REVIEW: “Night Travels” by Ashley Davis

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With a passionate voice that caresses the ear like silk, the ability to establish a rich musical atmosphere through her sonorous melodies and a long list of A-list guest artists, Ashley Davis’ fourth studio album “Night Travels” is certainly a success.

This album opens with the track His Bride I’ll Be that is a beautiful collaboration with Grammy winner Sara Watkins. The way the two voices blend together is a delight. You have the rich depth of Ashley Davis’ voice and then you have the light harmony of Sara Watkins’s amazing vocal skills floating above. Furthermore, the intricacies that plays throughout the piece, such as the mixture of bowing and picking done with the violin, showcases a complexity within the arrangement that is deceiving and highly nuanced. All said, this song does an amazing job of setting the listener on this elegant musical journey.

In the next track I Follow You (Leanain Thú) Ashley showcases more of her Celtic roots. This song is beautiful and relaxing. It feels very much like a lullaby where you follow one into dreamland, much like the title suggests. Likewise, the harp adds a brightness to the song that is absolutely enticing. It makes you want to follow her as a listener into this fantastical experience. Night Travels, the title track, brings a nice contrast to the previous tracks. The break feels more exotic on this album and brings with it a nice energy.

Other notable tracks are With You Tonight (with Eileen Ivers) and Besides You Near (with Moya Brennan). The first features soaring melodies played on the fiddle by acclaimed fiddler Eileen Ivers that acts as a pleasant counterpoint for Ashley Davis’ vocals. Where one is very deep and rich the other is light. They work beautifully together. Besides You Near, is a captivating duet and reveals how powerful emotions can be. The song is charged with the connection between two people separated by loss where perhaps the only place they can be together is in that twilight of sleep.

“Night Travels” is a beautiful album full of rich vocal harmonies and captivating but understated arrangements. Moving from track to track one can see Ashley’s various influences. There are Celtic roots present, as well as Americana swelling from her Kansas roots. Ashley is a confident artist is well at home with herself and is courageous in sharing it on this album.

Artist: Ashley Davis
Buy Album: Night Travels

Stephen Mc Sweeney is a High School English/Drama teacher. Besides writing for the Celtic MP3s Music Magazine, he enjoys acting, writing and playing Celtic music. He can be seen as one of the members of the band Terrible Musicians, where he plays percussion and mandolin.

REVIEW: “Holy Water” by Whiskey Sunday

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Irish and Country music have always shared a history. We saw this clearly through The Chieftains and The Nashville Session albums “Down the Old Plank Road” in 2002 and “Further Down the Old Plank Road” in 2003. However, in these albums we saw mostly classic Celtic and Country / Appalachian songs played highlighting many of their historical connections.

Yet, in their debut album, “Holy Water” Whiskey Sunday does a beautiful job of continuing to explore this relationship in more of a contemporary way. The way they blend these genres and create such a unique sound is incredibly intriguing to me. It sounds both traditional and yet modern at the same time. Thus, making this Irish / Americana folk-rock band something all of its own and definitely worthy of taking notice.

The first song on the album Wedding Ring is a fun, lively upbeat song. It prominently features the Irish fiddle in it and has a steady beat being played on the bodhran. Thus, we see much of the Irish influence. However, the vocals and banjo certainly give it more of a Midwest sound. Still despite the upbeat, light-hearted sound that is used the lyrics really ground it and carry an interesting message. With lines like “I haunt my ghosts, they don’t bother me” and “We’ll return to the places we were from,” the listener really can see the thoughtfulness and excellent craftsmanship of the writer.

The next track Rocking Chair (end of outlaw) further shows the creativity and talent of this group. The lyrics tell a beautiful story while the instrumentation weaves this amazing tapestry for the story to hang upon. While there are times where a certain instrument dominates, such as the percussion during the chorus, or when the fiddle and harp have solos, it is done in such a way that they seamlessly fade in and then fade back out into the mix. The overall emotional feeling that this song gives off is so raw and powerful. This is probably why it is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Continuing in the storytelling tradition is She Took the Train. While more metaphorical in nature than the previous track, it is probably the most Irish themed song on the album. It is impossible to not recognize the influence with the use of the uilleann pipes and the heavy beat being played on the bodhran. It is a song of longing and carries with it this sense of struggle

On the opposite end, American Spirit, as its name suggests, is the song that is the most Americana. Lyrics aside, musically it sounds truest to that style. Between the banjo, snare drum and the fiddle the Mid-western country influence is prominently featured. This is not a bad thing as this is what the band was trying to embrace in this song, as is suggested by the title. It is certainly a spirited toe-tapping song that should get one to feel their own American Spirit.

