Archive for January, 2010



Eileen Ivers-Maudabawn Chapel-Green Linnet

Karen Casey and John Doyle-Sailing off to the Yankee Land-Exile Returns-Compass

Tony McManus-The Maids of Mitchelstown-The Maker’s Mark-Compass


John Doyle-Sally Grier-Exiles Return- Compass

Grada-Five Jumps-Natural Angle-Compass

Maighread ni Dhomnaill-Is Fada Liom Uaimi-No Dowry-Shanachie

Liz Carrol-The Ghost/The Hatchling-Lake Effect-Green Linnet


Carla Sciaky-Band of Shearers-Her Infinite Variety-Green Linnet

Solas-A Tune for Roan-The Turning Tide-Compass

Clannad-Ta Me Mo Shui-Clannad’s Greatest Hits-RCA

Kim Robertson-Sleep Soon’d I’da Moarnin-Highland Heart-Gourd Music


Grada -The Hutt Reels-Natural Angle-Compass

The House Devils-The Charladie’s Ball-Adieu to Old Ireland-ARC Music

John Whelan-Have a drink on Me-Celtic Fire-Narada

Mairi McInnes-Uibhist nam neann arda-Orosay-Green Trax


Grada-Dotsy’s-Natural Angle-Compass

James Macolm-Lochanside-Live in Glenfarg-Belatne

Paul Kamm/Elenor MacDonald-Clare to Here-Calling on Love-Freewheel Records

Grey Larsen/Malcom Daglish-Boys of Ballisodare-Thunderhead


Poozies-Sorrows Away-Infinite Blue-Compass

Ian Melrose-The Music of Spey

Cara Dillon-Jimmy mo Mille Stor-Hill of Thieves-Proper

Patrick Street-Spanking Maggie from the Ross-Made in Cork-Green Linnet


John Renborn-Estampie-Traveler’s Prayer-Shanachie

Solas-A Sailor’s Life-The Turning Tide-Compass

House Devils-The Lone Bush-Adieu to Old Ireland-Arc Music

Paddy Keenan-Kelldevil Air-Na Keen Affair-Conya Records

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Alas, all good things must end, and this was the last Celtic Connections concert for us.  It’s a bittersweet thing.  The craic was grand, but we need some sleep and we’re missing our dogs and home something fierce.  The last concert, held at our favorite St. Andrews in the Square, was a doozy.

Categorizing Skaidi is impossible.  It’s traditional yoik singing; it’s jazz; it’s unique.  Inga Juuso, heralded by bassist Steinar Raknes as “the Queen of Yoik,” challenges her audience to follow her onto a raw plateau with her dark sound.  Using growls and chanting, she mesmerizes, while Raknes uses his extremely physical style to wring an astonishing variety of sounds from his double bass.  Everything from  muttering mice to laughing cats, to the metallic slap of strings  beating a panicked retreat away from a wailing yoik monster, issues from the instrument.  The total effect was amazing, though I’m still not sure if I liked it.

Duncan Chisholm has been one of our favorite artists, since we first saw him in Wolfstone, playing a fantastic cutaway fiddle.  His solo work on “Redpoint,” “Door of  Saints,” and this year’s MG ALBA Scot’s trad album of the year “Farrar” has been featured many times on KZYX&Z.

Tonight he was joined by Tony Byrne on guitar, Allan Henderson on fiddle and the incomparable Phil Cunningham on keyboards, cittern, accordion and penny whistle. The effect was wonderful.

Chisholm and Cunningham began with the gorgeous, heart-rending air “Lorient Mornings,” then Byrne’s guitar sneaked in to signal a mood shift as the tune changed to the upbeat Angus Grant masterpiece “250 to Vigo.”  The tune built energy, and reached a crescendo when Henderson joined in.  That first set demonstrated Chisholm’s thoughtful method of putting tunes together, as well as his confident, emotional playing style.

When the tunes weren’t playing with your heart and soul, Chisholm held forth with an easy patter and a lot of humor.  The evening was pure genius right down to the final set, “The Knockard Elf/Turbo Shandy,” which had the entire hall of St. Andrews ringing with the sound of stomping feet.  For the encore, Chisholm and Cunningham played Phil’s lovely air “The Gentle Light that Wakes Me,” calming the audience down somewhat, before swinging into the upbeat, optimistic-sounding “Isaac’s Welcome to the World” and “Leire’s Welcome to Cozac.”  That was enough to get the happy audience ready to head out into the loud Glasgow night.

