A collection featuring the music of Northern Ireland, the debut recording of a New England based Celtic band, and a collaboration of four superstar musicians from Donegal: three more Irish and Celtic recordings to know.
Is the music of Northern Ireland different from the music in the counties to the south which make up the republic? I’ll give a resounding yes and no on that one. As you’ll know if you’ve spent time on the island of Ireland, there are different accents and phrases and rhythms to the way people speak, in Irish and in English, all through the counties, north and south. The same is true of tune and song, which well may vary from one townland to the next, never mind county, in accent and emphasis.
That said, the twenty track collection Sound Neighbours, produced by Smithsonian Folkways and with liner notes by Northern Ireland musician Colum Sands, is good introduction to both music and musicians of the six counties. Sands himself has a song, The Donegall Road, which speaks of history and the promise of a new day.
Colum’s brother Tommy is there too, with There Were Roses, which puts a human and next door neighbor face on the sadness of the Troubles. It’s not all about politics by any means, though. Northern Man, performed by Different Drums, talks of love across borders, while Briege Murphy offers a traditional love song with a different ending in The Verdant Braes of Screen. Brothers Niall and Cillian Vallely join up for the tune The Singing Stream, while Roisin White offers the lively and funny praise of place in Omagh Town, and piper Jarlath Henderson gives a taste of the best of contemporary piping with The Old Bush Set.
Sarah Blair, Ariel Friedman, Liz Simmons, and Shannon Heaton each have careers as professional musicians, teaching, touring and performing in a variety of ways. None of them was exactly looking for another band to join. Still, the four friends found that the music they made together and the ways they thought about presenting music kept calling them to do just that — and so they did. The result is the band Long Time Courting. Their first album is called Alternate Routes.
It’s an engaging gathering of songs and tunes, which kicks off with Maggie Dean, which takes a twist on the story of a woman disguising herself as a sailor. Shannon Heaton wrote the words which she set to a traditional melody, and sings the lead. Polska Efter Elias Tallari is a set of tunes which takes things in a bit of a quieter direction for a moment, as does the band’s take on the song Barbara Allen, which they treat almost as a lament. In the Dog House is a set of tunes that kicks things up into high gear, pairing the set’s namesake tune, an original by Shannon Heaton, with two tunes from the tradition. Liz Simmons gives the right touch of storytelling to the lead on the tale My Johnny Was a Shoemaker. The York Street Stepper is another lively set of tunes, started off by the namesake piece, penned by fiddler Ellery Klein, founding member of Long Time Courting. Sarah Blair handles fiddling with the group these days. Friedman plays the cello, Simmons guitar, and Heaton flutes and whistles.
Moya Brennan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill and Maighréad Ní Dhomhnaill each spent part of their growing up years Donegal, in the far northwest of Ireland. Each of them also went on to make a career in music, gaining acclaim as members of bands including Clannad, Nightnoise, and Altan, and as solo artists as well. As the years drew on, the women would cross paths, and they’d remember how much they ahd enjoyed singing with each other when they were growing up. Several years ago Maighréad’s daughter invited them to perform together at the the Temple Bar Trad Festival in Dublin, and the seed of an album was planted
That seed has come to flowering on the album T With the Maggies, which is also what the four women call the group they’ve formed together. It’s a thoughtful and graceful collection, including songs from the tradition and several that the women wrote themselves. In them you can hear and feel the salt sea of of the Donegal coast as well as its haunting mountains and glens, and the humor and sorrow of the people.
Many of the songs are in Irish, but they start of with the lively and perhaps a bit enigmatic song Wedding Dress, which gives a taste of the fine harmony and stellar playing which carry through the project. Ceol an Phíobaire, A Stór A Stór A Ghrá and Bíod Orm Anocht are among the songs in Irish. Mother Song, which the four wrote together is a spare song inspired by the fact that people are emigrating from Ireland again these days. Domhnach na Fola, the most haunting song of on the album, is a response to the recent release of the findings of the Bloody Sunday enquiry in Derry.