It's been a little while since renowned Irish-American band Solas released their last album, Shamrock City, and I've been remiss in not writing about it, since it's speaks so eloquently to the experiences of the Irish in America. Based on the history of the city of Butte, Montana, specifically the family history of Seamus Egan, who had an ancestor, Michael Conway, who emigrated from Ireland to Butte, but met a terrible end at the hands of the Butte police in 1910. Shamrock City draws not only from the rich traditions of Irish traditional music, of which each member of Solas are acknowledged masters, but also from American roots music, reflecting the rough lives of the Irish in the 19th and 20th centuries in early America. I got a chance to interview Séamus Egan, an Irish-American multi-instrumentalist who's been at the heart of Solas since the very beginning. Here's what he had to say about the album and his thoughts on Irish music in America.
Hearth Music Interview with Séamus Egan
Hearth Music: First question: -Would you call this a concept album?
Seamus Egan: I'm not a huge fan of the term, but i suppose it is.
Why not a fan?
SE: i think it's one of those terms that over the years people have become suspicious of! Myself included!
Ha, Gotcha. So tell me more about your ancestor, Michael Conway. Did you hear a lot about him growing up? Or was this a story you found later on?
SE: I remembered it from my father telling me as a boy growing up in Ireland. It always seemed to me to be an exciting adventure story. There wasn't a whole lot of detail in his telling but I came to learn more as I researched Michael in the Butte Historical Archives and from info from other relatives.
What did you find on him in the archives? Newspaper clippings? How did you find the story of his death?
SE: The archives there are amazing.... We found everything from his employment history, newspaper articles on the event that killed him, the death certificate from the coroner, accounts of his funeral, the arrest of the policemen who killed him, coverage of the trial....
Oh wow, that's amazing! What else were you looking for in the archives?
SE: besides anything we could find out about Michael, I was looking to learn more about the history of Butte.....to get a sense of the time and place while he was there
How was the experience of Irish immigration in Butte different from what you've experienced or seen elsewhere in the US?
SE: At that time in US history, Butte was a friendlier place to the Irish than most of the rest of the country. In a lot of other cities the Irish would have had difficulty finding work...."no Irish need apply" was a common disclaimer on job notices. In Butte though, if you were Irish you were pretty much guaranteed a job. And since a job was what they needed, an awful lot of Irish made their way to Butte.
Had you been to Butte before you started this research? What is the Irish community like today in Butte? Are there still Irish emigrating to Butte or just a historical community left?
SE: Our first visit to Butte was about 8 years ago and I suppose that is when we started work on what would become Shamrock City.....we just didn't know it at the time! Butte is a place that seems very much aware of it's Irish heritage today, but it long ago ceased to be a destination for new immigrants. As is the case with most mining towns, once the mines close the town becomes a shadow of it's former self
Are there still good Irish trad musicians in Butte?
SE: there's a really strong interest in the music and a few people play. For the past 10 years they have run an Irish festival called An Ri Ra.
What are your thoughts on Irish-American traditional music? I've heard people say that there is not an Irish-American music tradition, since it's still so closely tied to Ireland. Do you think Irish-American music is derivative, or its own tradition?
SE: Irish music in America has had a long and fruitful history. It helped keep the culture alive here for new immigrants over the years. It also helped keep it alive in Ireland when it seemed like it was being forgotten there. It also influenced mountain music, bluegrass, American folk music. I don't know if I would get caught up in the term "Irish American Music"......perhaps Irish music played in America!
That's what I'm getting at, though. People think of this as Irish music played in America, but isn't there a real tradition of "Irish-American" music? We speak so much of the different regional styles of Irish music (the various counties), but are there regional Irish-American styles? Like Philadelphia vs. Boston, or Brooklyn vs. Butte? Maybe Irish-American bands are just too closely tied to Ireland to have been able to develop something very different?
