Pickathon Lineup & Interview with Founder

Pickathon Lineup Announced

Pickathon, one of the most cutting-edge roots music festivals in the US, has announced its lineup for 2012. From August 3-5, the hills and woods around Pendarvis Farm, located just outside Portland, Oregon, will be packed with music lovers of all ages. And the 2012 lineup reflects the kind of programming diversity that is a hallmark of the event. To better understand Pickathon’s programming, Hearth Music interviewed Pickathon founder Zale Schoenborn for a lively chat about where the festival's been and where it's going. Check out the interview below.

 

Hearth Music Interview with Pickathon Founder Zale Schoenborn

 

I'm talking on the phone from his home in Portland, and Zale Schoenborn, one of the key Pickathon founders, sounds remarkably relaxed for someone whose festival is about to drop a full lineup. Maybe it's because he's working for the first time with a national publicist, whereas before he'd have to call up national press outlets to get articles. Or maybe he's used to the pressure, after all, Pickathon's been around for 14 years now!

The 2012 Pickathon lineup is chock full of accepted indie bands, like Dr. Dog, Neko Case, Blitzen Trapper, Phosphorescent, Alela Diane, and plenty more, but Zale wants to talk about the smaller bands, the 50% of the festival designed only for showcasing fascinating artists, regardless of whether anyone’s heard of them or not. Talking about Los Cojolites, a Mexican son jarocho ensemble, he’s bursting with excitement about discovering their sound, a regional Mexican tradition that hasn’t been heard in the American mainstream since Richie Havens co-opted an old song called “La Bamba.” “It’s like country music from a different location,” he says. “It totally translates. It’s so infectious and so good that it doesn’t even seem foreign when you see it. It’s totally related to string band music to me but it will blow people’s minds…”

Zale was a particularly hard person to interview, not because of his personality, which is open and joyous and easily excitable, but because he’s the kind of music lover who just wants to share his excitement and it’s easy to get swept up in that. I got the feeling that he loves finding out what kind of music a particular person likes, then finding a common ground to that music. And I think he programs Pickathon that way. Gets all his friends together and just talks back and forth about all the music they’re currently most excited about, genre divisions be damned. At one point he confessed, "Your initial intention when you put together a festival is to please yourself, right?”, and as festival producer myself, I couldn't agree more! The current Pickathon lineup certainly supports this idea, with innovative encursions into “world” music groups like Mali’s Vieux Farka Toure and Quebec’s Genticorum. I wanted to get to the bottom of his booking philosophy, so I opened by asking about these world artists.


Hearth Music: Let’s talk about the line-up. It almost seems like you’re moving a bit towards world music. I noticed, aside from Genticorum, you also have Vieux Farka Touré. Is there a desire to move towards world music at all on your part?

Zale Schoenborn: No, we don’t do anything consciously. We kind of first collected everybody’s favorite 20-30 records, right, that they thought was happening in various music scenes at that moment. We ended up with 600 records that were all from the end of last Pickathon through coming out with new records in 2012, and [Vieux Farka Toure’s album] was one of them that really surprised us. I’ve always loved the relationship between the blues and Mali… That relation almost to R.L. Burnside; there’s kind of a trance-like quality to it… And that relationship, and that essence of how amazing the music is, was our criteria for deciding that that band…

We’re not necessarily trying to be world, but we definitely love to tickle the music lover inside of everybody to turn them on to something completely different. That said, we do have a couple of folks from outside the country that we don’t usually have the luxury of drawing.

HM: Like who?

ZS: We have Kitty, Daisy and Lewis, who we’ve been trying to get for years… they opened for Coldplay the last time they were in the States, but they are so Pickathon. I mean, they are huge in Europe, they are absolutely a ginormous band in England but the style of music that they play is retro-country-blues… Then you can go in the totally opposite direction like Los Cojolites which is the son jarocho music… They are just unbelievable, my friend, they are so good! They are this crazy band we discovered in the heartland of the Veracruz scene. They have been described to me as the Avett Brothers of that world. They don’t speak English, so we’re going to be handling them but it’s just such awesome string band music!

