We know, we know…it’s not even past Halloween yet! But we are just so excited to celebrate Tradvent again this year that we thought we’d put out the offer early and let you know we’re available for holiday events, concerts and parties in Eastern MA and RI throughout the season. And hey, early bookers get the best dates, right?
The first thing that I simply need to get out of the way is that Edel Fox, Neill Byrne and Dylan Foley are all consummately musical individuals. It’s not much of a revelation. Dylan’s fiddle playing has been loudly praised up and down the eastern seaboard with the release of both his solo album (the aptly-titled Hup!) and the first project by the collective Irish music-playing youth of New York, The Yanks; but just a few nights past I had the pleasure of hearing him ably accompany on guitar. Neill, a Waterford native, has done all of his hard work in the regular competition circuit in Ireland, and his fiddle-playing shows it. Heavily influenced by the collective musicianship of the Dywer family, his style is astoundingly fluid and impeccably controlled; I’ve never seen a fiddler with so effortless a bow-hand. And Edel, of course, has become something of a latter-day Elizabeth Crotty: when Clarewomen and the concertina are mentioned in the same breath, Edel Fox’s name is almost certain to follow. Her music, erupting merrily from a Wally Carroll instrument, remains powerful, crisp, and deeply sensitive to the playing of the people around her.
That’s not really saying much of anything, though. The perfunctory descriptions of careers, styles, accomplishments, all sort of melt away in the moment. You could have learned any of that first paragraph from the terrific show at the Burren Back Room, where the trio enjoyed a wonderful double-booking with the Murphy Beds. Brian o’Donovan hosted the event and recorded it for WGBH, and as part of his duties, he too sang the praises of these respected guests. But in point of fact, it was the Murphy Beds who moved me that night. Edel and Niall and Dylan all played fantastically, of course, but playing is only half the thing, if that. There are countless musicians, in Ireland and abroad, with the pyrotechnical skill and confidence of character to produce some astounding Irish music – more people are playing Irish music now than ever have previous, and unlike days past, it is no longer an afterthought, slipped into a few moments of leisure between the milking of cows and the twisting of hay-ropes. We’re spoiled for choice – particularly in Boston – when it comes to good music and good musicians. So for us to perceive something as great, then, we require something more.
I might go so far as to call Kathleen Conneelly a great musician. A member of the vibrant London scene in her youth, she maintains, for me, a deep connection to the music of previous generations, and she remains heavily invested in nurturing the music on the local level. Armand and I had the distinct pleasure of visiting her at her home in Rhode Island, where she occasionally hosts concerts in a tiny pub in her back yard. The scene is perfect: the property is quiet, rolling and green; the pub stands by to the fence, good hard wood with a little stove in one corner and a bar to the back of it; with the door open and the music in full lash you can sit out on the grass and hear it skipping over to you. That night, the pub was crammed full of Rhode Islanders, mostly set dancers – older folk with a keen appreciation for the thing itself – and some of our good friends: Pat Hutchinson the piper; Deirdre Corrigan, the flute player from New York; Jimmy Devine, our old fiddle teacher; and Jimmy Noonan, who brought his young son down from Boston for a taste of the music.
After the music was done, most of the crowd cleared out, leaving us few – the three of them, Armand and myself, and Kathleen reminiscing with Jimmy Noonan, at the bar. We discussed some of those typical post-concert concerns, sussing out those connections and interests you share as a musician (“oh you know so-and-so? Yeah I saw him in Ennis a little while ago when I was there visiting so-and-so” “oh yeah, so-and-so! She’s lovely, I just heard her album the other day”), but after a few minutes it turned to a reflection on older musicians, some of the modern greats whose music has done a lot to shape the current scene, the current styles, and Irish music generally. Here, then, is where I came to really respect Edel and Neill. They are fine musicians, and they are lovely people; but what I appreciated most was their vociferous flaying of a well-known player who had spoken out of turn to some younger people at a session. Their concern was not with his personal habits, his character, the comments themselves even, although all of those points came under discussion – but what Neill and Edel both insisted, what got their blood up, was the effect of an older musical generation on the younger. The pair of them drove home the degree of responsibility which those older musicians have to encourage, inspire, and nurture the younger. Indeed, the two of them are still quite young themselves, and they’re not far removed from their own memories of being adolescents, hearing CDs at home or players in the sessions that moved and astounded them. Their gratitude to those older players, the ones who have gone before, is palpable, and in turn, so is their insistence that accomplishment, that fame, carries with it a clear responsibility to give back to the community that supports you. Neill and Edel are not wonderful Irish musicians because of their ability to play instruments; they are wonderful Irish musicians because their sense of tradition is not musical but familial, communal, and personal. Everyone pays lip service to this idea, but not everyone is thoroughly invested in it. These two are.
So we played one tune together, I think, just us fiddle players. We spent the rest of the night chatting and laughing in Kathleen’s tiny backyard pub, talking school and Facebook and doing impressions of our favorite Youtube videos. As strange and stupid as it sounds, that’s what the music is about. It’s a vehicle – it’s a good car. It can take you to some wonderful places that you couldn’t get to otherwise, and there’s a visceral pleasure to the ride; but sometimes it’s best to get out and go strolling together.