SE: There certainly is a tradition of it existing in certain cities and flourishing, but the notion of differing styles from city to city doesn't exist. But for that matter, the idea of regional styles in Ireland doesn't really exist anymore and hasn't for a long long time. In much the same way as regional styles faded in Ireland as a result of the phonograph and radio, same here.... Perhaps it should be viewed as America is just another county where the music traveled to and was influenced the same way as the Irish music in Ireland.
What are some new elements of the Irish experience in America that you discovered doing this research?
SE: i think role of Butte and by extension the Irish in advancing workers rights in America was another theme we saw in working on this project. Butte was known for a time as the Gibraltar of organized labor in America. Unions were very strong and for a time were able to hold their own against the mine owners and exert influence in other parts of the country. In fact, the history of labor in Butte and its decline closely mirrors what is happening today with the attacks on the rights workers throughout the country.
Irish emigration wasn't a one way street. Your own parents moved back to Ireland when you were young. Were they moving back to a family home?
SE: My family moved back to Ireland so my Grandparents could go back home (they lived in the US with us). I was young at the time but remember clearly being the "Yank"......and it wasnt necessarily a term of endearment! That was a long time ago and a lot has changed but it is something that has always stuck with me.
09/30/2013 | comments (0)
It's a rare band that transcends its time and place to sound totally at home in another era. But when you listen to the debut album from Portland, Oregon’s vintage country songstresses Copper & Coal, you just might swear you're hearing it through a jukebox in a roadside diner, somewhere off Route 66 in the 1950s. A powerhouse collaboration between singers Carra Stasney and Leslie Beia – one brunette and one redhead, both Michiganders packing elegantly expressive pipes, and both nearly 6 feet tall – Copper & Coal captures the spirit of classic country duos with a contemporary West Coast sensibility. On their album, Carra and Leslie’s voice swing and sway in tight harmony over soaring steel guitar lines and old-school country fiddling. Their songwriting sounds freshly conversational even as it saunters its way through the familiar territory of honky-tonk, heartache, and the man who done you wrong. Produced by Portland roots icon Caleb Klauder (of Foghorn Stringband and the Caleb Klauder Country Band), the album features stellar guest artists on mandolin, fiddle, pedal steel, dobro, even Cajun accordion from master musician Jesse Lege.
Carra and Leslie met in Portland, but both cut their teeth gigging in Lansing, MI. When a mutual friend put them in touch last year, the musical chemistry was instant. Their voices were just meant to go together - "Sometimes I can't tell my voice from hers," says Carra. They started sitting in on each other’s solo sets, and Carra wrote “Kentucky Blue,” a soaring harmony ode to the open road, inspired by their collaborations. The duo debuted at the 2012 Siren Nation’s Dolly Parton tribute – appropriately enough, as the great Dolly herself ranks alongside Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, and the Davis Sisters as Copper & Coal’s favorite influences. Since then Carra and Leslie gigged throughout the saloons and barrooms of Portland’s burgeoning roots county scene, and performed at the 2013 West Coast Country Music Festival.
Their debut album features mostly original songwriting, but it’s like an instant portal into a Saturday night party back at that Route 66 roadhouse. Paying homage to the harmony sister duets of the golden age of country, songs like “Faraway Places” and “I Can’t Believe I’ve Fallen” show Carra and Leslie’s fidelity to the country swing tunes and ballads that inspire them. In "Dreamin' Ain't Waltzin'," Carra tips her hat to country legends Hank Williams, Gram Parsons, and Link Davis as she imagines dancing with each of them in a dream. Swinging from raucous to mournful, heartbreak ballads like “I Love A Gambler” and Dolly Parton’s “Dagger Through the Heart” will have you searching your pockets for change to make one long-distance call back home. But Copper & Coal is here to lift your spirits and shake the dust off your boots, too. “Good Time Gal” just defies the listener not to tap their feet and sing along. Why even try? Give in to the charms of these sweet voices, shuffle a little two-step around the jukebox, and kick your heels up alongside the ghosts of Hank and Kitty.
