New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: celtic music

A Dynamic, Riveting Performance by One of the World’s Great Organists

About midway through the concert this past evening at St. Ignatius of Loyola, a sad, rustic Celtic air wafted from the organ console. For fans of Irish folk tunes – many of whom were in the audience – it was a familiar and probably comforting sound. But others were taken by surprise, notwithstanding that the piece was on the program. After all, it’s not every day that you can hear the plaintive microtones and otherworldly drones of uilleann pipes at a performance of classical organ music.

And it wasn’t organist Renee Anne Louprette who was playing those particular pipes. It was Ivan Goff. As his composition To Inishkea slowly built austere, funereal ambience, Louprette added calmly resonant chords whose harmonies were counterintuitive to the point where it seemed that this might have been a joint improvisation. Cornered after the show, she revealed that she’d actually written out her parts. Is she also a Celtic musician? Avidly so – she also plays uilleann pipes, and Goff is her teacher. If she’s a tenth as good as he is, she’s a force to be reckoned with.

That world premiere interlude – which also included a lively if sepulchral Irish air from 1852, a more subdued Swedish waltz and a traditional slide dance – was typical of the poignancy and innovation that Louprette is known for. The big news is that she’ll be premiering a new commission for all those pipes with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and if that we’re lucky, we’ll get her to air out the smaller ones all by herself sometime in the future.

She opened the concert with a confident, ultimately triumphant build through the long upward trajectories of two Bach organ pieces from the Klavierubung. The effect was heroism but not pageantry. At the reception afterward, more than one spectator commented on how Louprette does not let notes die on the vine – she lets them resonate for every millisecond of what the score requires. That issue is a big deal these days among string players, but it also applies to keyboardists.

Louprette’s steadiness and sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic dynamic shifts carried a theme and variations from French composer Nicholas de Grigny’s abbreviated but pioneering Livre d’Orgue. She took that energy to the rafters throughout Ad Wammes’ colorful Myto, from playful motorik rhythms, to what could have been the robust title theme from an action movie – Snowboarding the Matterhorn, maybe? – to sudden blasts of angst.

A transcription of a Nadia Boulanger improvisation made an aptly pensive introduction to the evening’s coda, a transcendent, often harrowing interpretation of Maurice Durufle’s Suite, Op. 5. As with the Bach, she built steam matter-of-factly through an epic with a chilling, stalking opening theme, towering peaks punctuated by clever echo effects, a ghostly dance on the flute stops and a deliciously icy interlude played with the tremolo way up before the mighty gusts began. Durufle was a friend of Jehan Alain, and was profoundly saddened by Alain’s death: the many plaintive quotes from Alain’s music leapt out precisely at the most prominent moments. Or at least that’s how Louprette played them. Beyond sheer chops and emotional attunement to the piece, Louprette knows this organ like the back of her hand, having been at St. Ignatius for several years beginning in the mid-zeros.

Louprette’s new album Une voix françaisee/A French Voice is just out; her next concert is March 18 at 3 PM at St. Joseph Memorial Chapel at Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA  And the slate of organ recitals at St. Ignatius continues on March 21 at 8 PM featuring a lavish program of solo, choral and orchestral works by Bach. $25 tix are available.

The Led Farmers Bring Their Smart, High-Voltage Irish Sounds to NYC

Smart, propulsive Irish folk-rock band the Led Farmers make stop at Arlene’s at 10 PM tonight, Sept 10 at 10 PM; cover is $10. Isn’t it cool when a good out-of-town band gets a prime weekend slot at a Manhattan venue with a good sound system? Everybody wins. The venue gets to show off their good taste, the band gets exposure to a new crowd and you don’t have to drag yourself to deepest, creepiest Bushwick on Tuesday night at 11 PM where you’ll have to figure out how to get home on your own afterward because the trains have stopped running.

On one hand, every high-energy original Irish band is going to draw the obvious Pogues comparison. The Led Farmers distinguish themselves with their focus, and tightness, and their songwriting. Sure, their new album, Katie – which hasn’t hit Spotify yet, although there are some tracks up at the band’s music page – includes familiar, friendly favorites including a salute to Galway bay moonshine, an unexpectedly plaintive, spare version of The Foggy Dew, and a boisterous live take of the Irish Rover. But their own songs and instrumentals are the best part.

The album opens with the brisk, minor-key populist anthem Share the Wealth: “People with their cash must be smoking hard if they think we’re going quietly…let yourself be alone at last, put aside your technology,” the band encourages. And then scampering uilleann pipes break for the dancers pops up midway through. Brendan Walsh’s banjo spirals and spins and shoots off sparks over Seamus Walsh’s rich bed of guitars and the hard-hitting rhythm section of bassist Ross O’Farrell and drummer Glenn Malone on the instrumental The White Set.