If you can’t get around to that, of course, buying a CD’s just the next best thing.
Writing about music or dance is always a somewhat dodgy prospect. Any writer, in any genre or form, appreciates the somewhat essential communicative challenge of language in general: that words are symbols, that reading is an experience in and of itself separate from the experience which it describes, and that this clash of the representative and the immanent is daunting to navigate, even with years of practice. Dance, especially folk dance, especially improvisational folk dance, multiplies this difficulty with its cantankerous oddities and contradictions; it is so essentially present, in so many ways, that trying to concretize and display it is somewhat doomed to failure. Now consider that fact, and imagine trying to actually teach it to someone. Kieran Jordan’s introduction to sean-nós is blunt and brief, passed down from others, and like her steps, not without Kieran’s own sly sense of humor: “sean-nós can’t be taught, but it can be learned.”
Shannon Dunne has managed it with a clear grasp of her project, a forthright and conversational tone, and a unique sense of style about her presentation and point. There are some obvious routes to take when producing a book about dance: the deeply historical and social route, densely academic; the ethnographic and archival route, filled with diagrams and descriptions. Shannon’s Guide veers away from either and instead pursues the much-maligned literary form of the fourth-grade exercise workbook. There are lots of empty white spaces for you to write in and doodle around. There are lots of italicized questions and prompts. There’s a lot of you in it. But Shannon has certainly accomplished an appreciable task with this seemingly-simple approach; the slim book is eminently approachable, and gives sean-nós the same feeling. And what is perhaps most incredible about this fact is that this approachability doesn’t stem from actual simplicity, but instead from the sense of immediate challenge. The value of the fourth-grade exercise workbook is its interrogative character, and in this particular instance, form matches content quite neatly: the book is saved from immobility by actively and aggressively demanding motion from the reader, as subtly and boldly dialogic as sean-nós dancing itself. Shannon intersperses information with exercises that go beyond dancing. She tells you to move. She tells you to go to sessions and dance with live music. She tells you to check out YouTube. And as much as she has, she tells you to think about everything that you’re doing, before during and after the doing thereof.
The result is a fairly light book – you can skim through it without much in the way of roadblocks – but one surprisingly dense with conceptual arguments and hard truths. In describing the act of listening (an ongoing, formative, and enveloping act for musicians and dancers alike, and one neglected by too many), she offers a few sentences about each of the separate conceptual components of Irish dance music, as she hears them, and she lists these components in essential order: the beat; the groove; then, the melody; the rhythm; the phrases; finally, the lift. As a musician (and Shannon is a fine concertina player herself), it’s particularly alarming, and charmingly enlightening, to see melody described as something “that happens over the groove,” an epiphenomenon rather than a deep foundation. Indeed, part of the appreciable depth of the Guide is Shannon’s insistence on the shared roots of the music and dance, and thinking of the beat and groove prior to melody, for both musicians and dancers, offers some particularly keen guidance. If you’re a musician who’s never played for dancers, do it; and if you’ve never danced, do that too. And if you’re not ready for that, you could do worse than read Shannon’s book first.
The only problematic part of the reading process (for myself, as someone with only a rudimentary grasp of Irish music and sean-nós dance) was certainly literary, to return to our first point; although Shannon has done a lot with the printed word, it remains a hefty challenge to get a feeling for an ephemeral physical truth into the shapes of language. In point of fact, Shannon’s overtly and intrinsically musical awareness becomes a thorny turn when you’re reading; her writing is so lucidly propelled by music that it can have an alienating effect – watching someone dance to music that only they can hear. Thankfully, she seems to be in the process of expanding the book into a web-based multimedia project, with a more robust referentiality to video and sound, and I have no doubt this will give the book a clearer sense of direction and a smoother operation in terms of actual development and learning. Of course, as Shannon herself would likely insist, your best bet is to catch her at a gig. Go out; watch it happen; and then get the hell out of your chair.
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Happy Tradvent, everyone! The fourth and final holiday track, “The Fairy Reel/Joy to the World”, is now available for download, and if you haven’t downloaded the other three tracks, get them now before we put them away with the Christmas decorations until next year!
Christmas is only 8 days away, already?! The holiday season is flying by! We still have two more Tradvent downloads for you, though, and #3 is now available on BandCamp and SoundCloud. This week it’s 'O Christmas Tree' paired with a traditional Irish polka. You can still download the last two tracks, and if you’re using BandCamp, just click ‘Buy now’ and in the ‘name your price’ field, put a zero to get it for free.
Our Friend Feature/Influence Friday posts have given you a bit of an understanding of the Ivy Leaf’s sound. Lindsay’s post on Marla Fibish and Jimmy Crowley will make you listen back to her playing of rhythm and melody on plectrum instruments, and you’ll have a better sense of how she conceptualizes the music, makes decisions, and puts them into practice on the fly – what she’s internalized, what she’s used as fuel for reflection. Caroline’s post on Dylan Foley could probably tell you something about her own upbeat, rhythmically-driven, crisply-ornamented, and sweetly-melodic style of flute and whistle playing; Caroline and Dylan share a kind of modern tradition, nurtured in Comhaltas competitions, which prizes a certain tasteful technical brilliance. As Armand mentions in his post on piper Joey Abarta, the two of them share a great deal in terms of expressive intonation outside of the classical Western equal-tempered scale, and I also find their choice of ornamentation to frequently coincide in tight triplets, startling glissando passages, and long smooth rolls. All of those musical influences can be heard – they make themselves evident – on the Ivy Leaf album, or at any of our live performances that you might happen to catch.
