This past year further stretched the boundaries of Irish music. The artists on this list run the gamut from chart-topping pop to folk to the diddly-diddly you know and love.
I’m publishing this best of 2011 list early in the hopes that some of these worthy artworks will make their way into stockings hung by the chimneys with care by that special Irish music fan in your life. My very best to you and yours for a Happy Christmas!
Beannacht’s Gra na Firinne (Love of Truth):
This gets my vote for rookie of the year! Beannacht’s songs are intricate acoustic folk tapestries that envelope Deirdre Forrest’s warm vocals. “Your love of truth is all that you need, your love of truth will set you free,” the duo sings on the chorus of the title track, an album standout. To order Beannacht’s Gra Na Firinne or to hear samples of the music, log onto http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/beannacht.
Lisa Hannigan’s Passenger:
This is a brilliant swirl of the folk, the jazz and good ol’ fashioned Irish storytelling, giving the listener a most satisfying ride! On most of Passenger, the violin of Lucy Wilkins provides that perfect extra smidgen of ache to the longing vocals.
Like great jazz singers, Hannigan’s aching phrasing becomes yet another instrument on the mix. The hushed composure in her vocal delivery falls in line with the brushed drums that start “Paper House” before raising to match the ache of the fiddle chorus at the end of the song.
Seamus Kelleher’s Another Side of Town:
The guitarist left his comfort zone of Blackthorn, a legendary Irish American outfit that consistently sold out venues throughout the Philadelphia area, in order to pursue a solo career.
His first album, Four Cups of Coffee, landed on this column’s best of list a few years ago. His new disc, Another Side of Town, is equally impressive.
Kelleher, a native of Salthill, Co. Galway, has turned in performances with Blackthorn steeped in the blues, a side effect of a lifelong obsession with the legendary blues great Rory Gallagher. The folksy acoustic picking that anchors the title track on Another Side of Town sets an agenda that something different is in the air. For more information, log into www.seamusk.com.
Moya Brennan’s Harps and Voices:
This is a gorgeous collection of songs driven by the brilliant harp work of Cormac DeBarra, a member of Brennan’s touring band and a much-sought after producer and player that has worked with the likes of Ashley Davis.
The intoxicating combination of Brennan’s ethereal voice and phrasing with the rich tones of an Irish harp is sheer joy. “She Moved Through the Fair” and “The Streets of Derry” are just some of the gorgeous songs on Harps and Voices.
This is not just a fantastic CD, it’s also an educational movement and celebration that Brennan has spread to Ireland. She and DeBarra recently hosted a workshop and invited the public to Donegal to partake in lessons and collaborations with harpists and vocalists.
Jameson’s Revenge’s While Yer Up:
This traditional band of hooligans breaks the mold of traditional Irish music. That is by design, according to singer and vocalist John Walsh.
“The way we were going about it was to create Irish music for the rest of us,” he explains. “We are not purists. It’s not like we don’t get along with everyone, but it’s just that we feel the traditional music players don’t like when you mess with the formula that is set in stone.”
The collection begins innocently enough, with “The Durty Konway/Hogan’s Hill,” a feisty workout of acoustic instruments that sounds suspiciously like a trad ditty.
The bodhran work of percussionist Brian McCarthy takes some refreshingly funky turns on tracks like “The I-Hop” as Andrew McCarrick layers sweet flutes and whistles on the beat like syrup on a pancake.
The woodwinds add a Jethro Tull drama to the mix, turning this traditional reel on its ear.