…I realized that there are so many smart people who care deeply about different music than I do, and that I should, at least, listen to those people. We should completely look at all this 'under the rug' stuff… what gets people excited in a particular world and then, a lot of the times, they’re right. They may or may not be your home base of music, but when you look at this music, and you have never heard of it, it may be the most exciting thing going on for a particular community. Bruce Molsky, Danny Paisley is another example. He’s never been to Oregon... He is the darling of all of those people in Nashville. He’s looked at as the best living singer in bluegrass music. He’s just amazing; he’s just flat-out got it… And Ted Jones is another guy. He’s 24; he looks just like Jesse McReynolds, but he believes it. When he’s playing, he’s cross-picking mandolin. He kind of sounds like the Delmore Brothers. He’s super young; he’s just tearing it up, like this old school style, completely oblivious that his music doesn’t translate really well. No machine behind him, nothing, but he’s like looked upon by the folks who love this music like myself. My dad, who only likes bluegrass, looks at those two bands as the folks he cares about to see at Pickathon. He doesn’t know who anybody else is.

HM: Didn’t Pickathon come out of Portland’s old-time scene?

ZS: I played bluegrass before I was even interested in old-time. My friends don’t give a rat’s butt about old-time. They draw this kind of imaginary line that says, ‘That’s not bluegrass.’ You probably know what I’m talking about, it goes the other way with old-time to other scenes. People draw these imaginary lines. So, we didn’t care about those imaginary lines even in the beginning which was an absolute curse for us. Those scenes, the hard-core, built-in scenes don’t want their music mixed.

HM: When you were starting off, how did you deal with trying to please the bluegrass community, the old-time community, the indie community?


ZS: We didn’t... That’s what has started off as our biggest weakness. We were destined to be 200 people including musicians, or smaller. For 7 years, 6 years, we were under 300 people, because it’s just like you’re taking a bunch of music that is not necessarily transcending popular culture in the first place, and then you’re crossing these kind of imaginary lines where all these communities love their music in pure forms or they think they do. They want to go to a Blues Festival. They don’t want to go to a Blues Festival that has Celtic music at it. The Celtic people want to go to a Celtic festival. So, we always felt passionately as musicians and as music-lovers that you can do this because most people love a lot of music and it’s not a big deal. It should work eventually… at least we’re enjoying it, the musicians enjoy it. So, let’s just continue… And then the indie thing crept in as we started moving to Pendarvis. Indie was becoming more of an infused part of what we do. And then, the last 6 years the doors are just completely broken down.


HM: At Pickathon, do you see examples of the walls being broken down like an indie crowd going crazy over a super hard-core folk performer or a folkie crowd going crazy over an Indie band?

ZS: Totally, all the time, everywhere . When we schedule, you never can be in a safe zone. We won’t allow the music to kind of be in one continuum at one stage… But the musicians, I think that is our most common feedback, is they just love that kind of cross-pollination. Musicians, it just blows their minds, they walk away completely wanting more and it feels like a big reason why they really want to come back so strongly is, the experience is just so emotionally, intensely overwhelming, to have that kind of crazy talent. And it’s crossing so many boundaries, it just kind of blows your mind… We just expect that people who are open are going to discover a lot of stuff and we love the whole mixture of it.

HM: How long has Pickathon been going and who really started the festival at the very beginning?


ZS: I started it with my wife and my brother. My wife, Wendy, my brother, my mom and friends. We just started it and I just sucked everybody in. That was 14 years ago this year… That was 1999. We did it at Horning’s Hideout and I think right around year 7, we got booted out of Horning’s Hideout in the middle of June with the festival in late August. It was brutal! We had to basically move… and we went to a place down in Woodburn, Oregon for a year. In that place, since it was a big hayfield, we learned how to run a production. We were just putting music in a campground up to that point and at year 7, when we had to move to a big, giant field, we were like, ‘Oh, crap! How do you do water? How do you do electricity? How do you do bathrooms? How do you shave? How do you do all this stuff?’ From the middle of June to August, we had to patch together all of this. That was the year we had The Be Good Tanyas and Jolie Holland and Freakwater Reunion. And then, after that, like I said, that place imploded. And then this will be our 7th year, we went to Pendarvis Farm, which was a farm that was really nothing like it is now… They kind of got into us and we slowly introduced and started growing at Pendarvis Farm. We just took off! We had 700 people the first year at Pendarvis total and now we’re up to 5500, if you include the staff, musicians and 3,000 paid.