However, that’s really just one part of the full picture. Our music, of course, is much more than just “our music.” Whatever it is in full, it can’t be reduced to a series of sound files on a digital disc. Obviously, better scholars than I have gone to great lengths to discuss Irish music as a social phenomenon, and as a tradition of dance-focused musical rhythms (tunes are universally classified not by rhythm, like 6/8 or 4/4, but by the corresponding dance forms, jig or reel or what-have-you), so I won’t belabor the point. What I would like to bring up is how that fact also suggests that our friends and influences should, to be honest, extend further than other musicians. Beth Sweeney, the Irish Music Librarian at Boston College, has vastly changed my understanding of the tradition, and has made available to me numerous recordings of long-dead traditional musicians. She has her own lovely fiddle style, but it’s quite unlike mine; her influence on my music has been paradoxically non-musical. Our lovely friend Samanatha Jones, herself a sean-nós dancer, finished her graduated studies at Boston University with an extensive thesis entitled “Getting into the Groove: Dancing in Boston Irish Music Sessions” (it’s exactly what it says on the tin); her scholarship has indubitably deepened my appreciation for the living tradition, and for our part in it, but I’m still not certain that such an influence can be heard. Part of this is a kind of epistemological question, but the other part is a personal insecurity. I often find myself particularly pliable to the musical styles of the people with whom I’m playing. When I play with Joe Abarta, it’s a totally different Dan than when I play with the Ivy Leaf; indeed, if I’ve been listening to a lot of Denis Murphy, I’ll play much differently than had I listened to John Doherty all day. It leads me to ask one question – “What is my style?” – and then another – “What influences underlay all my playing?”
It’s an attempt to answer these questions which ultimately led me to choose Kieran Jordan for this week’s Friend Feature Friday. We play dance music, for sure, and we play it in a dancing style, so it’s something of a hilarious oversight that we’ve never mentioned any of the dancers who have passed through the Boston Irish music scene and contributed to our sound. The Ivy Leaf has frequently had guest dancers at performances – we’ve had Siobhán Butler and Jackie o’Riley at a few of our house concerts, we traveled to NEFFA with Rebecca McGowan, we were once graced by the spectacular step-dancing of Rhode Island’s own Kevin Doyle, and Erika Damiana (who went to high school with Armand and myself) will be joining us at our upcoming Blithewold Mansion performance. We love it! It’s a thick reminder of what the music is about, and where it comes from, and why it is the way it is. A collaboration with a good dancer is as rich and meaningful as bringing on another musician – it changes the sound, the rhythm, the whole groove of the thing. Of all those people, however, I chose Kieran for today because I think very particularly about her influences on me as a musician and dancer together, and how she’s helped me (as well as Armand and Caroline) shape a kind of rhythmic headspace which may not be evident on the album, but is much more obvious now.
Kieran is an extraordinarily accomplished dancer, and her whole story is on her website so you needn’t bother reading it here. Instead, I’ll let you know about the very first sean-nós workshop I ever attended. One thing to consider is that I wouldn’t have initially considered going, still quite sheepish about my dancing as I am, but that Kieran had hired me to play for the workshop. Once a month she makes a point of having live music for a proper sean-nós workshop. That should already tell you enough about her – that she understands the music and dance to have not only a rhythmic connection, but a social and personal connection. In particular, the improvised, free-flowing, close-to-the-floor style of sean-nós rather demands the energy of a musician right in the room, reacting to the sounds and movements of the dancers as they themselves react to the tunes. The dynamic is easy-going, yet rolling and relentless. It was preparation for that workshop which made me think about my music as totally dance music.
What really stuck, however, was Kieran’s introduction to the material. She explained to us – not a large group, but a few familiar friendly faces – that she teaches absolute beginners by asking them to think purely about rhythms. She thinks about rhythms in the body and the world: breathing, walking, your heartbeat, the sun rising and setting, the seasons. (She jokes that her classes, for some reason, always come up with other examples: eating and pooping! Getting your period!) To be honest, I’d thought about myself as a creature of habit, but never as a creature of rhythm. Jackie o’Riley has talked to me about coming to traditional music and dance – turning a corner from conceptualizing herself as an audience member, to conceptualizing herself as an active participant. In a similar way, I found Kieran’s simple suggestion to be an electric rail-switch. I once thought of my playing as something that had to be “fit into” a rhythm which existed outside of it (dancers need x/y tune at z beats per minute…). Kieran thought of the dance, and the music that accompanied it, more as clothes for the body of rhythm – fitted, but with some breathing room, clothes that make the body feel covered and sexy at the same time. Her philosophy is clear and clean in her dancing: rock-solid, light but sturdy, with a puckish sense of humor and a big smile on its face.