As usual for St Andrew’s, the sound was nearly perfect, allowing us to fully enjoy a superb performance by gifted musicians.  A magical night that we will long remember.

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The Tron Theater is now one of our favorite venues.  The theater seating is pitched so that every seat in the house has a great view of the stage, and the sound engineer is very good.  This venue will undoubtedly have a little extra glow in our memories, because this is where we got to see an excellent show with some of our favorite musicians.

Unni Boksasp and her intriguing ensemble opened the show.  Boksasp is a traditional folk singer from Nordmøre, at the north-west coast of Norway.  Her vocals range from eerie highs to gut-grabbing lows.  If you’re not familiar with the Nordic vocal styles, then check out her MySpace for a real treat.

Backing Boksasp was a fascinating foursome.  Everything looked and sounded wonderful. The double bass player Magne Vestrum provided the heartbeat, while fiddlers Jorun Marie Kvernberg and Olav Luksengård Mjelva kept the melody going, and there, at the far end, was what looked for all the world like two cobbled-together wood boxes with a keyboard taped to one and two sets of pedals hanging beneath.  If that didn’t pique our interest enough, the man playing this instrument, Trygve Brøske, had a piece of tubing stuck in his mouth which he would occasionally blow through. Boksasp informed us that this was a harmonium.  I’ll have to take her word for it, because the band broke down and disappeared before I had a chance to ask for more information.

KZYX&Z listeners have already heard some of Bruce MacGregor‘s incredible fiddle work.  “The Highlander’s Revenge” is one of Tim’s favorites, and he’s played it many times to infect all of you with that musical earworm.  Tonight, we got the hysterical story behind the writing of the tune.  Tune into the show on the  14th and you might just get to hear the tale.    While you’ve mostly heard MacGregor’s solo work, he’s also a part of Blazin’ Fiddles and Cliar, and tonight he teamed up with two other talents in their self-named trio MacGregor, Brechin & Ó hEadhra to provide a set that was equal parts laughter and music.

Stuck in the middle, Brian Ó hEadhra had the possibly unenviable task of playing straight man to MacGregor and accordionist Sandy Brechin.  It seemed that whenever the others started to get into too much trouble with their jokes and hysterical shaggy dog tales, Ó hEadhra’s job was to start singing.  His warm voice brought the show back to music…for at least the length of the song.  A highlight of the evening was a Gaelic song he wrote for his wife, “My Girl from the Island,” which he tried to get the crowd to sing the chorus.  The Gaelic was too much for us, so he settled for “La-la”s.

Sandy Brechin is another talent KZYX&Z listeners have heard as a member of Burach.  If he wasn’t a full-time musician, he ought to be a comedian.  But his accordion playing was surprisingly delicate, as he and MacGregor wove in and out of the melodies, each giving space for the other.  This was three top-notch musicians enjoying what they do, and putting on a great show while doing it.  A memorable night.

[Local angle: One of the tunes played was “John Cameron’s March,” composed by the late Jerry Holland to honor Mendocino resident Rod Cameron’s father.]

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Bellevue Rendezvous was the surprise of the evening.  With a name like that, I was expecting French cafe music, and I was wrong in the best way possible.  Bellevue Rendezvous is comprised of three topnotch musicians, and the sound is very much a world music treat.  Fiddler Gavin Marwick alone would be worth the price of admission.  He lights up when playing, dancing and grinning and producing wonderful music.  His musical CV includes working with groups like Cantrip, Burach, Ceileigh Minogue and lots of session work, but he’s probably best known to Oak & Thorn listeners from his old band The Iron Horse (“The 8-Step Waltz” is a favorite).

Ruth Morris‘s nyckelharpa playing lent a gravitas to many pieces, when she wasn’ t leading the way into monster polskas and fairy dances.

Cameron Robson support with Jew’s harp and bouzouki was grand.

The trio’s set bordered on otherworldly at times, capturing the senses with a sound reminiscent of the Nordic supergroup Våsen.  The audience – including us – were enchanted.

They have two CDs, “Salamander” and “Tangents,” which you’ll hear soon on Oak and Thorn and quite probably on World Tour as well.