Other tracks to take notice of on this album are Cabin Song, which features the harp and is beautifully sung, No More Memory For the Rest, The Narrows, and That Good Fight. All of these songs and the previously mentioned ones are written by Patrick Joseph Rieger. Both him and Deidre Moore are the founding members of Whiskey Sunday and while they live and play currently in the LA area both hail from the Mid-West.

Thus, in this album, Whiskey Sunday truly returns to the places where they are from and showcase their Irish-American and Mid-western routes in an exciting beautiful way. This is certainly a band you should explore and take notice. If this is their debut album, I cannot wait for their next one.

 

Artist: Whiskey Sunday
Buy Album: Holy Water

 

Stephen Mc Sweeney is a High School English/Drama teacher. Besides writing for the Celtic MP3s Music Magazine, he enjoys acting, writing and playing Celtic music. He can be seen as one of the members of the band Terrible Musicians, where he plays percussion and mandolin.

REVIEW: “Live From the Poor Mouth” by New York Brogue

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When the Irish fled to this country to find a new home and hope perhaps the two most popular cities for these immigrants were Boston and New York. So it’s not surprising to find that Irish culture and pride run deep in these areas today. One such sign of this is the resurgence of Irish music.

For example, New York Brogue was formed by percussionist and vocalist Danny Flinn in 2007 in an attempt to capture the energy, skill and passion for live Irish music that was found in the Bronx Irish Sessions. In 2013, they caught it in on CD. “Live From the Poor Mouth” is a live performance recorded at the An Beal Bocht Café in the Bronx and released in March of 2014. The album is raw, powerful and authentic. It is a wonderful mix of traditional Irish songs as well as more contemporary ones.

Some of the more traditional songs on the album are its first two tracks The Banks of the Roses and Cul Aodh/Slieve Russell/Cathal McConnell's. The first track on the album, The Banks of the Roses, is a song about roving and living life. It gives a nice upbeat tempo and helps to establish the tone of the album. The singer’s intonation helps to solidify the light-hearted nature of the song as well. Overall, it makes you smile and dance along. The next track is a series of jigs. They continue pushing the energy of the performance and are performed very cleanly. While not over done the notes of the whistle ring true and bright. The clapping you hear in the background further emphasizes the infectious nature of the music. Plus, hearing the audience helps bring the listener in on the experience.

However, the next two songs Queen of Arqyl and Tom Paine’s Bones gear us to more of the contemporary. Queen of Arqyl, written by Andy M. Stewart is often thought of as a traditional tune, but was written and originally performed by the Silly Wizards. It is a beautiful song of love and devotion. Here, the constant rhythmic bowing helps to keep the pace, while the bodhran helps to add emphasis where needed. Furthermore, the whistle plays the higher melody with skill and dexterity. Overall, the energy is explosive. Meanwhile, Tom Paine’s Bones, written by Graham Moore, slows the pace down a bit, but keeps the energy. Furthermore, it really highlights the American roots of these performers, as Tom Paine is considered to be one of the founding fathers of this country. I love New York Brogue’s version of this song and it is perhaps one of my favorite tracks on this album.

Nevertheless, they don’t stay too long in the contemporary, but follow this up with a set of reels. Thus, the rest of the album goes bouncing back and forth between traditional and contemporary. It is obvious that they put a lot of thought into the organization of the tracks because it serves as a wonderful mix.

Other tracks are Wild Mountain Thyme in which they perform it beautifully. The solos are well done and help to balance things with smooth transitions between lead instruments and back to the lyrics. The Leaving of Liverpool, Colonel Fraser's and Sleeping Tune are a number of other traditional tracks you will hear. As for contemporary songs, there is a wonderful arrangement of The Auld Triangle/A Miner's Life and Ordinary Man, made famous by Christy Moore.