I could go on to describe Kieran’s immense role in churning up all of Boston Irish dancing into a beautiful traditional froth, and the amount of work she’s done to generally nourish Irish culture in the United States, but to me, it’s nowhere near as powerful as the realization of how a few simple sentences from her changed my understanding of one of the most fundamental concepts in my life.
Tradvent Begins! First free track available to download now!
Today marks the first day of Tradvent, our musical countdown to Christmas! Every Monday until the 25th, we’ll post one of our holiday tracks for your downloading and listening pleasure. We’re kicking it off with ‘O’Keefe’s/Frosty the Snowman’, and you can download it now from BandCamp. Just click ‘Buy now’ and in the ‘name your price’ field, put a zero to get it for free. (You can also listen to and download it from SoundCloud.)
The Ivy Leaf Celebrates Tradvent (and other holiday news)
Well folks, we hope you all had lovely Thanksgiving holidays and are gearing up for colder temperatures. Mugs of hot chocolate, holiday carolers, reuniting with family, fierce snowball fights—the Ivy Leaf’s celebration of Tradvent is here! What’s Tradvent, you ask? Think of it as a musical countdown to Christmas—making your holiday season brighter, one free download at a time! Check out the latest newsletter for info on our upcoming December and January shows, our holiday CD sale prices, and our free Tradvent digital downloads, available starting December 3rd.
Influence Feature Sunday: Johnny Henry's "One Out of the Fort"
Michael Coleman, the great Sligo fiddle player of the early twentieth century, has a curious reputation. He’s known amongst traditional musicians as one of the greatest men to pick up a fiddle; technically brilliant to the point of virtuosity, but furthermore an outstandingly public man whose music did much not only to preserve the Irish tradition but to re-value it in the new context of the American music market. For better or worse, he contributed significantly to the commercialization of Irish traditional music, launching a totally new type of tradition in which most of us still exist. Many of the sets he recorded remain classics: the Tarbolton set is par for the course any time musicians gather. Indeed, the very notion of playing “sets” of tunes was popularized by Coleman (amongst others), who recorded medleys at the behest of the recording company to improve listenability – at the time, most traditional musicians would be playing single tunes for dancing. Some people call him the savior of Irish music; he transformed it, most certainly, and as with any process of evolution, he introduced certain valuable characteristics which were saved and reproduced, and continue to perpetuate themselves in modern Irish music.
Scholar and fiddler Caoimhín Mac Aoidh quotes Patrick Kelly, the inimitable fiddler and whistle-player of West Clare, in saying that the worst thing ever to happen to West Clare music was the arrival of Michael Coleman’s records. The comment is double-edged. On the one hand, the records inspired an intense interest in Irish music in America; on the other, anecdotes recall local fiddlers at home in Ireland simply giving up playing, recognizing that they would never enjoy the shimmering mastery of the instrument which Coleman appeared to possess. The imitation of Coleman’s style is, more particularly, what worried men like Patrick Kelly. With the advent of commercial recordings, local players were exposed to music outside of their general locality, which had previously determined style and repertoire – but furthermore, it went a long way toward describing a way of playing music for a listening audience, rather than for dancers or simply for enjoyment. Although musicians certainly gathered to play tunes for the pleasure of it, or played by themselves, their styles were generally simple, rhythmic, and very tastefully ornamented, without that commercial need to “impress,” to “sell” their music. Coleman’s records, like those of Killoran and Morrison, suggested that musicians could achieve more with a lithe, inventive, highly-ornamental style, and many musicians in Ireland tended to agree. Many learned Coleman’s settings of tunes by rote; it was rare to find men like Patrick o’Keeffe of Sliabh Luachra, or John Kelly of West Clare, who learned Coleman’s tunes and sets but did not try to mimic his style in so doing. Even Patrick Kelly himself plays a unique setting of Bonnie Kate – one of Coleman’s “big” tunes – clearly his own, but clearly borrowing bits and pieces from Coleman’s record. This has been generally observed, and it has been stated that Sligo music came to dominate the cultural awareness of Irish music both at home and abroad; the music in New York City, where Coleman, Killoran and Morrison were all based, is largely considered a descendant of this phenomenon. But this only represents part of the picture. At the same time that Coleman had left Sligo, gone to America, and begun recording, Sligo music continued to exist at home in a vein quite different from what appeared on commercial records. In the county Sligo, in what has since been dubbed “Coleman Country,” there persisted the localized styles of playing which predated Coleman’s influence; the same remained true of other parts of the country. Sligo music in Sligo does not correspond to the commercialized Sligo music which Coleman popularized: it is highly rhythmic, sparsely ornamented, and light on its feet. There are several powerful exemplars of this style, tending notably towards the duet of fiddle and flute: Fred Finn and Peter Horan –
- as well as brothers like the McDonaghs of Ballinafad, whose brilliant and historically-valuable music has been recorded and released on CD.
