by Bill Margeson
Well, here it is. The last column before next month’s Top TIR Awards, (Tradition in Review). We think this will be the 20th Top TIR Awards listing. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that these Awards are from The Chicago Irish-American News. Anyone who knows anything about Irish music knows that Chicago is the second biggest Irish market in America, trailing only Philadelphia—and a long, long way ahead of Boston or New York in terms of Irish and Irish-American population. Did you know that? Check the 2000 census figures, Bridgid. It is all there. Anyway, these Awards are eagerly sought, therefore, as they have that bit of flash being from such a mega-market and all. It has been a stellar year for the music, and we will wrap it all up for you in next month’s issue! Speaking of which, we must now discuss Derry singer, Maranna McCloskey.
Maranna is from Dungiven in Co. Derry, and is herself a two-time winner of a Top TIR Award for Newcomer of the Year, and Composer of the Year for a brilliant song she wrote and recorded a few years back on a fab little mini-album she put out. The song was Fraser Island. All about this magical little island in Australia. But, we are not here to rehash old victories, but to discuss new ones. Let’s finally get to the point !!
Maranna is just out with her first, full length solo album, At Last. Aficionados may remember her vocal work with the Northern Irish band, Oige. Maranna replaced Cara Dillon in the group when Cara went off to start a solo career that has been very successful, indeed. Unlike Dillon, Maranna has a gorgeous alto of a voice, redolent of a young and vibrant Dolores Keane. Four of the songs are from Maranna’s pen as well as voice. The album is very trad, and very modern at the same time. A couple of the tunes even feature a sax! But, we feel—and there is room for disagreement here—that her voice is best on the purely traditional tracks. Anyway, we feel that way today. We have a new fav on this album every day because we listen to it every day. Her grasp of the tradition and her song writing skills are superb. But, that voice! Oh, that voice! Let’s talk about That Voice.
It is completely unlike so many of the female Irish singers’ voices which are thin, reedy, weak, nasal and emotionless. We could name names. We won’t, as usual. But, then—here comes Maranna. Not just an alto, and not just a gifted alto. The key word here has to be “warmth.” Her voice is immediately and completely accessible. Indeed, it takes no effort to love her voice—it would take real effort not to love this voice. A treasure, we tells ‘ya, a treasure. As of this moment in time, our fav song has to be the traditional favorite of so many, the evocative “The Home I Left Behind.” But, we are also nuts about her version of “The Verdant Braes of Screen,” “Ca Raibh Tu Ar” (Where Were You Throughout the Day?) or her very own title track, “At Last.” Good heavens, this gal can write a song. She has also written an exquisite instrumental air, called simply, “The Cashel Air” for her native town land in Derry. Stunning.
The entire project came together when she met Brian Baynes at a concert in San Diego, of all places. Fast forward. The album ends up being recorded at his Avoca Studios in San Diego, requiring some flights by Maranna back and forth to California. “The flights were lovely,” recalls Maranna, “as I got to really work on the songs’ arrangements and lyrics, fine tuning everything. Besides that, it gave me the opportunity to work with Brian, who is a genius!” Unquestionably, the album and its production offer a really well-balanced and well-engineered listen to That Voice. We also get to hear from Eric Rigler—he of uillean piping fame for his work in the movie, Titanic. In the midst of this was also a wonderfully received performance by Maranna with the San Diego Symphony. Dungiven. California. The San Diego Symphony. Australia. Fraser Island. This girl is on the move!!
So, here it is. At Last. Get it from The Rampant Lion in Villa Park. Call 630-834-8108. cdBaby has it, also. iTunes has it. This is an explosion of a huge new talent in the music. The album, true to its title, has taken a while to get here. Nothing, mind you, in the range of the nine years it took Dennis Cahill and Martin Hayes to release their album last year!! But, long enough. It was worth the wait. Truly. This is a voice and a talent and a woman who will be with us a long time. Magic. Now, get on the phone or online and get it.
This is a woman at the peak of her powers. A truly, deeply unique and wonderful voice. And, there you sit. Go on! Get up! Call! Post! Get it, if you love the music and want to stay ahead of a major new sound from the horizon. Maranna McCloskey is here. Now. An extraordinary woman with an extraordinary album for you.
Rating: Four Harps—what were you expecting?
• Are you listening to Blarney on the Air on Monday evenings from 7-9? Hmm? Shay Clarke and I offer you the best in Irish music, great fun and a weekly visit from The Celtic Love Doctor. WDCB 90.9fm. Or, you can listen “live” online at www.wdcb.org. OR, you can listen to the archived weekly program at our website, www.blarneyontheair.com. We can do nothing about Shay’s abysmal ignorance of the music, but we ARE making progress with his ADD therapy and medications.
• We hope you can make the following concerts, where I will be introducing the following major music acts! February 13, the bohola Anniversary Concert at The Old Town School of Folk Music—February 27 at Old Town with Dervish and Hayes and Cahill— The David Munnelly Band, March 6, 7 and 8 at McAninch Performance Center at College of Dupage—the Friday and Saturday shows are sold out—and Lunasa March 22 at Old Town again! Come on, Bridgid, get up and be there!
• Big news, late addition! Matt and Shannon Heaton with John Williams!! Thursday, February 12 at the wonderful, Space, in Evanston. Bargain of the century, only $12 in advance! Go to www.evanstonspace.com See you there at 8:00!!