The Gibson Brothers are on the April cover of Bluegrass Unlimited. Check out the feature article here.
Beautiful video for Nuala Kennedy’s ’All of These Days’ (from the new release Tune In) by Glasgow based animation artist Dave Morrow:
The Gibson Brothers are guest-blogging on WAMU’s Bluegrass Country. Check it out here!
Written by Helene Dunbar.
Reprinted from Irish Music Magazine - April, 2010
It’s strange to think of Solas as an “old dog” but on paper, the band has now been together for fourteen years and through ten albums. They’ve played worldwide and amassed a strong and vocal fan base. Many bands would be content to rest on those past accomplishments but Solas’ new album, “The Turning Tide”, shows that they are not yet out of new tricks.
Seamus Egan (flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, tin whistle, low whistle, guitars, bodhran) and Winifred Horan (violins, vocals) are the two remaining founding members and Egan says “On one level it’s great to have had the chance to work with someone for that length of time but at the same time you need to be mindful that that dynamic doesn’t get complacent. We definitely still push one another.” They are helped in that endeavor by Mick McAuley (accordions, contertina, low whistle, vocals), Eamon McElholm (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and the band’s newest member, vocalist Mairead Phelan.
Phelan, on her second Solas album now has developed with the band and allowed them to grow in a way that only a vocalist can. “Certainly,” says Egan, “‘Love & Laughter’ really was her first time making an album and going through the process of being in the studio. At that time, she’d really only been singing with us for live for a couple of months, so everything was new for her at that stage. Since that time and through the making of this album, she’s had nearly two years of being out and about and doing all kinds of gigs with her voice getting stronger. Coming into this album she’d really grown quite a bit over that two year period.”
That growth has allowed the band to do some branching out. In addition to the fiery and tightly-arranged tunes that Solas are known for and that you’d expect to find on any Solas CD, the band has chosen some interesting covers most decidedly outside of the normal Celtic musical catalog: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Ghost of Tom Joad’, Richard Thompson’s ‘Poor Ditching Boy’ and Josh Ritter’s ‘Girl in the War.’
“We wanted to try to push the boat out a little bit in the songs we looked at on this album,” Egan explains. “In the case of ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ – that was a song that we thought about for a while but it seemed like something that would have the potential to really suit Mairead.” When you make an album “you’re looking at your wish list of songs that you’d love to do and in this case, that list for us was more adventurous in spots than in the last few records.”
Phelan, who replaced Deirdre Scanlon who replaced Karan Casey, is, in finding her own feet, giving the band a bit of a new direction as well. “Every singer, on an obvious level, has their own personality which allows them to sort of tackle certain types of songs,” says Egan. “Not every song suits every singer. So with the changes in the singers that we’ve had over the years – it takes a little while for that cohesion to settle in. This is particularly true in the case of Mairead because she’s so young and she’s really just starting out and seeing which songs she naturally gravitates towards and how they fit with her and how they fit with the band. So it’s a learning process and a “getting to know you” process. The job there then is to try to meld the songs with the singers.”
Egan is grateful that Solas’ long term fans have not only given them latitude but have grown with them. “We’ve always been looking ahead from the beginning,” he says. “We’ve never actually been too concerned with sticking with material that was totally traditional or approaching traditional material in a totally traditional manner. As you develop and go on there’s a natural inclination to see how far you can push that. We’ve done albums that scared people,” he laughingly admits. “But I think that’s all good. We’ve been very fortunate with our fans that after fourteen years and ten albums they kind of give us the benefit of the doubt. We’ve got a nice relationship built at this point – us with them and them with us and it allows us to try things. Obviously not everyone is going to be happy with everything. But at the end of the day we don’t want to make the same album each time. Once you make an album in a certain way, you have a tendency to move past that artistically and on to the next thing.”
As to what that “next thing” will be, Egan isn’t sure but he’s quick to assert that the band never stops looking for it. “It’s never a thing where you’ve finished a record and all you’re doing is that album. You’re always looking out for something that you might be able to tackle at some point. I end up doing a lot of writing during sound-checks because it gives you a chance to try things. There seems to be no shortage of sound checks which I don’t mind; they’re a good cleansing of the brain. But it drives some of the rest of the band a little mental.”