Copper & Coal: Good Time Gal
Copper & Coal: Long Story Short
09/29/2013 | comments (0)
The albums are piling up here at Hearth Music HQ, so it's time to do a rundown of some of the great American roots music coming out recently. Check out some of our favorites and read more about each release. Have a listen yourself to be sure we're not blowin' smoke, and if you've got some money, kick it towards the artist to support them!
Jayme Stone. The Other Side of the Air.
Banjo master Jayme Stone is the very definition of an eclecticist (assuming that's actually a word). A far-traveling, passionately curious artist, his musical focus is like the light of a lighthouse: constantly roaming the landscape. In the liner notes for The Other Side of the Air, Stone talks about how this music is "a travelogue. A sonic chronicle of sounds I've discovered over the last two years." Most of Stone's music is a travelogue anyways, but what's interesting is that the new album feels like a real departure from the last album. Whereas the last album, Room of Wonders, was a romp through the wide world of folk dance music, The Other Side of the Air is a much more considered album, and ultimately it's an album of modern classical music, albeit for banjo.
Opening track "Radio Wassoulou" plays with familiar riffs from Malian music, passing the riff around like a joint. In "Soundiata," Stone's banjo ripples with the kind of beautiful ornaments found in West African stringed music, ornaments he no doubt learned while performing and touring with Malian griot and kora player Mansa Sissoko. The melodies on both these tracks are drawn from fieldwork trips to Mali that Stone undertook in 2007. "The Cinnamon Route" reminds me of today's work with banjos in jazz, but most of the material on this album seems more closely tied to classical compositions. The largest part of the album is given over to a four part Concerto for Banjo and Symphony from his longtime friend Andrew Downing.
This is a listener's album, no doubt. The tone and composition here is lush and beautiful and the production work by David Travers-Smith (he also did Ruth Moody's album) really stands out. Slip on this album with a nice glass of wine and plan to expand your brain a bit. That's my recommendation.
Richie Stearns | Rosie Newton. Tractor Beam.
I've been waiting for this one for a little bit now and it doesn't disappoint. Rosie Newtown is a truly monster old-time fiddler, and seems to be at the center of a real scene in Ithaca, New York. I first heard her fiddling as part of the New Young Fogies Appalachian compilation album. Not only is she a marvelously dextrous fiddler, pulling a huge variety of syncopated rhythms out of old-time bowing, but she's also a ferocious fiddler, tearing into a fiddle tune like a lioness tearing into a gazelle. On Tractor Beam, she's playing as a duo with songwriter/clawhammer banjo master Richie Stearns. Stearns is justifiably well known for his work with The Horse Flies, an alternative band with strong folk ties that was huge in the 90s. He's also toured extensively with Natalie MacMaster and Bela Fleck, scored an album for Pete Seeger, and worked with folks as diverse as David Byrne, Tuvan throat singers, and Old Crow Medicine Show.
Tractor Beam is a blend of original and traditional, from a fiddle tune Rosie wrote ("Take It or Leave It") to three new songs from Stearns ("Ribbons & Bows", "I Am With You Always", "Tractor Beam"), even a Townes Van Zandt cover, which Newton sings in her pure ballad style. Her voice is high and soft, and crackles with the fragility of an ice sheet. It's beautiful singing! Stearns brings an element of worldliness to the music on this album, with a voice tinged by long experience, and a kind of weariness to his singing that draws in the listener. The traditional material here is rendered impeccably, from the straight-ahead versions of "Say Darling Say" and "Willow Garden" (oh and listen to their harmonies on those songs.....), to the wonderful Clyde Davenport tune "Lost Goose" and the always classic "Trouble in Mind." Stand-out track "Shirt Tail Boogie" features the lost art of clawhammer fiddling (inspired by the great Fred Cockerham), and it's great to hear Old Crow Medicine Show alum Willie Watson ripping it up on the last two songs, Ruben's Train and Hangman's Reel.
