic Connections Festival. More to come...

You may also wish to see
Celtic Connections Festival website
What’s ahead in Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, at Perceptive Travel
More about the album Allt
Hamish Napier’s project The Railway
Frenzy of the Meeting from Breabach

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Saturday, January 04, 2020

Boston Celtic Music Festival: Song, Tune, Dance, and Friendship

Boston has long been a place where people from Ireland, Scotland, and Atlantic Canada traveled, sometimes settled, and often played music. These varied strands of music flourished in the Boston area. For a long time, though, despite what these Celtic strands had in common, these music scenes flourished but rarely interacted. That is until Shannon Heaton, who plays Irish music, and Laura Cortese, whose background is in the music of Scotland, were discussing this one day as they walked through Davis Square.

Maybe, they thought, they could do something about it.

“We thought, what if we had a session? a big party?” Heaton recalls. “Then, what if we had a big weekend? What if we had -- a festival?”

This year, the Boston Celtic Music Festival, BCMFest for short, marks year seventeen 16 through 19 January with workshops and concerts filling up venues around Harvard Square in Cambridge. World renown musicians and dancers from the New England area and beyond will take part.

The First Round concert kicks things off on Thursday evening at Club Passim. Fiddlers Leland Martin and Jake Brillhart along with pianist Janine Randal will present A Cape Breton Trip through Time: the quartet The Ivy Leaf brings song and tune from Ireland, England, Scotland, and America, and the Hanneke Cassel Trio, on this outing comprising Cassel, Keith Murphy, and Jenna Moynihan, will share music from Scotland, Newfoundland, and Cape Breton. There is sure to be original tune and song drawing from these Celtic traditions along with traditional material.

Once things wind down at the main concert, music keeps going with musical from across the weekend joining up in special collaborations. The Festival Club takes places on both Thursday and Friday nights.

Friday evening sees two longstanding favorites of the BCMFest annual schedule. Roots & Branches is a concert which showcases a range of styles from across Boston Celtic community, with performers including Louise Bichan and Yaniv Yacoby. The Boston Urban Ceilidh offers a chance for dancers of all experience levels or none to take the floor. Among those providing tunes for the dancers are Laura Cortese & Friends, with Hanneke Cassel as dance caller.

Saturday is time for Dayfest, a range of performances and sessions taking place at Club Passim, The Sinclair, and Harvard’s Smith Center.

Among the performers will be Sean Smith, who explores Irish, Scottish and English traditional song and tune on guitar. Rakish, who are the duo violinist Maura Shawn Scanlin and guitarist Conor Hearn will also take part. They perform Irish and Scottish music they grew up with and with, as their name suggests, their own slant.

Matt and Shannon Heaton make Irish music with their own distinct style and original tune and songwriting, too. Both are gifted singers and songwriters, with Matt playing guitar and bouzouki and Shannon playing flute and accordion. Coming down from Cape Breton, Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond and fiddler Wendy MacIsaac will take part in an in the round during Dayfest, as will top Irish dancer Kevin Doyle, who comes up from Rhode Island.

Dance performer, choreographer, and educator Kieran Jordan will return to the festival this year. “One of my favorite aspects of my life as a dancer is just to sit with a couple musicians around a kitchen table and map out a set list or brainstorm ideas — try out some tunes, fit some steps together, drink tea, see how it all unfolds. It’s the friendships and the shared love of music that really make the magic happen later on stage,” Jordan told the BCMFest blog. That sort of creativity, and appreciation for friendships formed and nurtured through music, are hallmarks of BCMFest that run through the performances each year.

Another BCMFest tradition, the Nightcap Finale Concert, ends the evening on Saturday. This year it takes place at The Sinclair, and will include performances from Kevin Doyle and Friends, The Treaty Trio, Laura Cortese and Friends, and Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac.

In another BCMFest tradition, that’s not quite the end, though. There’s almost always something going on on the Sunday of the festival weekend. This year, there’s the BCMFest Brunch at Club Passim, with music from Eamon Sefton and friends. In addition, Mary Jane Lamond will offer a workshop on Cape Breton Gaelic work songs and Wendy MacIssac will offer a workshop on putting Cape Breton tune sets together.

Tickets to individual events are available, most in the $10 to $25 rage, except the Sunday workshops, which are $40-$45. There are Irish and Scottish sessions at Harvard’s Smith Center on Saturday afternoon, which are free; reservations for a meal at the BCMFest Brunch are advisable but there’s no additional ticketing charge. For more information and ways to purchase tickets online, the BCMFest website is the place to go.

Photographs are, respectively, Hanneke Cassel, Sean Smith, Shannon and Matt Heaton, Wendy MacIsaac, and Mary Jane Lamond, with Corrina Hewat on harp in background; photo of Sean Smith courtesy of the artist. Other photos by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

You may also wish to see
Matt & Shannon Heaton: Fine Winter’s Night
Travels in Music, which includes Hanneke Cassel’s album Trip to Walden Pond
Sounds of Cape Breton from Mary Jane Lamond and Wendy MacIsaac
Canada in Music:3 Recordings to Explore, which includes Keith Murphy’s album Land of Fish and Seals
Winter’s Gifts: Music, which includes Jenna Moynihan’s album Woven

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Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve: Music to explore

Christmas music: it comes in forms and styles and ways to lsiten that are as many and varied as the ornaments on your tree. Christmas music, like those ornaments, can be old or recent, familer or waiting for new memories to be made, sparkling or quiet, funny or serious.