There’s 5 partners now in the whole festival which are totally important. My brother Eric who does the website. Terry, you’ve met Terry, he’s the one that works full-time on the festival, who books the festival, who does all of the running of the festival. And my brother does all of the web, the conceptual design, and the art. I love the curation of music, I’m involved in everything too, the general person. And then Ned Failing… he’s our straight man in a lot of ways… the guy who actually keeps a bunch of wildly creative types functioning. Then we have a hospitality guru, who’s been cooking for us since day one of Pickathon, used to cook for the whole festival… His name is Michael Dorr. He’s just an absolute genius with people. He has been a huge reason why Pickathon is so comfortable at the festival.
 

HM: I remember maybe 4 or 5 years ago, there was an article about Pickathon that talked about the phrase, “indie roots.” I think it credited that phrase to you and to Pickathon. Do you feel like that you developed a genre or kind of built a middle ground between indie and between roots music that became indie roots?

ZS: I think four years ago, we were more identified with thinking that’s what we were doing for sure. Up to even 2009, that really was like a theme. It’s starting to have a lot less meaning for us, realizing that we don’t necessarily need that kind of label. It was something that helped people understand what we were doing different and maybe it’s still helpful in a general context… We feel more confident in the fact that, ‘Hey, this is just great music’ and people are going to catch on and gravitate for the fact that this is something different and people are going to be okay with crossing a lot of ground.

HM: Well, okay, let me expand the question. Now that you feel that the festival is financially secure, like you’re going to have enough people there, do you feel now that you can make the decisions in programming that you couldn’t make when you were trying to attract a large crowd? Do you feel that at some point you had to sacrifice your vision in order to get people in?

ZS: No. We’ve been foolish enough to never really care about that and just believe that quality would work over time. So, I still feel that way. Our line-up is crazy, I really think that if you look through this and marked who’s obscure and who’s not obscure, a good chunk of this, 50% of our line-up, is close to zero draw in Portland. We always have been doing that, it’s just that the choices we get to make are just a lot easier for us because we do have all this love from the community artists and booking, and now we have a history with them. They’ve had a great time; it’s working; they’ve actually seen their market grow substantially after playing Pickathon, and so the eco-system is starting to re-inforce itself… It’s becoming easier to program Pickathon; we’re having to do a lot less explaining of ourselves. We don’t take that for granted at all, we are super-honored that we have this ability now to be more, instead of the begging side, more of a curating side.

HM: Right, right. So how did you survive for 7 years when you had relatively small audiences? How did you manage to keep that going?


ZS: I have a day job. It’s called a day job. The festival never even broke even until year 10.

HM: Holy shit! [laughing]

ZS: That’s called 'for the love of it,' right? [more laughing]

 


Get a preview of what you'll see at Pickathon 2012:

 

blog date 03/06/2012  | comments comments (1)

Inside the Songs: John Doyle and the Irish Experience


Irish guitarist, singer, and songwriter John Doyle is one of the foremost traditional musicians of his generation. He first made his name as the guitarist for the much-loved ensemble Solas, where his particularly percussive style of guitar became one of the prime inspirations for other Irish guitarists, and gave rise to many imitators. He's also known for his work with Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll; their duo album, Double Play, was justly nominated for a Grammy in 2010. Recently he's been showing himself as a deft interpreter of Irish songs and a soloist of great note. With his new album, Shadow and Light, Doyle is also proving himself as a songwriter. He's usually been content to plumb the depths of the Irish tradition for material, but most of the songs on Shadow and Light are ones he's written. And these songs reach into his life and history for their inspiration. "Little Sparrow" is a crowd favorite song he wrote to his daughter, and it's great to have it recorded finally. It's a softly sweet ode to childhood that should lend itself well to being covered (*hint to folk singers looking for new material).

