By Jack Baker
Ever since I started writing this column, people have been urging me to come up with annual “best of” awards. I resisted for a long time. I had trouble picking the best music since there’s little music, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, American that I don’t love at one time or another. I love it all, to be honest, but at any given time there’s some I love more than others. This can change depending on my mood or how much I’ve had to drink or any of a number of factors.
So why change? Friends in the music industry have explained to me how important it is to artists to win awards, especially so in these days of declining CD sales. So I hitched up my trousers, plugged in my brain and came up with the following. I established criteria for judging based on many factors, such as how well a recording sold or what customer feedback I received but in the end I primarily based my decisions on what I liked. For better or worse, there’s no one to blame, or praise, but me. So here we go.
Favorite Band to Watch on Stage. This was a tough one, there are so many talented, delightful bands performing these days but I ended up choosing Socks in the Frying Pan. Great musicians, talented singers but with a lovely sense of humor and a great joy in life that is shared with the audience. Better yet, they manage to transmit these feelings thru their three recordings.
Best Female Vocalist. Another difficult choice but the nod goes to Áine McGeeney who sings with the band Goitse.
Best Male Vocalist. Out of all the singers in celtic music, I have to give this one to the great Seamus Kennedy. No one knows better that music is more than words and notes and Seamus follows that belief in all his performances. He can make me laugh, make me cry, sometimes both at the same time.
Best Bodhran. Without question, Jackie Moran.
Best Fiddle. Is there anyone I could say other than Liz Carroll?
Best Up and Comer Fiddler. A shining star to keep an eye on, Gillian Head.
Best Button Box. From Socks in the Frying Pan, Shane Hayes.
Best Uilleann Pipe CD. The Raven’s Rock by Cillian Vallely.
Best Solo CD of the Year. This one knocked me out and I listen to it daily. All Because by Pauline Conneely.
Best Accordion of All Time. Love this man, the great Jimmy Keane.
Best Irish Christmas CD. Not new but still the best, Bo-Ho-Ho-Hola, by Bohola, Jimmy Keane and Pat Broaders.
Best New Irish Band. A delightful bunch that, I hope, will go far. Cúig.
Best American Band CD. Lots of good stuff here, but I’m going with These Are The Days by
Burning Bridget Cleary.
Best Pipe Band Recording. From The great Scottish recording company, Greentrax, comes the finest recording of one of the best bands of all time, Edinburgh City Police Pipe Band Revisited.
Best New Sound. This one I tied, could not choose, so I give you both, River Waiting by Connla, from Northern Ireland and Doolin’, from France. Both unique, different, exciting, fresh and entertaining.
Best Encouragement of New Talent. Kind of an odd pigeon hole but one of the most exciting CDs to come along in awhile. The Tradition Continues by Murphy Roche. One of our schools of Irish Music, these folks not only teach but provide this CD platform to show off the students. Support your music schools!
Best Vocal Group. Makem and Spain Brothers. On their new CD, Four Pounds A Day, these guys continue the great tradition that their families started.
Best Live CD. This year one band ran away with this, Runa. The cd was Runa, Live and it was one of the finest live recordings ever, bar none.
Best Traditional CD. The Lady’s Cup of Tea, by concertina wizard Mary MacNamara and her daughter, Sorcha Costello. As Uncle Bill Margeson would say, “the real deal”.
Best CD of the Year. In some ways this was the toughest pick, but in many ways it was the easiest. No cd sold as well, got more positive customer reaction or caused more excitement at it’s release. It continues to do so. String Theory by We Banjo 3. This band rocked it this year. They worked hard and presented a beautiful CD that everyone fell in love with. They earned this award!