To Offer follows a brisk, mysterious, hardscrabble band-on-the-run narrative over similarly dynamic, unexpected changes. The deliciously spiky, bitingly ominous banjo/guitar textures as the hit single Row by Row gets going are worth the price of the album alone – and the song’s the mutedly sarcastic anti-prejudice message packs a similar wallop. Likewise, Star of the County Down rocks about as hard as an acoustic band possibly can: for all intents and purposes, it’s acoustic heavy metal. And the all-too-brief, feral, lickety-split banjo/guitar break midway through Thomas Jefferson is pure adrenaline.

The album’s most entertaining track is the instrumental Space, where the band makes it impossible to figure out what they’re going to hit with you next, especially when it takes a turn in a darker direction. The band winds it up with the vividly weary Raglan Road, just acoustic guitar and vocals. These guys are excellent musicians, strong singers and sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live. This is the point where music writers spin all kinds of cliches like good craic and raising a pint, but you can figure all that out by yourself and the band will help if you can’t. And you don’t have to drink or be Irish to like this stuff.

Cathie Ryan Makes Her Way Subtly Through Wind and Rain

Irish-American singer Cathie Ryan’s first studio album in seven years, Through Wind and Rain, walks the line between restraint and plaintiveness. By any standard, Ryan has a beautiful voice: like her songs, her vocals bridge the gap between Irish and American folk music, with an elegance and nuanced poignancy not unlike Hungrytown’s Rebecca Hall. Ryan carries the songs with the grace of a survivor who’s come to grips with difficult circumstances and has decided to ride out the storm, which makes sense considering the personal troubles she’s dealt with in the recent past: she lost her home in a hurricane, her marriage broke up, then she broke up her band and moved to Ireland. That land being her spiritual home, she was able to muster the personal resources and the songs to put her career back together again. Although Ryan has a cast of virtuoso Celtic musicians behind her, this is a relatively quiet album: when it hits a high point, it’s more insistent than exuberant. It’s also a purist record: there’s no autotune, no computer gimmicks, or for that matter hardly anything here that’s electrified at all.

Ryan’s own lilting take on the traditional Irish ballad In the Wishing Well opens the album, with casually expert,lush acoustic backing from ex-Solas guitarist John Doyle, his old bandmate Seamus Egan on bouzouki, Niall Vallely on concertina, Scott Petito on upright bass, and Matt Mancuso from Ryan’s touring band on fiddle. Canadian songwriter Laura Smith’s I’m a Beauty, a pretty waltz, is a showcase for Ryan to channel a quiet indomitability, echoed by the guitars of Patsy O’Brien and Donogh Hennessy, and Michael McGoldrick’s lively yet understated uilleann pipes. Ryan sings a couple of tracks, one a traditional tune and the other by Altan’s Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh, in Gaelic. Another traditional ballad, Go From My Window is rich with bittersweetness: the wariness in how Ryan delivers the line “the wind and the rain have brought you back again, but you haven’t got a home here” underscores its loaded meaning.

The traditional tune Fare Thee Well makes a nice contrast, rising on the wings of Mike Brenner’s lapsteel, followed on a similarly upbeat note by Kate Rusby’s Walk the Road. Liberty’s Sweet Shore, by Doyle, makes a vivid reminder of how so many Irish-Americans in decades past came across the ocean to escape the tyrrany of British rule. Daddy, a country song by Ryan, is a gentle plea from child to parent to lay off the boozing (something that doesn’t get addressed all that much in Irish music), while Rock Me to Sleep, Mother is a gentle lullaby lowlit by Brenner’s dobro.

Hennessy’s guitar, Michelle Mulcahy’s harp and the rich harmonies of Ryan and Ollabelle’s Fiona McBain deliver a Roger McGuinn rarity, May the Road Rise with You – which sounds like a great lost Byrds track from 1965 or so – with greater optimism than pretty much anything else here. They end the album with a medley of two reels and a jig, Ryan pounding on a boomy bodhran drum for good measure. There’s neither crazed intensity nor stunned horror here: Ryan knows she makes her biggest impact working the corners of these songs. Fans of the deeper, subtle side of Irish music or for that matter any kind of folk music have a lot to enjoy here. Ryan plays the album release show at Clark Theatre at Lincoln Center with her band on October 13 at 8 PM; tix are just $18.