All told, Tractor Beam brings a lot of lift and life to the old traditions.
Richie Stearns | Rosie Newton: I Am With You Always (Stearns)
The Abramson Singers. Late Riser.
2013. Copperspine Records.
Following up her stunning debut album, Vancouver, BC singer Leah Abramson (aka The Abramson Singers) has crafted another intricate puzzlebox of an album, weaving vocal harmonies into a dense shroud that hangs over each song. There's a larger ensemble sound with the new album, and guest artists include Rayna Gellert, Jesse Zubot, and Samantha Parton of the Be Good Tanyas. Used to be that Vancouver, BC was the lightning rod folk scene of the West Coast, bringing us groups like the Tanyas, Zubot and Dawson, The Paperboys, Outlaw Social (Pharis Romero's old band) and The Gruff. I haven't seen as many groups coming out of Vancouver these days as I used to, but from this album it's clear that there's still a great scene in the city. Look also to the album from Abramson's friend, Jenny Ritter, and you can learn more about Vancouver's roots scene.
On Late Riser, the songs whisper and twirl across a cracked wintery landscape. Vocal harmonies tense and resolve, and it's clear that Abramson loves to play with the timbre of the human voice. She arranges voices to hocket back and forth, and pairs a deeper voice with a high, almost falsetto voice. She's a sound poet first and a songwriting poet second. It's a great combination that lifts this album way above the herd of other singer-songwriters. Standout tracks include "Jack of Diamonds," which updates the old folk song trope of the gambling rounder, "Deja Vu," which is a gorgeous bit of songcraft,and "Liftoff Canon," which best shows off Abramson's vocal arrangements. Leah Abramson is one of the most eclectic and visioned artists in West Coast roots music and a name you should know.
Nell Robinson & Jim Nunally. House & Garden.
2013. Nell Robinson Music.
I've worked with Nell Robinson before, and she's one of the most positive artists I know in the music industry. That's because she comes to music late in the game, having started performing only in later life after growing up singing informally, so she brings an optimism and a fresh perspective to her work as a roots music singer and songwriter. There's something joyful about going along with someone as they discover and begin to truly develop their talents, and you can hear this magic in Nell's singing and in her songs. Teaming up here with ace bluegrass guitarist and singer Jim Nunally (of John Reischman's band, The Jaybirds), Nell delivers an album that feels like an effortless evening of singing in her home. And though her original home is rural Red Level, Alabama, her current home is near Berkeley and her current songs reflect the sunshine of a California garden. Besides the title of the album, House & Garden, Nell also includes an extra download card in each CD that can be planted in your own garden to grow some wildflowers. Of course, it's now our rainy season here in the Pacific Northwest, so I'm a bit late writing about this album and I seem to have missed the actual planting season. But 10 winters in Seattle have taught me the importance of thinking back on sunshine-y memories when the clouds roll in, and that's what this album excels at. As Nell and Jim sing in "Life in the Garden:"
"Life is full of many wand'ring pathways
Sometimes you know not where to go
Forget-me-nots in your garden
Will remind you of the places you have known"
Most of the songs on House & Garden are written by both Nell and Jim (with choice covers of Dolly Parton and George Jones), and they make a great songwriting team. "April Fool," "House," and "The Gardener" are both remarkably well-written, intriguing love songs, an all-too-rare thing today in a world drowning in lovesick songwriters.
Nell and Jim have a rare thing indeed, a lovely duet sound that pulls from both of their strengths. Turns out that when you tend your own garden, you can grow some lovely things.
Brian Vollmer. Old Time Music Party.
