Wherever my travels take me near or far in the time that I have been writing in this space for the Irish Voice, it has been abundantly clear to me that there have never been more musicians playing traditional Irish music at a very high standard.
Whether it is for commercial reasons or just being part of the tradition in learning, playing and passing it on for its own sake is not up to debate here. Many of these artists - and that is what they are really even if they aren’t formally designated so - choose to make recordings to validate their time and skills for the wider community after many live performances that indicate some popularity and demand among their enthusiastic followers.
Those recordings can supplement the income or defray travel costs for the touring professionals, or simply tie together the strands of their musical influences over the years that have encouraged them to perform traditional Irish music.
So it is critical that those recordings and live performances receive support from the community where maybe we need to focus more attention on building and sustaining an audience to reward these artists both economically and culturally. That is the vein we are exploring here in this column.
With roots sprouting originally in 1996 as a trio consisting of fiddler Sean Smyth, bassist Trevor Hutchinson and guitarist Donagh Hennessey, it was in 1997 that the band name Lunasa (pictured above) was first employed when flute player Kevin Crawford joined and anchored the group.
Since that time, they have remained one of the most formidable and popular Ireland-based groups on the professional trail with their savvy and sophisticated arrangements of the chunes in a contemporary way that bring a broader appeal.
Building on the solid fiddling of Smyth, flute playing by Crawford and uilleann piping of Cillian Vallely, the full Lunasa sound is achieved with the innovative bass of Hutchinson and the current guitarist Paul Meehan as the wingmen rhythm producers par excellence.
Their approach to trad music may be considered by some as veering from the pure drop because of the jazzy or modern techniques that characterize their music. That criticism never washed with this writer because I’ve seen their commitment and respect for tradition-bearing musicians before them and alongside them over the years.
There is not dilution of the water from the well in their playing, only enhancement, especially when they introduce music from other kindred cultures in a cross-fertilization process gleaned from their travels abroad.
To support their seventh album called La Nua (A New Day) they have embarked on a 14-gig tour (www.lunasa.ie) currently underway.
They have two New York area dates, the first at the Highline Ballroom (431 West 10th Street) this coming Monday, April 19 at 8 p.m. They appeared last year at this same exquisite venue in a double bill with Karan Casey and in my opinion, this is one of the finest New York City venues to hear live music.
When there is the option of reasonably priced food and drink served in unobtrusive fashion as there is at the Highline Ballroom that is a bonus. There is a dearth of such places around town so hopefully the audience will concur and vote with their feet for more shows like that at the Highline (www.highlineballroom.com or 212-414-5994).
The following Friday, April 23 at 8 p.m. they will play at Monmouth University’s Pollak Theater (phone 732-263-6889 or visit www.monmouth.edu/arts_events/performingarts.asp) in a sensational double-bill with Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill.
This college campus facility is an example of an increasing number of performing arts centers that are helping to plug the gap for professional touring groups marrying them with eclectic audiences with enough curiosity to get out and still support the live arts. But a double-bill like this deserves a strong showing from the large Irish community within an easy drive of Long Branch, New Jersey.
Carroll Launches CD
THIS coming Friday as part of the Blarney Star Concert Series at Glucksman Ireland House is the public launch of a new CD, Down the Slippery Gap, from Corkman of the Year Donie Carroll from Douglas, who has been a long-time treasure and gift to New York City.
Carroll is one of those great ballad singers who dominated the Irish music scene, bringing the folk music revival to life in pubs for years helping to bridge the gap from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem to the flourishing traditional music scene we have today.
The new CD is a mélange of old Cork songs (“The Night the Goat Broke Loose on Grand Parade” and “Cottage by the Lee” and sentimental mainstream ballads (“Beautiful Dreamer” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”) along with eight other tracks that make for some great listening live or in your musical space at home or in motion.
The album also features many of Carroll’s colleagues in the Washington Square Harp and Shamrock Band organized by Dr. Mick Moloney, whose musical collaboration in recent years only gets better and better.
They are finally being recognized for it as well, and it is indicative of the wonderful spirit in the New York City community among the artists that one would hope will spill over on potential audience members as well.
You will witness this first hand at Ireland House in the shadow of the Washington Square Arch if you go the Blarney Star gig at 9 p.m. (www.blarneystar.com) as all those troops rally around Carroll and celebrate his new CD.
From Lawyer to Star
ANOTHER new CD came in the mail recently from the ardent promoters of traditional music here in the United States, OssianUSA (www.ossianusa.com), who thoughtfully wanted to make me aware of very fine music of Grainne Murphy was raised in Boston and was a fiddle student of Seamus Connolly which means she got the best of training there.
Murphy was a corporate lawyer who chose to leave that behind and delve into Irish music full time in the New York City scene, where she has become part of a young, vibrant group of musicians who regrettably are overlooked here in this space because I can’t clone myself to get to more things happening around town.
Hopefully some of that can be redressed with the upcoming launch on Sunday night, April 18, of her own new CD Short Stories at Arlene’s Grocery (95 Stanton Street) in the East Village, another hotbed for traditional music these days where admission will be free that night from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m.
Murphy has put together a very fine album here, including many of her mates from the Pride of the Subway Ceili Band like Isaac Alderson, Anna Colliton, Dan Murphy and Alan Murray, who would be expected to appear at the launch, as well as Dana Lyn, Brendan Dolan and John Redmond.
Arlene’s Grocery is one of those funky East Village places that should suit the purpose very handily for the younger set and all those who appreciate their commitment to keeping traditional Irish music alive through a contemporary prism.
IAC Adds Show
ANOTHER hopeful sign that the audiences will respond to great music is the news at deadline that the Irish Arts Center has added on another concert on Sunday, April 18 at 8 p.m. to conclude their Masters in Collaboration III series featuring Martin Hayes, Dennis Cahill and Gregory Harrington mentioned last week in this column.
The Donaghy Theater has only 99 seats so if you want to attend the historic series as it closes you should contact the Irish Arts Center right away. Visit www.irishartscenter.org.
It is vital that the arts be supported in these times and those who make it and we can all help a new day to dawn when there are plenty of listeners for all those who wish to make it. Make a commitment to get out to see and hear live music as often as it is feasible. The gratification will be immediate and the future assured.