This Christmas, here are several suggestions that bring in aspects of all this:

Andrew Finn Magill chose pre-twentieth century music for his instrumental album Christmas Carols for Violin & Guitar. He plays both the violin and the guitar on the ten tracks, which come from well know pieces including Deck the Halls and Silent Night as well as less widely known ones such as Pois que dos Reys Nostro Sennor. Magill has backgrounds in Celtic and Appalachian music, as well as in jazz and in the musics of his adopted home of Brazil. This music well suited for both reflection and inspiration.

Reflection and inspiration make part of each of the recordings here. Humor often comes along too, gentle humor of the sort that opens connections, that is.

Some years back, Tish Hinojosa released a Christmas album that’s long gone out of print. A song she wrote for it, two songs really, as there are versions in both English and Spanish, have remained most requested parts of her holiday season shows, as they have to do with her annual conversations with her Christmas Tree. When Hinjosa decided to make a new holiday album, she knew those had to be included, along with new material and several other favorites from the past. She chose the title from one of the newly included songs, From Texas for a Christmas Night. Through the music on it, Hinojosa readily evokes not often heard aspects of Lone Star State Christmas time.

Emily Smith’s home ground is the southwest too -- the southwest of Scotland in her case. Her album Songs for Christmas s comprises well known carols, less widely known songs from Scotland, several contemporary songs and fine originals. There’s her quiet Winter Song and thoighful Find Hope, along with Little Road to Bethlehem, Silent Night, and other songs. Smith and her musical partner and husband Jamie McClennan have devised creative and fresh arrangements that serve the spirit and stories of the songs.

That is also true of Matt and Shannon Heaton’s recording Fine Winter’s Night . On it they offer song and tune in service of the season, original and traditional music based in Irish tradition, respecting its past while making music that speaks to present day listeners. Matt’s original story fo a Victorian Christmas, First Snowfall of December, stnads well beside O Little Town of Bethlehem. Shannon’s title track, Fine Winter’s Night, gracefully speaks of contrasts of the season; there’s also a piece about an unsung (until Shannon wrote the song, anyway) hero of Christmas; I’ll let you listen to the album to learn more about that. Then there’s this, in which the duo re imagined an African American song with an Irish touch. The chorus seems especially appropriate for this Christmas. Take a listen.

There are many more fine Christmas albums, of course -- I’d point you to Joy for Christmas Day by Kathy Mattea, Cara Dillon, Cherish the Ladies, and Tim Edey just for starters.

May this music be good companion to you as the festive season unfolds.

You may also wish to see
Winter’s Gifts: Music here at Music Road
Music for Starry Winter Nights at Wandering Educators
Christmas Eve, Reflections, and Travel at Perceptive Travel

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Sunday, December 01, 2019

Christmas music on guitar: Tim Edey

Winter season’s closing in brings with it both many things to do, and time to rest. It brings fast paced activities, and it can bring slowing down and time to reflect. Winter brings gathering; it brings solitude.

Each of these is an aspect of Advent, of preparation, of contemplation.

Music is a fine companion to all these things.

The Sleeping Tunes, Vol 2: Christmas and Celtic Music played on Guitar may have a rather long title, but it gets its point across. It comes from Tim Edey, and it is a recording which should certainly join your holiday plans for listening.

Though Tim Edey can play many instruments, guitar is perhaps his favoured one, and, as the album title says, his choice for this recording. In performance, Tim comes across as a gifted and versatile player, a man who holds these talents with humility, and an artist who loves to share his joy in the varied aspects of music.

Those things come across clearly in this recording, as well.

On it, you will find eighteen tracks of Christmas and Celtic music, thoughtfully and engagingly presented. Edey offer a journey which begins with I Saw Three Ships paired with a slide from County Kerry. There’s also Irish tune Coinnle an Linbh Íosa, a title in Irish which translates as The Lights or Candles of the Child Jesus. In the Bleak Midwinter leads into the Scottish tune Annie Laurie, there are stops along the way at O Little Town of Bethlehem, an O’Carolan tune, Silent Night, The First Noel, and several others. before closing with Griogar’s Tune, a song written by Enda McCabe for Tim’s young son.

It’s true that many of these pieces will call up memories of their words; that is part of their charm. It’s fine to hear them as instrumental pieces, though. It makes the depth of melody and the grace of Edey’s playing all the more evident. If you’ve guitar player on your holiday gift list, too, this could be just the thing. In addition to his own solo albums, Edey is in demand to work with other artists. If you’d like to hear a different aspect of Edey’s work, you may find him in collaboration with top Cape Breton fiddle player Natalie MacMaster on her recent release called Sketches. There will be more to come about that recording here along the music road in future, too. If you are attending Celtic Connections in Glasgow, you will find Edey as part of collaborations at two concerts, as well.

Tim Edey is grew up in a musical family in Broadstairs, in Kent, in England. He has lived in Ireland and is now based in Perthshire n Scotland. Those places and experiences find their way way into his understanding of music, and his presentation of them on this recording.

You may also wish to see
First week in Advent: music and quiet
Listening to Winter: Aine Minogue, Cara Dillon, Matt Heaton
Alison Brown Quartet: Evergreen

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