2013. Patuxent Records.
The title says it all here, really. Young East Coast fiddler/banjo player Brian Vollmer just picks the hell out of a bunch of great Southern old-time tunes. Honestly, was there really a point where we worried that this music wouldn't get passed on? Seems like my generation and younger have fallen hard for old-time music, and I think most of that comes from a desire for community and connection that goes far beyond the digital flickers of Facebook and Twitter. I know that's what got me into old-time; I just wanted to be part of these great all-night jams! A native of Washington DC/Baltimore, Vollmer's spent 10 years living in and around Asheville, North Carolina, picking up tunes from friends in the area before moving to Ithaca, where he's currently roommates with Rosie Newton (her album's covered just above!). I imagine the two of them probably shared "Lost Goose", a Clyde Davenport tune that appears on both albums. Vollmer actually learned it at Davenport's house, but Davenport got the tune from Dick Burnett of the truly amazing 78rpm-era duo Burnett and Rutherford. Damn it's a great tune. Kudos to Vollmer and Newton for their excellent taste! Other tune highlights on the album include French Carpenter's creepy-ass version of "Elzik's Farewell," a bombastic cover of the Roan Mountain Hilltopper's "Birchfield's Sally Ann," and the intriguing tune "The Green Door," which I'd never heard before. On the one-sheet for the album, they talk about how "this album is a tribute to anyone who has ever caroused until the break of dawn." Amen, brother. Amen.
Brian Vollmer: Lost Goose
Hannah Glavor and the Family Band. Halcyon EP.
I recently saw Hannah Glavor and the Family Band (spoiler alert: actual family band!) perform live at the beautiful Fremont Abbey in Seattle, opening up for Alela Diane, and her music completely impressed me. Her songs are beautiful and atmospheric, but what impressed me was that each note was so carefully considered. She has a powerful songcraft, in the most literal sense of the word. Each song sounds exactly hand-crafted, built in her Portland home, and tested extensively among her family before being brought forth to the crowd. There aren't too many artists these days who can do this, and I think it's really a blend of a natural performer and a master craftsman. Halcyon is Hannah's recent EP, released early this year, and it's just about perfect for a rainy Northwest night like the one I'm writing this in.
Hannah Glavor: Kingfisher
LISTEN to the whole album on Bandcamp!
Levi Fuller & The Library. Social Music EP.
Levi Fuller is a well known fella around Seattle's indie scene. A blogger for KEXP (where he chronicles the strange DJ comments pasted to old LPs), and a community organizer (his Ball of Wax compilations have involved hundreds of musicians and are far-reaching documents of many different NW sounds), Fuller is tied into many musical scenes in Seattle and beyond. His newest release with his band, The Library, is a short but sweet look at the music of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (plus a song from his buddies The Foghorns). Levi Fuller should know the music of Harry Smith's Anthology (I've written about this before HERE). After all, every year he and Greg Vandy (and me too, actually) organize a tribute to the anthology, drawing from an eclectic array of NW artists. What's surprising here is how sensitive he is to the music. He covers the songs here– "John The Revelator," "Dry Bones," "Since I Laid My Burden Down"– in such a way that he manages to tap into the wild heart of each one. His band is electric, and the music drives like a hammer, but this isn't some indie hipster covering old folk music. Levi gets what made these songs special in the first place, and the joy here is hearing his understanding come forth through a different musical palette. Another surprise? His great cover of local band The Foghorns' (no relation to Foghorn Stringband) song "80 Proof," a bleak song about alcoholism that's near perfectly written.
09/26/2013 | comments (0)
Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman : We Made It Home
Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman have had quite a time these past two years! Their progressive bluegrass band Front Country took home the Band Contest trophy at both the Telluride and RockyGrass festivals, was invited to play on the Mountain Song at Sea Caribbean cruise, and has been touring incessantly to great acclaim. Melody herself released a critically acclaimed album, Gold Rush Goddess, in 2012, and recently won the MerleFest songwriting contest. Between these triumphs, Melody and Jacob came back to their California Bay Area home, rebuilding their lives together as two people whose bond has only tightened with all this travel and success.