As the last Solas album, ‘Love & Laughter’, offered up some interesting collaborations with roots group The Dukhs and as ‘The Turning Tide’ offers some interesting covers of songs by living songwriters, I had to ask if there were any plans for Solas to pursue more collaborative performances. “Those things need to come together very organically,” explains Egan. “The germ of it needs to be natural so that those connections evolve as that particular one with The Dukhs did. There are loads of folks we’d love to do things with but for us to feel that it was a real type of thing there needs to be almost a courting if you will. It needs to feel genuine and come about in a genuine sort of way.”
There is one exception that Egan might make though. Does Solas envision performing “The Ghost of Tom Joad’ with Springsteen? “If he were to call we’d definitely make an exception,” laughs Egan. “We’d let that evolve very fast. My goodness that would be fantastic!”
The Boss aside, Egan says that Solas’ goal is to “Ideally just keep moving forward and continuing to push ourselves and keep making music that challenges us and hopefully that the audience still wants to hear. As bad as you hear that the music industry is doing, musically, I think it’s a really exciting time – there’s a lot going on. It’s difficult to get things done now but there are a lot of reasons to remain positive about it and I’m very happy that Solas is still a part of that.”
When asked if he thought they might make it to their 20th anniversary though, he exclaimed “Oh god no, we’re not thinking of that, that’s a horrifying thought. Right now we’re working a lot which we’re really grateful for and we’re really enjoying the whole thing at the moment. At some point though, I’m sure we’ll have to rein it in a little.”
Still, It’s clear that Egan isn’t ready to do that just now. The “turning tide” referred to in the album’s title “seemed to coalesce with where the band is and also on a broader scale and with the songs that we chose for the album and with what’s going on all around us. In that sense it dovetailed and seemed to make sense to us.”
Many bands found touring near to impossible in the wake of 9/11 and the travel restrictions that came after and the weak value of the dollar. “Without question, over the past nine years there was a real sense of ‘whatever you thought about how difficult it (touring) was before – this is really dangerously difficult,’” says Egan. And it has gotten worse before it started getting better. “We’d been out on the road right at the time the economy completely tanked last year. We were in the Midwest and you really sensed that there was definitely some concern that something horrible was going on. You don’t always get a palpable sense of it when you’re out but this time it was there. But it does seem to be maybe easing up just a little bit,” muses Egan. “There seems to be a bit more confidence for people to come out and spend some money.”
The band is acutely aware of what it takes sometimes for fans to get to a show. “People coming to a gig are out for a night, they might have to get baby sitters, there’s a meal, maybe a drink later. It adds up. You can’t take it for granted. Whatever we’ve done to get to the show, the audience has too. There is a bit of planning and money spent. And there’s a commitment on both sides.”
It clear that that commitment is one that Solas takes seriously and one which their fans seem happy to continue making from however long the band chooses to stick it out and regardless of what direction the tides turn in.
Last Wednesday on NBC’s "Today" show, guest Mick Moloney sat calm, cool and collected. The pre-eminent authority on Irish music in America was there to amplify the
correct answers to a "How ’Irish’ Are You?" trivia contest conducted by co-hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. "I was quite impressed at the integrity of their little pop quiz," the professor of Irish studies and music at New York University told me later on the phone. "Besides, why pass up the chance to inform and entertain at the same time?"
Informing and entertaining are the hallmarks of Mr. Moloney’s teaching, writing and music-making. His introductory course in Celtic music is consistently oversubscribed by NYU undergraduates; he wrote the widely praised book "Far From the Shamrock Shore: The Story of Irish-American Immigration Through Song"; and he appears on more than 60 albums that showcase his compelling singing and virtuosity on guitar, mandolin, tenor banjo and octave mandolin.
Since 1973, the year the now 65-year-old native of Limerick City, Ireland, came to the U.S. to earn a doctorate in folklore at the University of Pennsylvania, no one has done more to promote and preserve Irish traditional music in America. That is why in 1999 he received a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on folk and traditional artists.