Shetland fiddler Catriona Macdonald has a whole new sound with her quartet.  There’s  the wonderful straight-ahead Shetland fiddle sound we expect (and love), but with the addition of piano, stand-up bass and drum kit, she’s created a slightly jazzy sound.  Now, I confess: I’m not much of a jazz fan, and when folk musicians try to “jazz-up” it often leaves me cold.  But Macdonald used the effect sparingly, just enough to have the lure of something new and exotic and not lose her roots.  Backed by David Milligan on grand piano, with the theatrics and skill of Conrad Ivitsky on bass and the wonderfully nuanced percussion of James Mackintosh, Macdonald swung through an evening of mad trad through discordant jazz.  Her stage presence was funny and sweet, still the fiery Shetland fiddler we’ve come to love, and her spirit of music discovery shone.  She put on a great show at St. Andrews in the Square, one leaving us wishing for a few more tunes.

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I will not even try to pretend that I can be anything but enthusiastic about the opening act.  Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, probably best known as the vocalist and fiddler for Altan and one of six fantastic fiddlers of the String Sisters, and Manus Lunny, member of the Scottish super group Capercaillie and very busy session musician (next time you play a Celtic CD, check out the musicians listed.  Chances are good that you’ll see Lunny’s name) graced the stage of St. Andrews in the Square for far too short a time.

They opened the set with a set that started slow, with some nifty effects from Lunny’s Irish bouzouki, gently joined by Ní Mhaonaigh’s lovely fiddle, then the music shifted, grew bolder, superbly underpinned by Lunny, and finished with a beautiful tune that had the crowd pounding their feet in approval.  St. Andrew’s, by the way, echoes quite nicely.

Amidst a lot of gentle teasing, Lunny announced that Ní Mhaonaigh has been named Donegal’s “Person of the Year” – and suggested she needs a tiara.

The first song of the night “Mo Níon Ó’ was one Ní Mhaonaigh wrote for her daughter Nia.

A pleasant surprise was the addition of hardanger fiddle, which gave Lunny another chance to tease her about the length of time it takes to tune something with so many strings.  (Musician joke: a Hardanger fiddle has two sets of four strings, as does the instrument Lunny was playing…)

“Bhríd Óg Ní Mháille,” sung by Lunny with Ní Mhaonaigh providing harmony and back-ups, was enchanting.  The Ulster song “Blonde Nellie, My Love” (the actual title was in Irish, but she was kind enough to translate it for us few who don’t speak the language) gave her an opportunity to show off her vocal range – which remains awesome.

I could go on, describing every tune, every song, but the gist is they put on a fantastic, but way too short set.  I hope they get an opportunity to perform together often.

Brother and sister duo, Tim and Mollie O’Brien, was the headline act of the evening.  KZYX&Z’s Fred Woolley, host of the Audible Feast, should have been there.  They could have sung a grocery list — which they did — and the crowd would have loved it.  Americana is big here!

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This was our second trip to the Universal folk club for the “Songs of Scotland” series, and both have been just about perfect.  Small venue, great seats, good sound, fun and focused themes and loads of talent.  Almost makes me wish we’d bought tickets for every show they scheduled for this year’s Celtic Connections and left it at that.  Almost.

This week’s Songs of Scotland is hosted by Ishbel MacAskill, “Gaeldom’s first lady of soul.”  With her deadpan humor and enthusiasm for the night’s show, MacAskill made a superb emcee.

Three fine and very funny vocalists shared the stage, all with distinctive styles. Each sang one song, then sat down as the next singer took their turn.

First up, Joe Aitken,  singing north-east bothy style songs in a fine strong voice.  In January 2004 he was winner of the Champion of Champions Bothy Ballad competition in Elgin; tonight he set the tone for the show with “The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre,” describing a slapstick agricultural event.  After the other two singers took their turns, Aitken’s next song was a version of “I Wish They’d Do It Now” that was, if possible, even funnier than Oak, Ash and Thorn’s “Itches in me Britches.”  He rounded out his first set with “Wee China Pig,” an ode to what the hot water bottle has replaced.  After the break, he kept the audience firmly in his camp with a song most of them knew (and sang along with) but we didn’t get the title of;  the so-funny-it-hurt “Porcelain Waltz,” with the unforgettable refrain: “If ye’re European, ye’re a-peein’ in a Shanks.”  There was another about why courting couples should avoid pear trees, before he finished off with a chicken song.  Every concert needs a chicken song.  This one had two.

