By Bill Margeson
Well here we go again. How many is this now? Radio co-host and producer Imelda Bhroga informs me it is the 24th time Chicago has handed out these Awards, with all the big muscle stick that goes with being recognized in the best music city in the world. Let’s begin.
MALE MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR: Leonard Barry
This uilleann piper from Kerry produced a masterpiece in 2014 called, New Road. This wonderful musician was brought to our attention by Alan O’Leary of Copperplate Distribution in London. The 14 cuts on this album represent not only the best of Irish piping today, but also the best of Irish Trad today. New Road is a beautifully realized contribution to Irish music from an absolutely terrific musician. A stunner.
FEMALE MUSICIAN OF THE YEAR: Louise Mulcahy
Louise is the virtuoso piper and flute player form the iconic Mulcahy family. She grew up Co. Leitrim and in a manner of speaking, she has grown up in front of us all. She and her sister Michelle, along with dad, Mick, have given us two wonderful cd’s as a trio. Sister Michelle gave us an award-winning solo Suaimhneas, which helped redefine modern harp playing. Now comes Louise with Tuning the Road. A complete wonder of an album from a truly brilliant musician. They do not come better than Louise Mulcahy, and that is good enough, indeed.
MALE VOCALIST OF THE YEAR: Sean Tyrell
Sean released Galway Bay this year. You could well argue he is the best of all. This Connemara vocalist released an album filled with classics of the genre. Whether it be The Mountains of Mourne, Galway Bay, or The Wild Colonial Boy, don’t think you have heard these classics until you have heard Sean sing them. Like another master, Mick Moloney, Sean has grown fonder of
these often satirized or ignored classics of Irish music. The understanding of these songs takes maturity. Sean sings them as only Sean can, and they are transformed into something wondrously minimal, modern, relevant, and with all the emotional kick still there. Another winner from Sean Tyrell.
FEMALE VOCAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR: May Morning Dew by Rita Gallagher
There are those who say Rita Gallagher is the best Irish female singer in the world. She certainly is at the top of her game on this magnificent album. The exact date of when, where, and how we reviewed this cd is highly debatable. Good. That allows us to reintroduce it to you now. This Donegal talent is unsurpassed in her grasp of sean nos singing. She is a master of the form. This album was released four years ago, believe it or not. It was only brought to our attention within the last 14 months, and that is what matters. She is everything Irish singing should be.
VOCAL/INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR: Gather the Good
There is no group hotter in Irish Music than We Banjo 3. With the release of their new album, Gather the Good, the group has again established itself at the top of the pecking order. They are booked solidly all over the world, and for good reason. If their shows are getting a bit frenetic and overdone physically, the band retains its total musicianship. Long ago, we ran out of adjectives for these four lads from Galway. Their blend of Irish and Americana is perfection, cutting edge, and educational at the same time. Marvelous stuff from a group that still stops us dead in our tracks.
TRAD GROUP OF THE YEAR: Goitse
Goitse has established itself as a massively popular band among trad fans the world over. Rightly so. This wonderful quintet released Tall Tales & Misadventures to worldwide recognition in 2015. Rightly so. This talented group is highly respected and still young enough to have all their best years in front of them. They are wonderful. Their music is unequalled for energy,
ability, and intelligence. So young to be so good. Wow!
NEW GROUP OF THE YEAR: The O’Schraves
The name of the album is Family Day, and it has instantly catapulted this Canadian family act into the top echelon of Irish/Canadian/Quebecois/Cajun music. Totally entertaining from start to finish. There is little to say about all of this,except you must get your hands on the album. Everything about this group is entertaining to the point where it makes them the best family group in Irish music. One of our major goals in 2015 is to see them live. Somewhere. Somehow. The O’Schraves rock!
COMPENDIUM ALBUM OF THE YEAR: The Ultimate Guide to Irish Folk
The people at ARC asked the famous Irish music writer John O’Regan to put together a compendium album of what he would consider a true cross-section of Irish music. He has done so, brilliantly. The double cd contains 34 cuts. Essentially, everything you would ever need is here—if you are looking for a total experience. Some of these cuts work better than others. And, that is the way it should be in a compendium album. Pretty much everything is here, and no one likes everything. But, we love enough of this to recommend it 100%. A great job, from a terrific Irish music journo.
EMERGING ARTISTS OF THE YEAR: Cassie and Maggie MacDonald
Cassie and Maggie released their second album this year, Sterling Road, to international acclaim. This unbelievably gifted duo were raised in Nova Scotia, which means that quality playing and singing is in their DNA. These two young ladies have already won several awards and are booked constantly in Canada, with occasional forays into the States. Piano and fiddle are brought to the fore along with stunning vocals and perfect harmonies. They have obviously received formal training, as well as having joined in hundreds of sessions. They have also appeared in France, Germany, Bermuda, and England. The train is just gathering steam and leaving the station on these new stars. It is going to be a glorious journey, and it is already well- begun.
All of these cd’s are available online, but even better from Jack Baker at Rampant Lion in Villa Park, Illinois, or Alan O’Leary’s Copperplate Distribution in London, England.