It was over a year and half ago when I first visited the Highline Ballroom in yet another of New York City’s recaptured neighborhoods that show the resilience of the Big Apple and the artistic community that is attracted to them.
The modern performance space seems just the right size, with a classy interior for an Irish folk singer who combines topical or historic messages songs with those that reach down into the depths of our souls like a torch or blues singer.
And if that singer has the theatrical chops to come across like a supper-club chanteuse, then once again the ambience of the Highland Ballroom seems like just the place to see Karan Casey, the Waterford gal who will soon visit New York City once again.
Casey is always welcome back to the town she called home back in 1993 before returning to live in Cork almost a decade ago to start a new life with husband and partner Niall Vallely.
Casey is on a brief swing through the Northeast and will appear in New York City on Saturday, November 21 at 8 p.m. at the Highline (431 West 16th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues).
The show is this fall’s Irish Night in the World Music Institute’s vast string of multicultural concerts, and this venue is one of their select locales. It offers a closer proximity to the artist in a more convivial atmosphere that includes food and drink service that isn’t obtrusive.
It opens at six o’clock for those who wish to eat before the show starts. That continues throughout the show as well, and it’s an easy way to tackle the nominal cover charge for a swanky watering hole like this.
Casey is still excited by the approach taken in her latest recording on Compass Records, Ships in the Forest, with its concentration on traditional songs that have been shaped rather differently through new musical arrangements with her brother-in-law Caoimhin Vallely on grand piano, Kate Ellis on cello and, for this tour, Ross Martin on guitar.
We see and hear songs in a new way and appreciate the lyrical and melodic beauty that we may have heard too often without appreciating them in any way. Casey’s mastery of any song she sings and diversity comes through soft and clear through songs like “Black Is the Color,” “Dunlavin Green,” “Love Is Teasing,” “I Once Loved a Lass,” “Erin’s Lovely Home” and “A Fond Kiss.” with a new emphasis and feeling that will be palpable in a space like the Highline.
“I think people see the inclusion of the piano and cello as making a bit of an effort behind these songs without getting lost in much bigger band arrangements and I’m just trying to do something different. Doing songs with this band is more theatrical and ambitious and intense,” Casey told me by phone from her Cork home this week.
Casey is known for being daring and challenging and provocative, and she is also prolific, having been part of 10 CD recordings in 13 years, taking chances all the time but sticking to her convictions and blossoming talent. Nor does she let the downturn in CD sales discourage her too much.
“We all have to continue to do what we do. After all, I’m always going to be a singer who is creative and who looks at things from different angles because that is what I am supposed to be,” she said.
Casey loves a challenge, and also working with old and new friends in collaboration all the time and 2010 affords a couple of new opportunities for that. In February you can anticipate the release of a new recording with guitarist John Doyle, who along with Casey was a founding member of the America supergroup SOLAS along with Seamus Egan, Winnie Horan and John Williams in 1995.
Doyle and Casey will share singing chores and rekindle some of that magic while stirring some new memories no doubt.
Meanwhile, another project is underway that Egan is producing, linking Casey with the younger Boston songstress Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still, a joint effort that will “force” both of them out of their more familiar “skins” into the world contemporary songs which should be available sometime later in the year for Casey.
This brief tour is also supported by Buille, manned by husband Niall Vallely. The brilliantly innovative concertina player teamed with his brother Caoimhin on piano and the sensational Paul Meehan on guitar who ordinarily plays in Lunasa with the other Vallely sibling piper Cillian.
It will be quite a double bill and tickets are available at www.worldmusicinstitute.org or at 212-545-7536.
Other appearances by the Karan Casey Band and Buille are at the Sellersville Theatre in Pennsylvania on Thursday, November 19 at 8 p.m. (215-257-5808 or www.st94.com) and the Blackstone River Theater on Sunday the 22nd at 8 p.m. (401-725-9272 or www.riverfolk.org).
Casey will be a guest on the post-Thanksgiving broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion on the 28th.