Gaelic singer Sineag Macintyre, 2006 Traditional Gold Medal in Dunoon at the Royal National Mod and an honours graduate of the RSAMD, had the unenviable position of not only following Aitken but singing in a language not known for light-hearted songs.  She took on the challenge with a wonderful smile, strong voice, and great songs.  Not only was her part of the show musically lovely, she explained what the songs were about, and we discovered that one of our favorites from Capercaillie was actually about a man missing his false teeth.  Apparently the songs really were humorous, because the Gaelic speakers in the audience laughed – we were just charmed by the singing.

Duncan McNab took the audience on what he claimed as an autobiographical song cycle — or maybe a musical shaggy dog story.  This guy was freakin’ hilarious.  He began with his days as a lonely young boy stuck tending sheep in the middle of nowhere (“Til the Sun Gaed Doon”) with a wonderfully suggestive chorus, which the audience enthusiastically joined.   Next we heard a cautionary tale about his preteen unrequited love (“Maggie Ann”), in which he rhymed “night” with “dung” to comic effect.   Then it was on to young manhood and a stint in the navy (“The Lady of Straight Street” – another variant on “The Merchant’s Son” and its many, many relatives, only funnier). After the break he took on hobbies (“Three Score of Glens” with puns and suggestive rhyming), back to his teenaged years and a more successful turn with young lust (“Nae Mair Wenching” – the second chicken song – done to the tune of Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”) and ended with the story of a sheep he was fond of (“The Legend of Nijinsky”).

But there were no CDs available for us to bring back so you could share the fun with us.  McNab has a CD in the works.  Let’s hope there’s a chance we can get a copy, because this fellow is funny, and there should be more laughter in the world.  And you all really need to learn the chorus to “Till the Sun Gaed Doon.”

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Listening to the  Skipinnish 10th Anniversary Concert at the O2 ABC was physically painful.  During the first half of the show, we had premium seats, second row in the middle, and the sound blaring from the enormous speakers was so terribly mixed (mostly treble and bass) and loud that we plugged our ears.  Skipinnish started off with an accordion, two fiddles, two pipers, a whistle, and bodhran; only the accordion and bodhran could be heard clearly, the whistle sometimes, the fiddles and pipes were indistinguishable.   We fled to the back of the cavernous hall, where the sound improved to bearable but just barely.

Note to soundmen everywhere: Louder is not Better.  Folk music, even rockified folk music, is not mixed the same way as rock music.  There’s something weird when an accordion’s music is like an ice pick in your ear.  It’s also not good when the house speakers buzz at higher volumes, fuzzing up all the high notes.

The sound was mixed so badly that the vocals were overwhelmed by the instruments, especially guitars, drums, and bass.  The sound engineer was oblivious to that for quite a while, and when he eventually figured out that no one could hear what was probably a wonderful duet between Rachel Walker and James Graham, he increased their volume instead of turning the instruments down.  Call me old-fashioned, but I think the instruments should be mixed to support the vocals, not do battle with them.

I’d been looking forward to this concert, because these bands are all new to me, and the label, as far as we can tell, is not available in the US.  It was obvious that there was incredible talent on the stage, but we were mostly unable to enjoy it.   Someday maybe we will get out to Oban for the Scottish Music Show at Skipinnish Ceilidh House, where I bet these people sound terrific!

Fiddler Archie McAllister, who had a very demonstrative fan base at this concert, did best under the circumstances.  With only an acoustic guitar and occasional hand-drum to contend with, his fiery fiddle playing lit up the audience.  Walker and Graham did manage to make themselves heard for a while, with some nice energetic Gaelic singing together and solo; in a better venue this would have been magnificent.  Skerryvore, a Celtic rock group, was really good but too loud for this old girl to bear, and the house’s obnoxious light show skewered our eyes.   The grand finale, with a huge mass of musicians from all the groups performing together, was just a wall of sound – though the audience seemed to love it.

We did gather up a pile of CDs – 8 in all – and are looking forward to hearing them.   At a reasonable volume.   Thanks to Angus McPhail’s generosity, the KZYX&Z studio library will be enriched with a lot of music rarely heard in California!

Edit:  We’ve listened to the CDs from Rachel Walker, James Graham, and Live at the Skipinnish Ceilidh so far.  Great stuff, very well-produced, excellent sound, wonderful music.    I love the Runrig covers!

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