But on two recent albums, "McNally’s Row of Flats" and "If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews" (both on Compass Records), Mr. Moloney took a diverting detour. "I first became aware of the late-19th-century songs of Ned Harrigan, whose grandfather was from Cork, in the home library of Kenny Goldstein," he said, referring to his late dissertation adviser at Penn. "As I learned more about those songs, I had a feeling similar to the one I had when I first encountered Irish traditional music. It was an emotional attachment that became part of me, and it became only stronger after I moved full time in 2004 from Philadelphia to Manhattan, where Harrigan and other songwriters did most of their work."
The title song of "McNally’s Row of Flats," an album comprising 14 compositions by the theatrical songwriting team of Irish-American Harrigan and Jewish-American David Braham (his ancestral surname was Abraham), describes densely multiethnic tenement life on Manhattan’s Lower East Side: "And it’s Ireland and Italy, Jerusalem and Germany, / Chinese and Africans and a paradise for rats. / All jumbled up together in the snow and rainy weather / They constitute the tenants in McNally’s row of flats." Written in 1882, the song uses lyricist Harrigan’s gimlet-eyed, comic sensibility and Braham’s catchy melody to give a sobering glimpse into a struggling stratum of New York at that time.
Besides such Irish traditional musicians as button accordionist Billy McComiskey and pianist Brendan Dolan, the album features Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who specialize in pre-1930s jazz and popular music and have a brass-oriented sound. "Harrigan and Braham’s songs relied on a pit orchestra," Mr. Moloney said, "and I knew the instruments we play today in Irish traditional music—fiddle, accordion, whistle, uilleann pipes—were fine for the project, but I also wanted a flavor of vaudeville and variety theater in the mix."
Messrs. McComiskey, Dolan, Giordano and the Nighthawks also perform on "If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews." This equally impressive album covers 14 songs written between 1880 and 1920, roughly the period of vaudeville and early Tin Pan Alley. Irish-Jewish partnerships that flowered then included William Jerome (surname: Flannery) and Jean Schwartz, John O’Brien and Al Dubin, and George M. Cohan (father’s original surname: Keohane) and his close business associate Sam Harris. Composers and performers often changed their names for euphony, to fit the musical fashion, or to avoid stereotyping.
"I think a great deal of the resistance today to the output of vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley relates to the excessively maudlin nature of many songs," Mr. Moloney said. "But as an immigrant myself to America, I did not have that cultural bias. I began to recognize the care and craft in the melodies and lyrics of the more accomplished songs and to understand their social context."
A song as topical now as in 1880, the year it was written, is "When McGuinness Gets a Job." One Irish-American wife speaks to another about their unemployed spouses in the song, citing the fierce competition for jobs, the empty promises from politicians about future work, and the impact of Italian migrant laborers on wages: "Contractors they hire them for 40 cents a day." But she also acknowledges that these migrant laborers "bring their money home at night, drink no beer or wine / That’s one thing I would like to say of your old man and mine!" Mr. Moloney views the song as "an equal opportunity slap at both ethnic groups. Let’s face it: We don’t live in a perfect world, and many of these songs reflect that."
Delivering a far more upbeat message of cross-cultural harmony is the title song on "If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews," written by Jerome and Schwartz. It’s a litany of whimsically observed slices of oft-overlooked history: "McDonald built the subway and his name we’ll not forget / A word of praise is due to Nathan Straus / For pasteurizing baby’s milk the world owes him a debt / He’s a friend to every kid in the house."
The last song chosen by Mr. Moloney for the album was "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" Adapted by William McKenna from a British music-hall number, it became a huge hit in 1909 for Nora Bayes (born Leonora Goldberg). "It’s a hilarious song about an immigrant Irish woman shouting the name Kelly in the hope of finding her sweetheart amid the marchers in New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade—and 500 marchers named Kelly respond to her call," Mr. Moloney said. "I remember driving on the turnpike while listening to Nora Bayes’s recording of it, and when she sang ’Has anybody here seen Kelly? K-E-you know how to spell it’ with an exaggerated Irish accent, I nearly drove off the road. Songs like that are priceless. How can anyone not like them, especially on St. Patrick’s Day?"
Or any other day, for that matter.
Mr. Hitchner, a columnist for the Irish Echo, writes frequently on Celtic music for the Journal.
To view the article at WSJ.com, click here.