What I found most interesting about Doyle's album were the songs about the Irish experience in America. Of course, emigration to America (or Canada for that matter) has always been one of the main topics in Irish traditional song, and Doyle includes some fascinating variations on these songs. In fact, I found his liner notes about these songs to be compelling enough that I got permission to share them online in this edition of Inside the Songs. The first song (co-written with his wife Cathy), "Liberty's Sweet Shore," deals with the most-known Irish emigration, that of the Great Famine, but from the lesser known perspective of Irish immigration to Québec, the second-most important port after New York for Irish fleeing starvation and depredation in the mid-19th century. The second song, "The Arabic," shines a light on Doyle's own history and the later (attempted) emigration of his grandfather during WWI.

 

Liberty's Sweet Shore

"Gross Île, a way station close to Québec, has a mass grave of over thirty thousand victims of the famine and the brutal voyage over from Ireland. In the height of the Famine in 1847/48 certain landlords paid for their tenants to emigrate as it was the most financially expedient thing to do. Their tenants were starving to death and could not work nor pay their rents. Buying the cheapest passage for two pounds a head, men women and children, most in dire condition clothed in rags, no money nor food found their way on board. Some were luck and had a quick voyage over, a good captain and a ship's surgeon, but others had rancid meat, meager hard tack, if any, and a lack of drinking water. Many were infected with typhus or Cholera and were either thrown overboard or kept in Gross Île until their ultimate demise. Still, the overall outlook was hope as they were going to a different country and perhaps a life free from starvation, privation and domination."

John Doyle: Liberty's Sweet Shore

 

 

The Arabic

"In August of 1916 Martin Lohan, my great-grandfather on my mother's side, decided to join his brother and immigrate to the United States. He walked from Baile na Hamhna, close to Creggs, Lisduff in Co. Roscommon, to Cobh in County Cork, which was then called Queenstown, and embarked on the S.S. Arabic to New York. They were 50 miles south of Kinsale when U24, a German U-boat on maneuvers, discovered the ship and fired two torpedoes into The Arabic. The ship went down in ten minutes killing 44 people. Martin was one of the lucky ones who survived. He jumped into the sea shortly before the ship sunk and swam to a life raft, but was beaten away with oars by the men on board as they were afraid he would topple the small raft. Luckily for him (and for my grandfather, Mother and I) the hand of providence came in the form of a woman who grabbed him before he sank and hauled him into the life raft. He spent a few months in an infirmary on Spike Island and eventually walked back to Roscommon. Apparently the only words he mentioned of the event for many years was 'Ah sure, I wasn't meant to go to America.'"
 
John Doyle: The Arabic

 

Other songs on the album also deal with Irish and Irish-American history through the poetic lens of Doyle's songwriting. "Farewell to That" examines the bitter disappointment of Irish fighting for England in WWI, torn between the home hatred of the British and their hopes that their service would help gain Home Rule (it didn't). "Bound for Botany Bay" looks at an Irishman bound for the Australian penal colony following the 1798 Rebellion. "Clear the Way" documents the Irish Volunteers, a regiment in the American Civil War. It's a fascinating journey through Doyle's clear love of Irish history, and through the mind of a songwriter who recognizes the impact history has on us today. Buy the album and discover Doyle's songwriting for yourself!



PS: If you need more convincing, check out the lineup of guest musicians on the album: Tim O'Brien (vocals, mandolin), Alison Brown (banjo), Kenny Malone (percussion), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Todd Phillips (bass), John Williams (accordion), Pete Grant (lap steel) and Michael McGoldrick (uillean pipes and flute).
 