I would like to point your attention to a very recent release, which met with my intense pleasure: a solo CD of John Henry. Not the American folk-hero, of course, but the brother of flute player Kevin Henry, whose own CD of tunes, songs and stories was released a few years ago. I knew John’s playing previously from a single track on Sean o’Riada’s Our Musical Heritage, in which he plays (predictably enough) a set of Coleman tunes: Reidy Johnson’s (also called Hand Me Down the Tackle) and Up Against the Buachallans. His playing immediately caught my attention. It shimmers. It may be difficult to think of without being a fiddle player oneself, but there is a certain stridency and sure-footedness to the bow-hand of the best Irish fiddlers which is immediately evident, although often in subtly different ways. Henry’s playing is quite hard, with an assertive attack that really drives the sound forward – quite different from a Munster player who would have a more open feeling of drawing the sound up and out of the strings. Henry presses it out with the precision and confidence of his bow. Reels like the Five Crossroads and the slip jig Fig for a Kiss highlight this assertive style. One track in particular shows off his authority: called “the Ewe Reel,” and marked as a “schottische,” it has the bounce of a polka, driven entirely with the bow – almost totally devoid of left-hand, fingered ornamentation. The sound is eminently danceable.
The CD is mostly solo fiddle, with a few guest performances. I highly recommend picking it up, if for no other reason than to give perspective on what Irish music was like, is today, and how it continues to evolve. We can more appropriately appreciate Coleman’s style if we consider that the kernel of it is much closer to the music of men like John Henry than it is to the modern players of Sligo-influenced New York fiddle playing. It is an entrancing piece of history.
As many in Boston’s Irish music community and beyond have heard, this week legendary fiddle player and leader Larry Reynolds passed away. It doesn’t take much searching to find stories of Larry’s kind heart and immeasurable accomplishments in promoting traditional Irish music throughout the United States, particularly in Boston, where he and his family lived for over fifty years. He helped found the Boston Hanafin-Cooley Branch of CCE in 1975 and was an avid supporter of sessions in the area, particularly the legendary Green Briar session in Brighton. Larry was the humblest man you’d ever hope to meet, always incredibly supportive and encouraging of all musicians—especially those musicians just embarking on their traditional music journey. I was lucky enough to have been one of those young musicians affected by Larry’s generosity in my early stages of playing, and am honored to explain how much his encouragement helped me to develop as a person and a player.
I started going to the Green Briar session on Monday nights when I was about fourteen years old. I would bring my whistle and sit in the back at the slow sessions, picking my way through the tunes, hoping nobody was judging me. By the time I was fifteen, I had picked up the flute and would sometimes stay for the later session, led by Larry Reynolds and company. He was an absolute gem, taking the time to welcome me and other beginner musicians into the “advanced” session, asking me to start a set and making small talk during pauses in the music. Because of him, I felt a sense of community in the Irish music world, and would leave each session with a tiny bit more confidence than I’d started with.
Larry’s encouragement is the reason I continued to play Irish music in those formative years—he helped me to overcome the huge musical hurdle of extreme stage fright. The thought of playing a tune alone, in front of a crowd of people at a session, used to make me dizzy with anxiety. I was always a bit shy, and was content to play away sitting in the back row at sessions. However, the first year I entered the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh, Larry got wind that I was competing in the slow airs category a few weeks before. The next time I walked into the session, he waited for a lull, then leaned over and asked me to play a slow air for them. I was floored, and terrified, and anxious…but I did it. And afterward, the whole bar applauded; Larry said I was wonderful; and I was on cloud nine. Lord knows how I actually sounded, but that one action of his was enough to give me confidence for the next time.
I ended up placing 2nd in the slow airs category that year, and after that, Larry would ask how I was doing at each session, and always ask if I had any airs to play. On at least two occasions, he slipped me $20 “to buy myself a 99” in Ireland when I went over to compete. He would always say how proud Boston is of its young musicians, and always chatted with my parents—complete strangers to the world of Irish music—to make them feel at ease whenever he saw them. He was an incalculable part of the reason Boston has so many young traditional musicians and such a strong CCE program of learners. We won’t see the likes of him again, that’s for sure; but we can do our best to carry out his legacy through our music and respect for fellow musicians.
If I were corny, I’d say that Kathleen Conneely’s album “The Coming of Spring” embodies its title—long awaited, much anticipated; like the first real burst of warm air and daffodils after a dismal winter of whistle-less albums!
Luckily, college beat the “purple prose” out of me, and I can say: “The Coming of Spring” is tastefully rockin’.
I was lucky enough to meet Kathleen at sessions a few years ago while I was at college in Rhode Island. She quickly became one of my favorite whistle players and musicians due to her sweet sound and elegantly simple playing and phrasing. Plus, she is hands-down one of the nicest people I’ve met, ever, and she has a pub in her backyard. A pub. In her backyard!
"The Coming of Spring" contains fourteen tracks featuring Kathleen’s whistle playing accompanied by her brother Mick Conneely, Brian McGrath, and Johnny Ringo MacDonagh. My earworm tune from this album is on track 3, the Cloone Reel. Such a nicely set tune for the whistle, showing off not just her playing but also her penchant for beautiful tunes. Kathleen’s repertoire is enormous, but she has a knack for putting together sets that are so darn nice you can’t help but listen. Track 5, Imelda Roland’s/Master Crowley’s/The Limestone Rock is my other personal favorite example of tasteful tune selection—tunes that may be familiar to some, but are just unique enough to perk up the ears. And of course, excellent whistle playing combined with the playing of three former members of De Danann never hurt anyone.