All in all, this is a wonderful album to add to your collection. It does a magnificent job of capturing the power and beauty of live Irish music. Don’t miss it. So get yourself a pint, sit back and enjoy the show.

Artist: New York Brogue
Buy Album: Live from the Poor Mouth

Stephen Mc Sweeney is a High School English/Drama teacher. Besides writing for the Celtic MP3s Music Magazine, he enjoys acting, writing and playing Celtic music. He can be seen as one of the members of the band Terrible Musicians, where he plays percussion and mandolin.

REVIEW: “The Child Ballads Vol. 1” by Martyn Wylde

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Multi-instrumentalist and bard, Martyn Wylde brings to life some of the old Child’s Ballads in his most recent album, “The Child Ballads Volume 1.” Having been trained as a Bard through a British organization known as The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD), Martyn’s interest in the old ballads categorized by scholar Francis James Child in the 19th century was a natural fit. He is said to want to be a ‘true keeper of the traditions and history of the Celtic people.’

Moreover, these traditional folk songs in the Child’s Ballads weave such incredible stories that they are perfect for Martyn’s style of singing, vocal range and guitar picking. Through his musicianship and light touch each song on the album is allowed to come to life and bring the listener in on these fantastic stories. On this follow-up album, Martyn plays all of the instruments and even harmonizes with himself. Thus, allowing him to control the clear direction and mood he wishes to set. All of it, in the end works masterfully. To listen to this album is to get wrapped up in one incredible adventure after another.

On this album, there are so many songs about loss, heartbreak, and love. The first song on the album, The Wife of Usher's Well, tells the sad tale of a mother who sends her three children off to sea to find they died shortly after. Grieving for them, the ghostly specters of her sons come back. However, she sees them as living and tries to feed them and give them a place to sleep. In the end, all comes for naught and they must leave her before the day breaks. Throughout this song Martyn’s powerful vocals showcases the struggle and grief while his guitar adds a richness that compliments the higher vocals.

Clyde Water, however, is a song of heartbreak and betrayal. This is a song where the mother lies and consequently causes her child’s death. In this song, Willie is thinking of his love Margaret and it is hear the trouble starts. With this song, Martyn still keeps the lyrics in the front, but uses a precise picking pattern to help emphasize key elements of the story. The pressure applied highlights certain focal points. Likewise, as the song progressives it helps to drive up the tension.

On the other hand, The Daemon Lover is a song about false love and needing to deal with the consequences. In the song progresses, there seems to be a hollowness or forlornness that resonates with the woman’s betrayal of her child and husband. This is especially true near the end where her lover and her are looking at the hills in the distance of Paradise and Hell. The way this story is told is remarkable and certainly one of my favorites on the album.

Other Child Ballads that are featured on this album are Fair Annie, The Broomfield Wager, The Grey Cock, The Broom Of The Cowdenowes and Jock O’Hazeldeen. If you love traditional Celtic music and songs that tell marvelous stories, this is a remarkable album and should certainly be in your collection. You will not be disappointed. With several decades of performing and recording under his belt, Maryn Wylde showcases these years of experience in this wonderful collection of timeless tales.

Furthermore, if you enjoy this album you should look at his debut solo cd, “Minstrel’s Lament,” as well as his new upcoming cd this autumn.

Artist: Martyn Wylde
Buy Album: The Child Ballads Vol. 1

Stephen Mc Sweeney is a High School English/Drama teacher. Besides writing for the Celtic MP3s Music Magazine, he enjoys acting, writing and playing Celtic music. He can be seen as one of the members of the band Terrible Musicians, where he plays percussion and mandolin

Concert Review: Men At Words – Archie Fisher, James Keelaghan, and Jez Lowe
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(right to left)  Lez Lowe, James Keelaghan and Archie Fisher at The Sound Board (photo: Lahri Bond)

(right to left) Jez Lowe, James Keelaghan and Archie Fisher at The Sound Board (photo: Lahri Bond)

Men At Words – Archie Fisher, James Keelaghan, and Jez Lowe
April 11, 2015, The Sounding Board, West Hartford, CT

By Lahri Bond

It does indeed sound like the start of a classic joke; a Scotsman, an Englishman and a Canadian walk into a bar. . .