Thanks to John Doyle and Compass Records for permission to stream his songs and post the liner notes!

blog date 03/05/2012  | comments comments (0)

HearthPR: Pharis & Jason Romero's Fretboard Journal Documentary

Pharis & Jason Romero's recent album, A Passing Glimpse, has been blowing up all over the US and Canada (and now the buzz is moving to the UK/Europe). It's not hard to see why, the album is a stunningly beautiful set of new and old songs, performed in with an effortless mastery of the tradition.




The other part of the story is that in addition to being great musicians, the two are also some of the best banjo makers in the world. The Fretboard Journal, a wonderful magazine dedicated to fine instruments and instrument builders, recognized this and sent up a documentary film crew to capture some of the magic in and around their home in the remote town of Horsefly, British Columbia. Led by young filmmaker Matt Miles, the resulting short documentary is truly inspiring. Matt managed to capture the natural beauty of their home, the easy grace of their marriage, and some of the spirit they pour into their music. 

Check it out:

 

And if you're running short on time, here's a quick music video from Matt's documentary. A deft interpretation of the classic song, "Wild Bill Jones."

blog date 03/01/2012  | comments comments (0)

Hearth Recommends: Festival du Bois, March 3-4, Coquitlam BC

  
FESTIVAL DU BOIS

A French-Canadian Festival for the Northwest

March 3-4

Maillardville, Coquitlam, British Columbia

ROAD TRIP! Hearth Music is heading up to Coquitlam, BC, to the tiny community of Maillardville, just outside Vancouver. It's one of our favorite festivals, partly because of our French-Canadian heritage, but mainly for the warm, cozy community vibe and world-class artists this festival attracts. Maillardville has been home to a lively community of French-Canadians for about a hundred years now. They first began arriving around the turn of the century to work the lumber mills of the Fraser River, and further immigrations led to a thriving community in the heart of the Greater Vancouver area. Now this community has diminished a bit, but for Festival du Bois, families come out in force. French is the main language spoken and the tents of the festival echo with accordions, fiddles, guitars, old voyageur songs, and the wonderful smells of French-Canadian home cooking. Women and men gather in the tent kitchens to cook tourtière (Acadian meat pie), poutine, tarte à sucre (sugar pie), and to spread maple syrup over ice for a delicious taffy.

Here are some things we're looking forward to at Festival du Bois:

Quinn & Qristina Bachand: British Columbia has long been a hotbed of young fiddlers, from the Duhks' Tania Elizabeth to any of the fiddlers coming up through the ranks of the Paperboys (Shona Le Mottée, Shannon Saunders, Kendel Carson), and youngsters Quinn & Qristina Bachand are proving once again how vibrant BC's fiddle scene really is. Quinn plays guitar with a youthful fury and a very mature sense of rhythm and accuracy. He's recently been featured as famed fiddler Ashley MacIsaac's guitarist. Qristina draws from a broad base of Celtic fiddle traditions, notably the rhythms of Cape Breton and the lyricism of Ireland. Together these two siblings have been carving out powerful tunes together.

Bon Débarass: Festival du Bois is known for bringing many of the best young Québécois bands out to the West Coast. We've made plenty of friends this way, and this year we're looking forward to the trio Bon Débarras (Good Riddance). Multi-instrumentalists, they remix the rhythms of traditional French-Canadian music with a more cosmopolitan approach. A romping Québécois tune suddenly gives way to a cafe musette, and a Cajun song finds it way back to its ancestral roots. They'll be good fun!

Dejah Leger: OK, so yes this is a bit self-referential since Dejah works for HearthPR, but dang the work she's doing on French-Canadian Crankies ("tournilles" en français) is wonderful. Crankies are hand-sewn/hand-illustrated rolls of fabric or paper that tell a story through shadows as they are unrolled. Much like an old-fashioned movie. Dejah will play and tell the story of each Crankie as it unfurls. She was inspired by the recent visit to Seattle of Anna & Elizabeth, two traditional artists from Virginia. They used the Crankies to tell the stories of old Appalachian ballads, and now Dejah is using the Crankies for French-Canadian ballads. It's so wonderful to be able to see handmade artwork unfold while listening to the music being made at the same time. Dejah will also be playing music from her album, Hand-Sewn Lullabies, an all acoustic set of sleepy time songs.
 