For whatever reason, pure whistle albums seem scarcer than other instrumental albums these days. There’s something so simple but so powerful about the sound of a tin whistle playing either solo or with one or two backing instruments that I love. It’s part of the reason I started playing the whistle! Kathleen’s album satisfies my penchant for whistle albums and beautiful tune selection. Help support her and whistle players everywhere and grab yourself a copy!
Things have been a little quiet on the gig front lately. We’ve had a lot of fun playing private events for some wonderful clients, but it feels like we haven’t had the chance to connect with and play for our friends and fans in ages! Luckily this old internet contraption lets us share cute pictures of us doin’ other stuff, like eating good food and turning into beer snobs, one fine draught at a time. After a looong drive from Boston and a rather short cocktail hour at the Waterview in Monroe, CT, we found ourselves with a very generous tip and far too hungry to just hop back in the car and drive home immediately, not to mention, in no mood to go to Dunkin Donuts for the millionth time (Ivy Leaf Eats: Dunkin Donuts…? Nah.). Fortunately, dream-hauntingly good pizza and beer waited a mere 15-minutes away at My Place in Newtown, CT. This deceptively ordinary looking restaurant sitting out front of a Big Y supermarket is home to an extraordinary beer bar, where the selection is well-curated and changes regularly. The boys, who were at liberty to pass out on the car ride home, enjoyed some fine beers - Armand had himself a Clown Shoes Muffin Top Belgian-style Tripel IPA, while Dan opted for a Celebrator Doppelbock. Caroline and I were more than satisfied with our pizzas, the likes of which I cannot find in Boston. Whether you live in the area or happen to be passing by (it’s just a short detour off I-84), be sure to stop in and have a Belgian beer and a garlic-and-basil pizza for me.
We’ve got a handful of gigs coming up in places like Bristol and Providence, RI and Reading and Arlington, MA in the coming months. Got a favorite place to eat or drink in those towns? Send us a message or post it in the comments section below! Yelp is handy but personal recommendations are so much nicer, don’t you think?
Friend Feature Fridays: Marla Fibish & Jimmy Crowley
Hey everyone! We’re a little behind on the Friend Feature Fridays lately, but here’s one to finish off your night.
Now the initial goal of these posts was to highlight recently released albums, but as a backer and singer, I’ve been kind of afraid to try reviewing an album that doesn’t heavily feature guitar, bouzouki or some other plucked string instrument, and I can’t think of such an album that was released in the last 6 months right now (send me your ideas!). So I’m going to dig juuust a little bit further back into the past and talk about the album my friend Marla Fibish released with Jimmy Crowley in 2011 called ‘The Morning Star’.
Marla is an amazing mandolin player from the Bay Area in California. I met her at Lark Camp three years ago when I was first immersing myself into Irish music, and since then I’ve gotten some of my favorite tunes from her, and did a fun set of gigs with her and Joey Abarta last November. You can read more about Marla, the album, and her other group, Three Mile Stone, on her site. I haven’t had the chance to meet Jimmy yet, but in addition to all the bouzouki+ he played on this album, he’s also known for his wonderful singing, which you can hear on his site.
‘The Morning Star' is, basically, tasty tune after tasty tune (traditional Irish and some originals) played on mandolin, mandola, mandocello, and bouzouki, beautifully recorded and mixed. I have a hard time picking a favorite track, but I am partial to Marla's “The Adephian Waltz/The Gneevegulla” and to the hop jig/reel set “The Rocky Road to Dublin/Comb Your Hair and Curl It/The New Moon Meadows”. Marla’s phrasing, sense of rhythm and variations are fantastic, and I love how Jimmy trickles in delicately with counterpoint that is as interesting to listen to as the melody but never detracts from it, and builds up gradually to rocking out on full chords in the B section of “Meadows.” Here’s another great set, “The Humors of Bandon/A Fig for a Kiss/The Dusty Miller”:
If you need to You definitely need to add some Irish music on the mandolin and bouzouki to your collection, a) because there just aren’t many albums like this around, and b) because I can’t imagine anyone not loving ‘The Morning Star’ as much as I do. And if you’re lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, keep an eye on Marla’s schedule and go see her in person when you get the chance!
Now that all of the photos on our site are updated, I thought we’d share some of our favorite funny shots from our shoot with Maureen Cotton. Help us choose the best one! Something’s gotta go in the band holiday greeting card, right?
#1: The ‘How Dan Actually Plays Concertina’
#2: ’The Ivy Leaf Laughs’
#3: The ‘Ahh, Sunshine’
#4: ’The Ivy Leaf Laughs - Formal Edition’
#5: The ‘I Wish We Could Remember What Dan Said Here’
Armand Aromin here writing my VERY FIRST post on the Ivy Leaf Music blog (!!). That’s right, since school is officially out, I no longer have an excuse for not being able to write up a little somethin’ somethin’.
