Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Boston and Irish: Joe Derrane

Joe Derrane has a master’s touch and a distinctive voice through his chosen instrument, the button accordion. As the son of Irish immigrants, Irish music is and always has been his base, his source on which to draw and the river of music through which his work flows. On his latest recording, Grove Lane, you can hear that, and you can also hear other sources and other adventures. All of this, mixed and mastered through Derrane’s Irish roots, his life in Boston's Irish American community, and the rhythm of that community’s dance halls where he got his start.

That start was 1940s and 1950s (for more about that, check out Susan Gedutis Lindsay's book See You at the Hall: Boston's Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance). He made a series of popular recordings in those days. As the halls declined, he switched to other sorts of music, and other ways of making a living. Several years after he thought he’d retired from music, those early recordings were reissued, and he was invited to perform at Wolf Trap, in Virginia, for what he thought would be a one off gig celebrating his history. His music was so well received, though, that a whole new phase of his career began.

Grove Lane is a snapshot of the man well into that phase, enjoying and sharing the enjoyment of creating fresh music as he moves into his eighth decade. There’s a lively collection of reels, jigs, and hornpipes, a barn dance, a schottische, a waltz, and a tango. The music is crisp and clear and imaginative, drawing from Irish dance tradition and clearly carrying it forward as well.

Just as areas in Ireland have their own styles of music, from Donegal to west Kerry to Oriel, so do certain Irish communities in other countries. The Boston area in the United States is one such, and Joe Derrane is a musician whose music is Irish, American, and Boston. The Slate Roof set of reels, the Lost Jigs set of, yes, jigs, and Waltzing with Annie, are especially worth hearing, but odds are you’ll be drawn into listening the whole thing through (and dancing to it too, perhaps) once you start in. The recording was produced by Derrane and acoustic guitarist John McGann, who recorded the tracks over a series of sessions at Derrane’s home on Grove Lane.

side note: There will be concert in tribute to Joe Derrane on 13th November, at which he will appear along with other musicians you’ve met here along the music road including John Doyle, Billy McComiskey, Joanie Madden, and John Whelan. This will be in Fairfield, Connecticut, at the Fairfield Theatre Company, Stage One and begin at 7pm. Contact
for ticket details. Proceeds from the concert will go to benefit the Shamrock Traditional Irish Music Society of Fairfield.

you may also wish to see
Music Road: Billy McComiskey: Outside the Box
Music Road: Shannon Heaton: The Blue Dress
Music Road: Aoife Clancy: Silvery Moon

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Blogger BIKE LADY said...

Your blog always makes me want to make music more a part of my life. This post, in particular, takes me back to my childhood roots, where the music was not so much about the Irish jig but more about the Hillbilly stomp. Similar sounds, though.

5:56 PM  
Anonymous MyKidsEatSquid said...

The button accordian? So that must be different than a regular accordian. How cool. I'm not familiar--are accordians, well, Irish?

6:09 AM  
Blogger kerry dexter said...

there's the button accorsdion and the piano accordion, which has keys like a piano -- and then there's the concertina, sort of a mini button accordion and a whole other thing.

none of them is especially Irish, although they've all been popular in Irish music since the instrument was first invented (France? Germany? I'm not sure) in the mid 19th century. one reason, the accordion is good for dance music, can be heard well over crowds and noise, and a lot of Irish music is, or was originally, dance music. it can also at times be a very quiet and gentle sound, though, as well.

other accordion players to look into include Mairtin O'Connor and Sharon Shannon from Ireland, Billy McComiskey from the US, and Emily Smith and Phil Cunningham from Scotland -- and Chip Dolan, who plays all sorts of Texas music.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Susan Gedutis Lindsay said...

I love Joe! Your article was really nice. I'm so glad I figured out how to subscribe via email!

2:56 PM  

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