Though this gathering undoubtedly caused some glasses be raised, it also brought together three of folk’s most talented singer/songwriters, each one well steeped in the traditional music of their respective homelands. Archie Fisher is well known on his native soil for being part of the mighty Scots traditional singers The Fisher Family (along with his sisters Cilla and the late great Ray Fisher), and for his 27-year tenure as the host of BBC Radio Scotland’s award-winning “Travelling Folk” show. Internationally, he is revered for such seminal albums as Man With A Rhyme, Sunsets I Have Galloped Into, and Windward Away. Jez Lowe hails from the coal mining country of North East England; both as a solo artist, and with his ever-evolving band The Bad Pennies, he has written and performed an enormous body of work, firmly rooted in the traditions of his homeland. James Keelaghan is a Calgary native, who has been calling Winnipeg home for the past few years. He is well-known for his gorgeous voice and a catalog of literate, historic and rousing songs in the tradition of fellow Canadians Stan and Garnet Rogers.

While all three musicians have played in various configurations with each other in the past, this was the first time they have toured as a group. The idea was broached last year, when all three of them found themselves as the same folk musician’s “flop house” in Cambridge, MA. “Jez and I were on tour,” explained Keelaghan, “I went downstairs the next morning, and found Archie making coffee in the kitchen.” Nine month later, the result is a new Celtic super-group, the whimsical titled Men At Words.

Anticipation and speculation was bountiful as these three master musicians took the stage. Often, when you have a meeting of such towering talents you wind up with mini-solo sets, and an all-performer finale, which is the staple of many a folk festival. It was clear from the moment these three hit the stage that they were definitely a group. They began with the old cowboy classic “Good To See You, My Old Friend,” each trading verses, their distinct voices blending beautifully on the choruses. Keelaghan followed with a lovely version of “Winds of Change,” with Fisher adding some skillful finger-style accompaniment, while Lowe performed lead lines on his Irish bouzouki.

From their mischievous stories and asides, there was no mistaking that this trio were having great fun together. Lowe and Fisher sang a pair of coal mining songs, which included “The Pitman Poets” and “What A Strange Lover Is A Coal Mine.” Keelaghan followed with a song of “un-required love” in his beautiful cover of Jesse Winchester’s “Eulalie.” The first set finished with a fine trio of songs, including Fisher’s “Bonnie Border Lass,” Lowe’s “Jack Common’s Anthem” and Keelaghan’s exquisite ode to the fragrant air of his home in “Sweetgrass.”

Set two began with Lowe’s “Donnini Doolaly,” with Fisher and Keelaghan adding engaging harmonies on this tale of a young man off to war. Fisher followed with the fine “A River Like You,” which showcased his intricate guitar playing, while Keelaghan got the crowd singing on “Safe Home” from his latest studio CD House of Cards. Lowe offered a humorous song “The Wrong Bus,” from his recent The Ballad Beyond CD, while Fisher paid tribute to his recently departed friend, and guitar great John Renbourn in the song “Lindsey,” a Fisher-penned song he used to love to play.

Keelaghan told tales of the master stonemasons who had rebuilt Canada’s parliament, before performing a stirring rendition of Scots/Canadian, singer/mason Bobby Watt’s “Remembrance Day,” about the same subject. Lowe performed “A Dream of Steam and Freedom,” and the evening finished up with a stunning rendition of Fisher’s iconic “The Final Trawl,” with all three singers trading verses. Thunderous applause preceded a much-welcomed encore, which brought a beautiful trio performance of the traditional Scots ballad “The Broom of the Cowdenknowes.”

No immediate plans are in the works for a trio album, as Fisher is currently well involved in finishing his next solo CD. With a standing repertoire of about 25 songs between them that the have rehearsed to play on this current tour, one hopes that at least a few of these shows are being taped professionally, with an eye for a future release, and hopefully another tour to support it.