In October 2013, Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman will release their first album as a duo, We Made It Home, and you can hear in the music their joy at building a life together. Produced by bluegrass/roots music legend Laurie Lewis, the album projects comfort and intimacy. Their voices raised in harmony, their instruments intertwined, Melody and Jacob’s original songs and carefully chosen covers tap into their collective eclecticism. Under the layers of rich acoustic tones and powerful vocals, the songs draw from the realms of astronomy, ethnomusicology, feminism, folklore, and family history. The power of Melody and Jacob’s duets make these different topics seem natural together, like a fascinating dinner table conversation, and the ease with which they create music together can only be born from two people who have traveled long miles, both dreaming of coming home.
Before meeting in California, Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman both grew up surrounded by sound. The daughter of a blue-collar songwriter father, Melody grew up listening to everything from the Beatles to Bill Monroe. After studying percussion and voice at Humboldt State University and in India and Brazil, she co-founded the women’s world fusion a cappella group AkaBella.
Originally from Richmond, VA with Appalachian musical ancestry, Jacob fell hard for his first love, rock ‘n’ roll, but it was Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead that turned him on to American folk music. He studied jazz guitar at Oberlin College, dabbling in jug band music before moving to the San Francisco Bay Area and jumping into the local bluegrass and roots music scene, where he met Melody.
On We Made It Home, Melody Walker’s songs well up from her diverse philosophical interests. The beautiful song “Black Grace” combines scientific and religious definitions of heaven to create a secular humanist gospel song of remarkable depth and power. “Yellow Haired Girl” reminds the listener of early feminist anthems like The Carter Family’s “Single Girl,” but draws more from the legacy of singer-songwriters like Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco who unmask the brutal reality of our culture’s exploitation of women. Throughout We Made It Home, Melody and Jacob craft old traditions with modern twists. From the folk roots sounds of “Billy the Champ” (an ode to a boxing ex-circus chimp), to the somber mandolin and vocal subtlety of “Sweet Sunny South,” and from the refreshing and just down-right-fun cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” to the closing track, a flawless take on Peter Rowan’s song “Mississippi Moon,” it’s a jubilation to hear these two playing music together.
Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman: "Black Grace"
Melody Walker & Jacob Groopman: "Yellow Haired Girl"
09/25/2013 | comments (0)
There’s more to this record you’re holding in your hands than you think. Listen close. The songs unfold softly, gently, like a slow fog rolling over the landscape, until the words have surrounded you without your noticing. And behind the songs you’ll start to hear natural voices. Birds in the bowers, trees rustling in the wind, crickets just out of reach. That’s because New England songwriter Andrea Tomasi didn’t record this album in a studio. She recorded it in the woods of a state park in New York. That wasn’t the plan at first, though. At first, Andrea Tomasi planned to record this album, her self-titled debut for record label Team Love (Conor Oberst, The Felice Brothers, Last Good Tooth), in a New York recording studio. But after the studio was damaged by Hurricane Irene, Team Love and producer Jeremy Backofen (Ólöf Arnalds, Tom Brosseau, Frightened Rabbit) decided to move the recording to nearby Minnewaska State Park, specifically the Shawangunk Ridge, an isolated high-altitude landscape that’s the Northern tip of the Appalachian mountain range. Using nature as the studio, the environment drew out the many natural elements in Andrea Tomasi’s songwriting, bringing her closer to the source of her music.
A native Vermonter, Andrea Tomasi grew up attending singing camps in the Green Mountains and writing sparse, elegant songs. A singer all her life, Tomasi picked up the guitar as a teenager and immersed herself in traditions ranging from Appalachian tunes to Irish ballads to unaccompanied shape-note harmony. Her background of diverse vocal styles, as well as her work in a cappella groups throughout college, gives her a precise sense of bittersweet harmony. Tomasi’s songwriting echoes contemporary troubadours like Anaïs Mitchell and Joanna Newsom, with sinuous melodies layered over deceptively simple riffs and rhythms. Pablo Neruda’s poetry became a source of inspiration for Tomasi early on, and the album resounds with his influence. Bracketed by her beautiful and introspective guitar work, Tomasi’s songs move between their roots in the natural world and the interior landscape they illuminate. The kiss of a honeybee’s wing or a falcon’s feather unfolds into a meditation on the cyclical nature of time. In Tomasi’s lyrics, diamonds reflect as brilliant as death, hurricanes spin into dreams, hands are as smooth as seashells, and the fields of a human life can lay fallow. Few songwriters are so adept at melding a natural landscape into a human perspective.