So, I gave it a bit of thought and I think it would be appropriate for me to feature a dear friend of mine, one Joey Abarta. Originally from Los Angeles, California, I am quite happy to say that we Bostonians can call him our own. I could go on about his background blah, but providing that link above would mean me being redundant, and we don’t want that. But before I go on, I must mention that Joey’s new solo album will be released in the near future, so stay tuned! The tunes are awfully fun to dance to, as well. MMMMMMMMM!!
I’ve known Joey for about three or four years now and ever since our first encounter at the Catskills Irish Arts Week, his piping has played a significant role in the development of my musical me. It’s also thanks to the him that I no longer know what a western scale is supposed to sound like, but I suppose that’s the nature of the beast.. and I whole-heartedly embrace this. Flatter c-naturals, sharp g-sharps, really flat f-naturals, you name it and I’ll play ‘em! Anything to break free from the 12-note system! I love getting in-between the notes and really milking those bluesy notes for all their worth.
For those dying to know what lonesome sounds like, check out this video of the man himself performing a popular piping air, The Dear Irish Boy:
Anywho, it’s getting late and I kind of need to sleep, so here’s where I sign off, BUT not without leaving you with another tasty bit. Here’s Joey rocking out on two jigs (The Miners of Wicklow and My Former Wife), made famous by piper Patsy Touhey. Brian Ó hAirt, of the band Bua, steps it out with some equally tasty sean-nós dancing in the second tune:
inFluence Feature Friday: Denis Murphy & Julia Clifford
Heyo, Ivy Leaf fans! It’s Friday, and that would generally mean it’s a Friend Feature Friday. Caroline pointed our ears toward Dylan Foley last time; his debut album is pretty mighty fiddle playing. Sadly for me, I haven’t got so many friends as I’ve got influences from recorded music. It’s a bit of an odd way to go about learning Irish music, which is so social, but I get a lot of my style and repertoire from archival recordings of players often dead half a century. So instead of Friend Feature Friday, today will be…err, inFluence Feature Friday? (We’ll figure it out.)
I’d like to show you guys the music of two fantasic fiddle players: Denis Murphy and Julia Clifford. Denis and Julia were actually siblings, the children of Bill Murphy of Lisheen. Bill Murphy was a member of the Lisheen Fife and Drum corps, back in the day, but Denis and Julia both learned fiddle-playing from Padraig o’Keeffe, the last of the traveling fiddle-masters in the Sliabh Luachra area. Padraig had a style very much unlike the standard style in Kerry and Cork. Although he did have a sly rhythmic pulse which we know to characterize Sliabh Luachra music, he was known for playing at a relatively slow place, somewhat reflectively, with rich double-stops and very pitch-sensitive ornamentation (he had at least three very distinct ways of playing an ‘f’ note, for instance). Padraig was also famous for playing slow airs on the fiddle, with great focus on the vocal quality of the music. So between these two influences, Denis and Julia received the swinging dance music of Kerry (polkas, slides, and hornpipes), some of the unusual and archaic fife-and-drum tunes (marches, single jigs, and barndances), and some of the beautiful song airs of home and abroad (local productions, like o’Rahilly’s Grave, or continental pieces like The Wounded Hussar).
Denis moved to New York for a while, and Julia to London, but both returned to Ireland in the 60’s, Denis for good (he sadly died in 1974, still quite young at 64). “The Star Above the Garter” was recorded in 1969, while Julia was visiting from England. It’s a paradoxical kind of album - not everyone would recognize it, or even the names of Denis and Julia, but it’s immensely influential, and many of the tunes (and even the sets) have been standards around the world ever since. If you’ve ever played “the Knocknabower polkas” or “the Ballydesmond polkas,” it’s because of this album, along with a host of other great tunes. If you start the Galtee Rangers in a session, chances are 10 to 1 that people will naturally follow with the Glentaun Reel and o’Keeffe’s Post Office, one of the classic “Denis and Julia” sets.
When I first started playing Irish music - literally, my first lesson! - my teacher made me a copy of Star Above the Garter. I’ve never been able to shake Kerry music since, and every time I hear it, I feel quite at home. Even the West Clare musicians whom I most admire - Nell Galvin, Patrick Kelly, John Kelly - had strong ties to Sliabh Luachra. Many fiddle players (Caoimhin o’Raghallaigh most vocally) have been influenced by the album, along with box players and musicians of all ilk, whether they may realize it or no! It’s a classic recording; any Irish musician alive in the 60s and 70s would know it. So take my advice, tootle over to iTunes and have a go.
Shhh, I’m writing a “Friend Feature Friday” music post, and it’s a Sunday! So scandalous. The focus of this post (“Soundbite Sunday”, anyone?) is “Hup!”, the new album by our friend and fiddle player extraordinaire, Dylan Foley. Dylan is an insanely talented guy, and I’m pretty sure the Irish music world has been waiting for him to cut a record ever since he first picked up his fiddle. I’ve known Dylan for awhile and had the pleasure of competing in the duets competition with him at the All-Ireland Fleadh a couple years ago, so I was excited to hear he was recording an album!
