A few weeks ago in her native Michigan during the Muskegon Irish Festival, singer Cathie Ryan was inducted into their new state Irish American Hall of Fame. The popular singer grew up in Detroit immersed in the Irish heritage that her Irish-born parents (Tipperary and Longford) felt was important to hold onto in the New World.
Irish language, music and dance were part of her regular existence, reinforced with visits home to the Ould Sod. Cathie left Michigan after high school to attend school in New York and settled into the New York scene for many years.
She signed on with Cherish the Ladies back in 1987 when they began touring in earnest beginning a 25 year career as a professional musician. The road has been rough and rocky for her, but she has also achieved recognition as one of the best singers that Irish America has ever produced, still very popular on the Irish festival circuit and able to tour with her band around the country in a market that gets tougher every day.
And the big news for her is a long-awaited new album called Through Wind and Rain just released last week after a seven-year hiatus from her last recording, The Farthest Wave, which many considered to capture Ryan at the peak of her career.
For such an expressive singer and songwriter with so much to say, why such a long gap between recordings? Well, it is not that she was adrift at sea like many a British Isles folk song marking a measure of time usually separating and testing lovesick characters.
Real life sometimes intervenes and twists and turns follow which create different goals and objectives or escape from the misfortunes of life that visit us all from time to time. Ryan readily admits that changes in her life created a lot of upheaval that saw her move to Ireland and back again, and try to maintain a semblance of a performing career which somehow she had done in the teeth of one of the worse economies struggling artists had to face.
Her parents taught her many things that have stuck with her, including a strong self-reliant streak that saw her produce the new recording without relying on the now non-existent recording company or the new-fangled crowd-funding in the Kickstarter vein.
Picking herself up piece by piece, Ryan was determined give the performing world another go. In this penurious marketplace, she still needed a new CD product to cover the costs of the road and a supporting band like her superb mates Mattie Mancuso and Patsy O’Brien.
And perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if the sound and style wasn’t too rooted in an Irish mode giving her more universal appeal to the broader audiences out there still interested in live music.
Always a keen listener to other singers and songwriters, Ryan deftly chose source material from a long-time collaborator like John Doyle (Liberty’s Sweet Shore) and Kate Rusby, whose uplifting song “Walk the Road” help inspire Ryan’s comeback.
She also was attracted to the mother’s lullaby “Mo Nion O” penned by Mairead ni Mhaonaigh for her daughter Nia and confident enough to suggest lyrics and alterations in English that both complements the original while setting it apart without losing any of the charming character.
The spin attached to the new recording is that it is Ryan’s most personal and universal album of her 25-year career, and that the songs and lyrics and even the producers’ cap can attest to that.
Perhaps it is if you take the measure and insights from the 12 track CD (one is a bonus track featuring her popular stage list staple “The Johnny Be Fair Set”) collectively. One song stands out for its courageous inclusion, and that is a song she wrote two decades ago entitled “Daddy” that deals with alcohol abuse and the unsettling influence it has on the home, a not too uncommon thing in Irish households. It’s an important statement song that Ryan feels ready to make now from a personal perspective.
And to coordinate all the multiple recording sessions in Ireland and the U.S. was a feat in itself, but Ryan, who was footing the bill for all the production, didn’t stint on talent.
Joining her in the various tracks and musical arrangements are John Doyle, Matt Mancuso, Patsy O’Brien, Donogh Hennessy, Seamus Egan, Brian Melick, Michelle Mulcahy, Scott Petito, Fiona McBain, Leslie Ritter, Pauline Scanlon, Eilis Kennedy, Aoife O’Donovan, Steve Holloway, John Anthony, Chico Huff, Mike Brenner, Michael McGoldrick, Joanie Madden, Gerry O’Beirne, Phil Cunningham, Buddy Connolly, Niall Vallely and John McCusker.
With all that firepower onboard, Ryan couldn’t say no to a wish list, adding people parts to set the mood, songs and styles and apparently neither could that All-star ensemble to her requests to join her on this journey home.
One important lesson Ryan learned from her dad Tim Ryan from Newport, Co. Tipperary at an early age is that the song and the lyrics are paramount and that the singers’ craft like phrasing, ornamentation and musical arrangements are secondary.
It’s a point that I often heard song master Frank Harte make, but neither have to fear Ryan’s approach to singing and letting the music or histrionics take over the singers’ part. She has developed a well-deserved reputation for bringing clarity and intelligibility to her material and stage presence when performing.
Through the Wind and Rain is another large step in Ryan’s career and perseverance to have her voice and songs heard not only because she works so hard to find them or create them, but because they are important messages to all of us who can let everyday life overcome us. Sometimes we need to just stop and listen.
And I know too many singers and musicians who could use a lot more people to come together to listen and give artists like Ryan an audience.
The album release tour upcoming is really a very short but concentrated one to help jumpstart the new material on the CD.
It begins in Philadelphia at the Venerable Tin Angel Club downtown in Center City on Wednesday, October 10 before moving to the Lyceum Theatre in Alexandria, Virginia as part of Sunspot Productions on two nights later.
On Saturday, October 13 at 8 p.m. Ryan will introduce New York Celtic music fans to new blackbox performing space at Lincoln Center called the Clark Theatre in the Rose Building on 65th Street where she has worked on some educational programming in the past.
The tour concludes on Sunday, October 14 at the Burren Pub in Somerville, Massachusetts. For information can be gleaned at www.cathieryan.com