Moving Andrea Tomasi’s music from an urban recording studio into the dense natural landscape of New England was an inspired move. Nestled into the sounds of nature, her songs seem filled with fresh air and clear, running water. Tomasi’s stark, meditative songs have found a home in the mountains.
Andrea Tomasi: Birdflower
Andrea Tomasi: Honey Bee
09/11/2013 | comments (1)
Various Artists. Classic Celtic Music from Smithsonian Folkways.
2013. Smithsonian Folkways.
I've got to give big kudos to elder record label Smithsonian Folkways for putting out this eclectic and somewhat daring release of Celtic music from their huge archives. They've gotten some flack from other people about whether or not every track on this release is truly Celtic (the British folk and French-Canadian folk sections seem to piss some people off), but folks, you gotta remember that Celtic's an invented term. It works fine for what it is, but there's really no point in trying to cut people or traditions out of the pie.
What's interesting about this album is not only the performers or the performances, but also the field agents and the recording sessions that got the music down on acetate. Folkways Records in the 50s and 60s was an adventurous venue, with leader Moe Asch sucking in all kinds of cutting-edge folklorists and ethnomusicologists to record artists during their trips. So we hear Northumberland fiddler Bob Hobkirk recorded in Scotland by the great blues scholar Samuel Charters, who was vacationing with his wife. Charters also recorded another Irish legend: uilleann piper Willie Clancy, here performing a beautiful air "Trip O'er the Mountain" and really showing off his stature on the pipes. We hear the folk singer Jean Ritchie recording Sarah Makem, the mother of the great Tommy Makem, singing "As I Roved Out" in her home in Ireland's County Armagh. Ritchie was in Ireland and Scotland in 1950 to trace the roots of Appalachian music. Or we have the great old-time/bluegrass organizer Ralph Rinzler–the man who "discovered" Doc Watson–recording the legendary Irish sean-nos singer Joe Heaney in a London pub in 1958. Rinzler was one of the first people to record the London Irish session scene, and Heaney's singing here of "The Rocks of Bawn" is pure classic. Plenty of other classic Celtic artists appear here, like Shirley Collins, Ewan MacColl, Scottish singers Isla Cameron and Lucy Stewart, and Irish fiddler Denis Murphy.
I, of course, love this album for including Jean Carignan, in my opinion the greatest fiddler of the 20th century. A taxi cab driver in Montréal, Carignan is a somewhat controversial figure today in Québec and among Québécois artists, where his music is sometimes seen as old-fashioned, or overly virtuosic. But that snobbery ignores his amazingly charismatic playing and his huge contribution to the music. As a traditional Québécois fiddler he was without peer, but what makes Carignan interesting is his uncanny ability to learn other traditions purely from listening to 78rpm records. He listened extensively to Irish fiddle great Michael Coleman and Scottish fiddle great J. Scott Skinner, and could play their music effortlessly, though both were among the most technically brilliant fiddlers of their age. Folkways' could have made 4 albums of cool obscure artists from Ireland and Scotland, but props to them for including an artist like Jean Carignan who truly shows the polymath nature of today's Celtic music world.
Pete Seeger Interviews Jean Carignan
Classic Celtic Music is likely not intended for casual listening. But with the extensive liner notes, and the huge back catalogue of classic LPs (all of which are now available digitally) which each track references, this is the perfect stepping off point for a much larger exploration of what exactly Celtic music really means.
Classic Celtic Music, Louis Killen: With My Pit Boots On
Classic Celtic Music, Jean Carignan: Bonnie Kate/Jenny's Chickens