"Hup!" is Dylan’s debut fiddle album featuring Brendan Dolan on piano and Josh Dukes on guitar, bouzouki, and bodhran. It contains fourteen tracks: thirteen tracks of tune sets and one slow air. The tunes are played at a nice, relaxed tempo—especially on reel sets like "Kilteery Pier/Edenderry Reel", the steady yet lively tempo carries the tunes along without feeling rushed. I really like the slip jig set "Cathal McConnell’s/Come Under My Dimity" with lovely guitar accompaniment (side note: anyone know what a "dimity" is?). The slow air "Dark Eyed Susan" is one of my favorite tracks, though—I’m a sucker for the airs, and I really like the use of double-stops in this one. "Hup!" is a great traditional Irish album, with top-notch fiddle playing and tasteful accompaniment throughout.
To find out more about Dylan Foley, check out his website:
It’s always a nice surprise when a bride and groom invite us to enjoy some food and drink while we play during a reception. On June 3rd we played a fun, beautiful wedding at the Queset House in Easton, and Meghan, the bride, was kind enough to welcome us to have some of the delicious gourmet pizzas, appetizers, fresh lemonade and red velvet cake provided by her caterer and coordinator, Ripe Hospitality, in between sets.
Here Armand takes a solo while Caroline and Lindsay eat cake
One of the many tasty, and in this case adorable, appetizers
And our shared favorite, the fig and goat cheese pizza
The following weekend…
June 9th’s groom, Ray, invited us to help ourselves to a drink while we played for his cocktail hour. It’s not a proper Ivy Leaf Eats moment, but the photos were too fun not to share. This is the Squantum Association in Rhode Island. Not a bad view, eh?
We’ve been super lucky with having lots of great photographer friends over the years offering to photograph our goofy mugs for free. Our friend Sasha Hsuczyk took some beautiful photos of us two years ago…but before we officially added Armand, unfortunately! We tried Photoshopping him in later, but we’re just not sure it’s professional enough.
Late last year, Larry Green snapped some great photos of us playing at the Piper’s Chair at the Northeast Tionol, which he graciously let us use on our album art and here on the site. We realized, though, that as we reach out to more wedding clients, we might need some more formal photos. Some of the wedding photographers we’ve bumped into on gigs have let us use their images, but something’s not quite right in these…
(Wait, that’s not Dan on the left…or Caroline playing the flute! Photo credit: Shane Godfrey)
So when photographer Maureen Cotton contacted us about playing for her wedding and mentioned the possibility of a barter - her photos for our music - we realized what a great opportunity it was. And boy, are we looking forward to the results of today’s photo shoot:
Arboretum…formal clothes…amazing late afternoon sunlight…a great photographer. All the ingredients for some wonderful new band photos!
We Ivy Leaves have been throwing around ideas for additional blog topics and things to share on our social media outlets for a while. You know, since you might be interested in hearing about more than just what gig we’re doing next and all. One such idea has been to share the music of our friends and acquaintances in the Irish and folk music worlds. This is an especially fun and easy task because apparently, early 2012 is the time to be releasing an album. We weren’t the only Boston-area band to launch our CD in March, or even the only ones to do so on March 29th! So henceforth, this day of the week is ‘Friend Feature Friday.’ Because if you like us, you’ll probably like our friends, too.
Mariel Vandersteel: Hickory
I’m going to start off FFF with fellow Berklee alum, fiddler Mariel Vandersteel. She’s a part of many projects and has recorded several other albums, including one with her band Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers, but Hickory is her first solo album. And it is seriously beautiful. It’s entirely instrumental, featuring a combination of original tunes, traditional Scandinavian and old-time tunes, and some written by the likes of Dirk Powell and Keith Murphy. The focus is on her fiddle and hardanger playing, but you’ll also hear some fantastic guitar, mandolin and harp playing. It’s hard to pick a favorite track, but I think ‘On the Danforth’ is it. I love the combination of hardanger and fingerstyle guitar - it works so well on this lovely little tune.
If you’re looking for heartwarming, down-to-earth and culturally rich music, check out The Ivy Leaf. They’re a Boston-based traditional Irish music quartet, and they’ve just dropped their first album! Not to mention friend and member Armand Aromin is an exceptional fiddler. I’ve never failed to feel cheered up after listening to their songs. Check it out!
…the album is finally on iTunes, Amazon and BandCamp! We’re still waiting for it to show up on CDBaby, so if you’re wanting to place an order for a physical CD, please do so via BandCamp and we’ll get one out to you personally!
Looks like we’ll be getting some of our first radio airplay this Tuesday, March 20th! Tune into WCUW 91.3FM out of Worcester, MA for ‘In the Tradition’ from 7-9 PM. You can listen to it streaming at wcuw.org or visit the Facebook event for more information.
Big news! The album will be available worldwide for download and ordering on March 29. To celebrate its release we’ve got five release shows lined up (four above and one unlisted private house concert), plus two preview shows during St. Patrick’s Day week where you just might be able to pick up an advance copy before the official release date if we get them in time. Hop on over to our Facebook Events page for further details and to RSVP!