Because my music recommendations were getting a bit stale – I haven’t given you any new ones in five years (yeah, my bad)- we took the liberty of soliciting some actual talent for this year’s post. Herewith are your 2010 St Patrick’s Day Music recommendations, courtesy of my Irish passport-carrying lawyer. Enjoy.
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig! Together with Steve’s excellent primer on celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, we offer up the following selection of Irish/Celtic musicians and tunes needed to host your very own céilidh. (Note: this list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather offer a broad overview for neophytes or folks wishing to delve a bit deeper.)
1. I would be remiss to not kick things off with my favourite, the Chieftains, who are long-recognized for not only preserving but popularizing (or “popularising,” if you will) traditional Irish folk music. Do not be fooled (or deterred) by the term “folk music”: the venerable guardians of traditional Irish music have recorded with the likes of Mick Jagger, Roseanne Cash, Ziggy Marley, Mark Knopfler, and Van Morrison, to name but a few. For me, the Chieftans evoke many happy family memories: Christmas spent in front of the fire and dancing with my father, whose special brand of “dancing” with my five year-old-self involved throwing me in the air in time to the beat of the music. (Try this sometime with your favourite five year-old or a forty-pound weight; see if you’re still breathing afterward).
If you’re new to the group’s vast catalogue of music, which spans forty years, I recommend the heart-stirring O’Sullivan’s March (from The Chieftains 7). It is heavy with the powerful sounds of the bodhran (bo-rawn) and uilleann (ill-an) pipes. From there, try Away We Go Again or bring it down a notch with the beautiful Ag Taisteal Na Blarnan from The Chieftains 9. For advanced listening, nothing moves me quite like the gorgeously scored Year of the French. The whole album is worth a listen, although sadly, I’m not sure it is still in print. If you already know you like the Chieftains, try Planxty (of Christy Moore fame), Altan, or Lúnasa.
2. On the other side of the folk music spectrum lie the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem. O’Grady’s covered things pretty well with these guys, so I will just note that my favourites include: Finnegan’s Wake; Wild Rover; and Whiskey You’re the Devil. If you like the Clancy clan, try the Dubliners.
3. In the mid-1980s, lovers of Irish music were introduced to Cherish the Ladies. This all-female powerhouse group counts among its alumnae Aoife Clancy (her father is Bobby Clancy), Elieen Ivers (of Riverdance fame), and Winifred Hogan (Solas), Try Is Fada Liom Uaimi Uaimi (I Long for Her) featuring Aoife Clancy’s beautiful mezzo.
4. If you’re looking for something a bit more modern, try the “contemporary traditional” darlings, Solas. Track recommendations: Pastures of Plenty (featuring Karen Casey) or On A Sea of Fleur de Lis (featuring Deirdre Scanlan), a tune by one of my favourite singer/songwriters, Richard Shindell (who is not Irish, but whom I love anyway. Also, he was carried on the celtic-centric Shanachie Records label for a time so that counts, right?). If you’re partial to Solas, try Gaelic Storm, a band that first gained recognition as the “steerage band” in the movie Titanic, but have since proven themselves to be unsinkable. Try their rowdy version of The Leavin’ of Liverpool (and try not to stomp your feet too hard).
5. The lovely Boston-based trio Siúcra (Beth Leachman and husband & wife team, Matthew & Shannon Heaton) is sadly no longer making music together, but their lovely Here Among Strangers album (still available) was a welcomed contribution to an already well-stocked traditional music scene. The trio’s beautiful compositions–Shannon Heaton’s in particular–and Beth’s light soprano makes this a worthy addition to any collection. Try: “P” Stands for Paddy. (Note: their website is still live, but it appears to have been defaced, which is why I have not linked to it.)
6. Perhaps stretching it a bit to call the Big Music boys from Dublin, The Waterboys, “traditional,” but this 1980s band was among the first to successfully blend traditional Irish folk and rock. Try Fisherman’s Blues. And if you like the Waterboys, try the more contemporary Saw Doctors, who have a country-flavoured sound, but know how to bring it to the party.
7. On this day of celtic/gaelic celebration, I think it only appropriate to raise a glass to our brethren to the East, the Scots, and their beautiful music. The Tannahill Weavers are (at least in this context) perhaps best described as the Scottish Chieftains (being formed only 8 years after the Chieftains, and also for being primarily responsible for popularizing traditional Scottish music). To hear the Great Highland Bagpipe in all its glory, try Geese In the Bog/Jig of Slurs or Johnnie Cope‘s anthem. I defy you to hear the powerful swell of the bagpipe and not conjuring images of blue war paint, kilts, and William Wallace. (Or Mel Gibson, if that’s your thing.)
Celtic Canadian Cousins
1. This section starts off much as before: the Chieftains. No Irish music collection is complete without their Fire In the Kitchen album, which is a collaboration with some of the best celtic musicians Canada has to offer.
2. To wit: Natalie MacMaster, niece of famed-fiddler, Buddy MacMaster, this beautiful Cape Breton fiddler finds her best sound somewhere between the traditional and the innovative. Try her E-flat Set (from My Roots Are Showing) or Mum’s Jig (from In My Hands). Also not to be missed, her gorgeous anthem Get Me to December with Allison Krauss. If you like Natalie’s work, try the family group Leahy. Try their tracks McBrides or Wedding Day Jig. Incidentally, master fiddler Donnell Leahy is Natalie’s husband.
3. More controversial and experimental (if you do not know what I mean just google him) is Ashley MacIassac, Natalie MacMaster’s cousin. Decidely less conventional in his later recordings, but no less talented, he’s not everyone’s cup o’ tea and that suits him just fine. His electric take on the classics Beaton’s Delight or Sleepy Maggie (the latter featuring the haunting vocals of Mary Jane Lamond) are more than worth a listen.
4. Great Big Sea, or GBS to fans, are a rowdy group of Newfies with a penchant for sea shanties. Do not let their vaguely frat-boyish image fool you: the boys of GBS offer beautiful harmonies and well-arranged, well-played favourites. Check out their version of Lukey/Lukaloney from the Fire In the Kitchen or I’m A Rover.
5. Admittedly more folk than celtic, Wailin Jennys‘ version of traditional The Parting Glass (from Firecracker) is particularly haunting and, for that reason alone, is deserving of a spot on the list. Also try Saucy Sailor (from 40 Days) (Added bonus: Maine native Heather Masse is now a member of the trio!)
If Thin Lizzy Is More Your Speed
For those who sooo over their parents’ Irish music and looking to explore the adrenaline-pumping, Guinness-sloshing side of Irish music, try the progenitors of Irish punk, the Pogues. On this holiest of days–with the notable exception of U2‘s Sunday, Bloody Sunday–nothing gets my soul going like Young Ned of the Hill (sampling of the lyrics “You have robbed our homes and fortunes, even drove us from our land. You tried to break our spirit but you’ll never understand, the love of dear old Ireland that will forge an iron will). If you need to kick it up a notch from there and favour the melodic offerings of Boston’s own Dropkick Murphys, try Blood & Whiskey‘s King of the Faeries/Western Junk or the Skels‘ Have A Drink Ya Bastards!
Finally, for a few bands that are close to home, we like the sounds of The Milliners, Boghat, and our house favourite, the Napper Tandies, who can be heard live today at Bull Feeney (at 2pm) AND Ri-Ra (at 930pm). And not to be leftout, The Pubcrawlers, who offer up their own blend of Irish punk with a full-band sound.
Have fun, be safe, and remember: friends don’t let friend drink green beer (or, more importantly, drive!).