Jocelyn Pettit: We've written about Jocelyn's fiddle playing before, and how astounding it is that someone so young can have such a mature talent. Here's what we said: "Originally inspired by Cape Breton fiddling (the most rhythmic and powerful form of Celtic fiddling), Jocelyn Pettit has branched far from these roots to embrace not only other Celtic styles (Irish, Scottish), but to write her own compositions... Unlike many fiddlers her age, she controls the tempo of every tune, able to draw emotion out of a slow, grumbling aire and control the high-wire fiddling required of a Scots dance reel. To have made such a daring debut at 15, we will expect many more great tunes from this young woman in the future." And she's only gotten better since then!

 

Juan Sebastian Larobina: I know little about this artist, but his story is utterly intriguing. Here's the press blurb: Mexican in his heart, Argentinean in his soul and Gaspésien by adoption, Juan Sebastian Larobina’s music brilliantly melds all three traditions to create flamboyant fresh roots music he calls “Latino-Gaspésien.” From Latin rhythms to foot percussion, this accomplished musician sails leisurely between cumbia and jigs, reels and salsa, a La Bolduc song to tango and funk." I can't think of two places more opposed than Mexico and the Gaspé Peninsula. Gaspé is the rocky coastline along the NE of the province of Québec, home to a rugged bunch of Acadian and Québécois settlers. I'm totally intrigued to hear how Juan Sebastian melds these disparate influences.


FIND OUT MORE ABOUT FESTIVAL DU BOIS:

Schedule

Artists

 

blog date 02/28/2012  | comments comments (0)

Hearth Music Interview with Laura Viers

We were lucky enough to score an interview with one our favorite indie roots artists, Portland songsmith Laura Veirs. She's just released a wonderful album of folk songs for kids, Tumble Bee. We talked about the darkness inherent in children's music and literature, and how music has affected her own family. She had some pretty interesting things to say! 
 

A few quotes from Laura:

"We didn’t want to make a dark children’s record, but we didn’t want to avoid darkness altogether."

"Pete Seeger had... a really cool version of “All the Pretty Little Horses” that we kind of used as a model for our version, and that song has some freaky imagery of a lamb dying in a field. Bees and butterflies eating its eyes. Why would you put that on a kids’ record? Well, because that actually happened. Back in the day, we were a farm culture…"

"We’re aiming at a pretty young audience. We’re aiming at the 0 to 6 set. I think that 8-year-olds would think we’re completely dorky and that’s fine by me."

Our interview is posted over in Tiny Mix Tapes:

LAURA VEIRS INTERVIEW

 

And here's a neat little sample of Tumble Bee to get your interest up!

Laura Veirs: All the Pretty Little Horses

 
 

blog date 02/10/2012  | comments comments (0)

CD Review: Bua's Irish-American Masterpiece

Bua. Down the Green Fields.
2011. self-released.


Sometimes all you really need to say in a review is “Damn, they killed it.”

So I’m happy to say about the new album, Down the Green Fields, from Irish-American traditionalists Bua: Damn, they killed it. Seriously. If you have any interest in the traditional music of Ireland, an emerald sound born of fiddles, pipes, whistles, and a clarity of voice that sounds like the musical equivalent of a crystal clear mountain stream and refreshes just as much, buy this album.

Now, for those of you who have a deep love of Irish trad like I do, here’s a more in-depth review:

From the opening track, a set of two reels (Eddie Moloney’s/Micho Russell’s), the boys in Bua show that they have impeccable taste. Whereas most other young Irish bands would ramp the needle up to 11 [this one goes to 78? -ed], burning through these old reels like a gas guzzling SUV, Bua have the taste to know that by slowing the music down and playing at a relaxed pace they can actually have more of an effect. That’s rare in Irish music today, and shows that these players are totally attuned to the true roots of the music. For how could you dance to Irish music when the meter tops out? The frenetic insanity of a band like Dervish only works because those guys are living gods dropped from Mount Olympus to walk among us and demonstrate the powers of musical perfection. Bua would rather play the music right than show off, and that is something that makes me want to stand up and applaud.