Solas recently stopped by NPR’s Folk Alley, to hear the live session and see their performance, click here.
The Compass Records Group is delighted to announce that Emilee Warner will be joining the label as Director of Publicity and Promotion.
Emilee is one of the most knowledgeable roots music publicists working in Nashville today and her prior experience makes her an ideal addition to the team. Emilee comes to us from the CMT Radio Network, Tuned In Broadcasting (WRLT Lightning 100), and her self-owned publicity company Big Shindig Media which represented Sarah Siskind, Steep Canyon Rangers, Computer vs. Banjo and others. She also worked for Keith Case & Associates and HollerBack PR in promotions and publicity. Emilee is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in Business Administration and is a native of Crossville, Tennessee.
Welcome to the team Emilee!
FREE in-store performance & Thirsty Thursday (FREE PBR) with The Chapmans at Grimey’s New & Preloved Music.
Thurs, March 18 @ 6pm.
In celebration of their Compass Records debut "Grown Up".
Solas was recently reviewed by the Irish Examiner. Click here to read the article by Gwen Orel.
The Chapmans and the Alison Brown Quartet will be performing @ Music City Roots this Wednesday, March 17th. 7pm, $10 ($5 with student ID). Other performers include with Maura O’Connell, Shannon Quinn, and Aly Sutton. Click here for ticket information.
To hear the performance live, it will be streaming on the WSM website here from 7-10pm.
The Washington Post had some nice things to say about Alison Brown’s recent performance at The Kennedy Center in New York.
To view the article, click here.
The Gibson Brothers are again at the top of the Bluegrass Unlimited charts. This is their seventh month on the chart and fifth month at #1. Congrats to The Gibson Brothers!
Below are photos from the (3.10.10) press conference.
A Yankee land, thanks to the Irish and the Jews
By AARON HOWARD 25.FEB.10
Mick Moloney needs no introduction to fans of Irish music. His work as an academic in collecting and recounting the Irish-American experience through music is possibly peerless. And, Moloney’s version of “There Were Roses” is one of the greatest Irish songs of all time.
Moloney’s latest project, the CD “If It Wasn’t For the Irish and the Jews” (Compass), breaks new ground by exploring the Hebrew-Hibernian connection in early-American popular music. The repertoire on this CD comes mostly from vaudeville and musical revues, the most popular forms of mass entertainment in the United States between 1880 and 1920.
As Moloney describes in his excellent liner notes, vaudeville was an essential part of nearly every American urban community. The form was a fusion of many traditions, including the Yiddish theater. Vaudeville, especially on the East Coast, reflected the skills and tastes of immigrant audiences.
For performers, who usually performed four to five times a day, the goal was to develop a signature song that could connect with audience after audience. Most performers relied on professionally produced material, music crafted by lyricist/composer teams. And, that’s where Moloney discovered a large number of historic Irish-Jewish collaborations. Moloney explains that by 1890, the popular music business began to shift from being an Irish to a Jewish enterprise. Both audiences clearly responded to “nostalgia” songs, pieces about the “old sod” as a song like “Along the Rocky Road to Dublin” reflects. And both audiences embraced songs that spoke of the contributions to America made by immigrants as “If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews.”
In addition to nostalgia, these Irish and Jewish song crafters created tunes that reflected the real-world immigrant experience, such as “When McGuinness Gets a Job.” This song, written in 1880, reflects the unemployment and dislocation suffered by Irish workers displaced by newly arrived Italian immigrants who were willing to do pick-and-shovel labor for “40 cents a day.” Another tune on the CD, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier,” I remember hearing as a child, sung by my grandmother. It was an anti-war tune that was very popular prior to the American entry into World War I. The tune quickly was replaced on the stage by the Irish-Jewish patriotic ditty, “America, Here’s My Boy.”
The performances on this CD – all contemporary – are performed ably by a cast of top Irish musicians that includes John Doyle, Susan McKeown and Joannie Madden, as well as Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks. While it would have been nice to experience more of the Jewish side of the collaboration other than the title song, I want to recommend highly this CD for those interested in American popular music history and, of course, for Irish music fans.
Catie Curtis was recently written about in the Toledo Free Press. To read the article, click here.