by Jack Baker
Life is full of ups and downs, and the past month has been no different. We were all saddened to lose Kay Dietz on March 26th, when she lost her battle with lung cancer. Kay was always the life of the party, a friendly happy lady who made sure everyone was pulled into the festivities. She was also mother of one of my closest friends, Mike Dietz. She will be missed, but she will always be remembered.
A wonderful bright spot was the debut at the Midwest Fleadh Cheoil of Chris and Mary Ann Bain’s new twins, Ronan & Deirdre. Beautiful and tiny, they were brought round to meet everyone and everyone immediately fell in love with them. Jackie Moran pointed out that little Deirdre was nodding her head in time to the music, so it seems that the family musical genius has been passed on to another generation. What a blessing!
This has been a great month for traditional music as I sit here looking at six new releases that you will want to hear. First off, a CD that I’ve been anxiously awaiting since Paddy O’Brien sent me a rough cut promo a couple of months back. I hinted at it in previous columns, but it’s here now and well worth the wait. The Sailor’s Cravat features Paddy O’Brien’s incomparable button accordion, Tom Schaefer on fiddle, Paul Wehling on bouzouki, and the lovely vocals of Erin Hart. This CD contains some of the best stuff Paddy’s ever done, and we’re talking about an already pretty impressive body of work. The recording comes to us from New Folk Records, a label that is really making its mark in traditional music circles. While playing it in the store, I’ve had nothing but positive comments from customers, most of whom bought it. That’s always a good sign for me. I expected to hear great music from Paddy, and wasn’t disappointed, but the delightful songs sung by Erin Hart were a wonderful surprise. Sorry to say I wasn’t familiar with her work before but now—I’ll certainly keep her on my radar. This girl can sing. Together the group functions like a well oiled machine to deliver the best kind of traditional music, the kind that picks you up, physically and emotionally, and carries you along with it.
Another recording I have been anxiously awaiting is Kathleen Keane’s Where the Wind Meets the Water and I finally got it! What a joy! Anyone who has had the pleasure to sit and listen to Kathleen perform knows what an accomplished musician she is. Her CD captures all the intensity of her performance and all the feeling that she has for her music. She is the music and the music is her. Okay, words are failing me here a bit. There are musicians to whom the music isn’t just something they play, but instead the music is a part of them. It’s what they are, not just what they do. Kathleen Keane’s one of those. Her fiddle, tinwhistle and vocals are simply outstanding. Added to this, she is surrounded by some of the finest trad musicians in the industry, Dennis Cahill, guitar, James Conway, harmonica, William Coulter, guitar, Jimmy Moore, bass, bouzouki and guitar and Jackie Moran, the king of the bodhran. The tunes are a mix of traditional and original, that’s right, she also writes lovely music! She also takes one of the iconic cheesy songs, “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” and, with her original arrangement, turns it into a lovely ballad. I love it! The CD finishes with a recording of her Granddad playing his accordion, sweet, lovely, fun… Kathleen. She is what she is and that’s one of the best.
Need to get the Scottish oar in the water here and there’s no one better to do the job than Jim Malcolm. Accomplished Scottish solo singer Jim Malcolm has nine CDs to his credit with the release of Sparkling Flash, his latest, not to mention all the CDs he did with Old Blind Dogs when he was the band’s vocalist. I have rhapsodized on Jim’s honey-velvet voice in the past and that quality is still there. Nice to see more of his original song writing skills being highlighted in this CD. Jim has a way with words, using his wit and intellect to weave some heartfelt lyrics in the title song and a soon to be classic bit of humor in his piece called “American Accent.” Did I mention that his guitar work and harmonica are beyond reproach? Well, they are. Jim loves to do house concerts and is in his glory with a small intimate setting. If you get a chance to see him, don’t pass it up, you will love this man and his great voice. On the new CD we also get to hear the vocal talents of his wife, Susie and his daughter, Beth. One talented family, for sure.
Speaking of great voices, one dropped by the store the other day to bring his newest CD in for me to listen to. It was Andrew Calhoun, one of the most original voices I’ve ever heard, and one of the most original wits it’s ever been my pleasure to converse with. He has made a living cranking out the most outstanding collections of songs you can imagine. If you haven’t heard his voice, don’t wait for me to try and describe it, I don’t have the words. Is it deep and rich? You betcha. Is it smooth and harmonious? Yeah that too. Does this guy know his way around a folk song? Yeah, like damn few others. His new CD, Grapevine winds its way thru the folk tradition tying together songs from a lot of different places and doing them in a way that will cause them to become your favorite versions in future. You’ve got to hear this one; it’s too good to pass up.
Andrew also brought the newest release from Kate MacLeod and Kat Eggleston, called Lost and Found. Their second release together, it gives these two fantastic musicians, Kat on guitar and Kate on fiddle, a chance to blend their vocal talents, creating a truly lovely experience. I’ve often said that I’d pay good money to hear Kat read the phone book, well she’s one-upped herself by teaming with Kate MacLeod. Another new release from Waterbug Records, this CD shows us that new and innovative folk music is still being performed. The folk tradition is far from dead!
Lastly a quick mention of a really good deal from New Folk Records, their new Sampler II. Twenty tracks to give you a taste of twenty artists, a total running time of 74:16 minutes of fine music for a fair price. Here’s a chance to expand you horizons and hear some of the artists that this innovative label has found. A real deal!
Finally, at the Fleadh the other day where I was selling CDs, four ladies came up to the booth and bought a CD that was an independent production by a traditional artist. They then stood there discussing how they were going to burn copies for each other and their friends! Come on people! Traditional artists sure as hell don’t get rich on the sales of their CDs, and this crap just makes it harder for them to keep recording their music. Support traditional music and traditional artists. Burning is stealing. At the Fleadh for crying out loud, they should know better. Now I will put my soapbox away till next month.