Let me take a moment here to commend Bua’s new fiddler Devin Shepherd. I’m incredibly picky about my Irish fiddlers, and was appalled at the use of crappy unornamented Irish fiddling in the new Sherlock Holmes movie almost to the point of walking out. I don’t want to listen to some classical jackass noodle with Irish tunes. True Irish fiddling is as mercurial as the Irish themselves. It doesn’t trust you, doesn’t welcome you, and won’t be your friend unless you put the time in to truly understand. It’s the kind of music that lulls you into a false sense of security with a seemingly regular sense of rhythm, then shanks you in the back when you’re not looking. Don’t believe me? Go to an Irish trad concert and listen to the audience try to clap along. I guarantee you the clapping will fall apart and become arrhythmic in about 10 seconds. That’s because the Irish are pure geniuses at disguising the true heartbeat of the music. Bua’s fiddler Devin Shepherd understands this, but doesn’t overdo it like Martin Hayes. Instead, he strips the show-off ornaments to a bare minimum and focuses on nailing the perfect rhythm and lilt. His fiddling is everything I wanted to be in an Irish fiddler and I’m now a most devoted fan of his.

Sean Gavin brings a subtle beauty to his fluting, piping, and whistling on the album, and Brian Miller shows himself to be a sensitive and beautiful guitarist as well. I have stacks of albums of purely instrumental Irish music, and these guys could hold their own with the best.

But, for me, the heart of Bua is the traditional singing of Brían Ó hAirt, who has dedicated himself to the sean-nós (old style) Irish song tradition, as well as the Irish sean-nós stepdancing tradition. This old style of stepdance is intimately tied to the tune itself, and this means that O’Hairt has a touch with the old songs that just can’t be faked. His voice has the beautiful fragility of the great Irish singers, and his knowledge of the sources of the tune shows his great respect for the tradition. He’s won awards in sean-nós singing (one of the last bastions of old Irish culture), and is a dedicated teacher as well. Sean-nós singing is an arcane style, almost a spiritual ritual at times, that is judged on the singer’s ability to convey the message of a song and to transfix an audience. It’s something that’s not easy to develop a taste for (believe me, I’ve tried), but when it touches you, it touches you deep. By blending the hypnotic, transcendent elements of sean-nós with a full band, O’Hairt has made this old tradition much more accessible. His singing on “Baba ‘Con Raoi” and “Bó na LeathAdhairce” is one of the album’s highlights. It reminds me at times of the seminal 1989 Dé Danann album The Mist Covered Mountains, which married the fire of five young bucks with the wisdom of some of the sean-nós tradition’s elder statesmen. Honestly, I can think of no higher praise than saying that Bua’s new album, Down the Green Fields, compares favorably with Dé Danann’s The Mist Covered Mountains.

Bua’s rendition of the song “Soldier, Soldier” is another album highlight. The song is based loosely on the melody to the old chesnut tune “Flowers of Edinburgh,” a song I’ve heard way too often in my lifetime. Not only do the instrumentalists in Bua totally redefine this old tune, but Ó hAirt’s singing literally brings tears to my eyes …

Damn, this is a great album.

For any fans of traditional Irish music, Bua’s Down the Green Fields is not only the kind of album that should place the band in the highest echelon of Irish groups, but also a truly admirable example of taste and restraint in a tradition that sometimes loses sight of both. Hat’s off!


Bua: Eddie Moloney's/Micho Russell's


Bua: Baba 'Con Raoi/Bó na Leath-Adhairce

 

Bua: Down the Green Fields

 

 

NOTE: This review first appeared in Driftwood Magazine. Be sure to visit their excellent website to find more great bands. They've taken up the torch left with the passing of Dirty Linen and are doing a marvelous job.

blog date 02/07/2012  | comments comments (1)