by Bill Margeson
It is that time of year again. Here we go with the annual Awards for the best in traditional music for 2011. Tons of stiff competition this year. Here we go! The Irish American News proudly announces its 2012 Top TIR Awards:
Male Vocalist of the Year— Denis O’Sullivan
This brilliant singer with the Chicago Reel was a massive discovery for us in 2011. More the shame on us for not fully appreciating his incredible style and beautiful voice sooner. From Ireland, he is now officially a Chicago treasure and one of the very top singers in the tradition. Period!
Male Musician of the Year— Brendan Hendry
This Northern Ireland fiddle player defines what it means to be an Irish musician. His style and taste are impeccable, and nobody deserves this award more. A stunningly gifted musician as evidenced on his two albums so far, Stringtones and Tuned Up.
Instrumental Album of the Year— Green Grass Blue Grass
It should come as a shock to no one that this album wins this award. There were some really good contenders this year, but this album stands out like the diamond it is. The Brock-McGuire Band never misses, and this is their latest stunner. An incredible concept leads to an even more incredible album.
Female Vocalist of the Year— Norah Rendell
The Minneapolis-based singer has done it perfectly with her group, The Outside Track. Her voice is made for the powerful arrangements of the group. It makes no difference here that she is also a superior wooden flute player. She is a killer singer. An easy choice this year.
New Group of the Year— Full Set
This Irish-based sextet of young musicians and singers has stunned the trad world with the force of their entry onto the scene with the album, Notes at Liberty. The album is perfectly conceived and executed. You can write about this all day. You have to hear it. There were many worthy contenders this year, such as Chicago Reel and Outside Track. To be perfectly honest, this was the toughest choice of the year.
Song of the Year— Somebody Special/Matt Keane
This song was written by Don Stiffe and recorded by his friend and fellow Galway-area resident, Matt Keane. It is a masterpiece of what a love song should be and is available on Matt and his daughter Orlaith’s album, Pictures in Time. Even better, Matt re-recorded the songs with a new arrangement utilizing a visiting Polish string quartet at Galway University. Matt tells us that this second version will soon be available with the rest of his work on iTunes. Find this. Post him through his webpage. Both versions are superb with his voice from God, but we love “Somebody Special II” even better. Either way, a gorgeous song, gorgeously performed by the Voice of the West.
Female Musician of the Year— Pauline Conneely
Pauline Conneely of Chicago Reel once won the All-Ireland Banjo Player Award, and she is one of the best. Her fantastic skills are on display in Chicago Reel’s new album—Chicago Reel! Another master musician living in Chicago, she is the deal. Pauline rocks. Pauline rules!
Vocal/Instrumental Group of the Year— Outside Track
Two albums now from this multi-national contingent have stamped them not only as yet another new force in the music, but among the top groups in the world. Outside Track is traditional, creative, and brilliant on every cut. A stunning collection of taste, musical ability, and incredible depth of knowledge for ones so young.
Concert of the Year— Brendan Hendry/Brendan Mulholland/Jim Rainey
This trio came in from Northern Ireland for Irish Fest in Milwaukee. As you have read above, Brendan Hendry is this year’s Male Musician of the Year. Next year’s is probably the flute player, Brendan Mulholland. Jim Rainey did a lovely job of accompaniment on guitar. The lads offered a weekend of music and concerts of perfection. Their albums show masters at the top of their form. This is the way Irish music is supposed to sound and it has never sounded better than in those concerts.
Event of the Year— iBAM!
This event put on by this paper and the Irish American Heritage Center in Chicago is unique and the best celebration of the diversity of Irish culture in the world, perhaps save Irish Fest. It is different from Fest. It was so perfect this year that it established a new guidepost for what a celebration of Irish culture can be. A stunning event making us all extra proud of being Chicagoans. Wow!