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Concert Review Evergreen Green Fields celebrate 20th

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

GREEN FIELDS OF AMERICA, at the Town Hall, 123 W. 43rd St., NYC. Friday, Dec. 4

Fifteen musicians, four stepdancers, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt were on hand to mark the occasion of two decades’ worth of outstanding Irish traditional music made on this side of the Atlantic by Green Fields of America, a group reflecting the laudable vision and ‘sthetic of their founder, Limerick-born Mick Moloney.

Kicking the night off was McCourt, who gave a hilarious, suitably histrionic impression of an Irish tenor — any county’s "answer to John McCormack" — singing "The Rose of Tralee." He also put into historic, if slightly idiosyncratic, perspective both Green Fields of America and Irish traditional music in general.

McCourt was followed on stage by Moloney, singer-guitarist Robbie O’Connell, uilleann pipes/low whistle/tin whistle player Jerry O’Sullivan, fiddler Marie Reilly, piano accordionist Jimmy Keane, and guitar-bouzouki player Zan McLeod. Moloney led off with the emigration song "Shamrock Shore," and that segued into some uptempo tunes that included the "Kerry Jig," "Sligo Jack" (written by Keane), and "Larry Redican’s." O’Connell later sang "The Winning Side," a song he composed in outrage over the long Manhattan incarceration of Joe Doherty.

Next out were three Galway-born musicians — flutist Jack Coen, his brother Charlie on concertina, and flutist Mike Rafferty — along with Dublin-born button accordionist James Keane, Moloney, and McLeod. To hear the two wooden flutes and concertina blend so smoothly and unhurriedly on the "Pipe on the Hob/Barrel O’Rafferty" jigs was to hear Irish instrumental music at its finest, and the same effect was achieved on the "Old Copperplate/New Copperplate" reels.

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What marred this otherwise inspired set was James Keane’s surprisingly choppy solo spot on "Crowley’s" reels and his too fleet playing at the onset of the concluding "Congress/Green Gates/Lucy Campbell’s" reels. The speed he employed, which the other musicians wisely didn’t imitate, caused a cacophony that only relented when he finally slowed down.

Faring far better on button accordion this night was Brooklyn-born Billy McComiskey, who joined his former Irish Tradition partner, the fiddler Brendan Mulvihill, for some spirited playing on the reels "Molly on the Shore/The Tempest." Nimbly backed by McLeod, their very short set then finished up with a pair of Turlough O’Carolan planxties, the first of which, "Carolan’s Draught," was beautifully played by McLeod on guitar.

Making McComiskey’s appearance all the more poignant was his playing of a gray Paolo Soprani owned by his friend and mentor, the late Seán McGlynn of Tynagh, Co. Galway, who was the first button accordionist ever to tour with Green Fields of America.

Rounding out the evening were fiddler Marie Reilly and her box-playing brother Martin; a three-way piping segment by O’Sullivan, Bill Ochs, and Tim Britton; an a cappella rendition by O’Connell, Moloney, and Jimmy Keane of "Stick to the Craythur," a tongue-in-cheek catalog of the varied "health" benefits to be derived from poitín, and a touching salute to recently deceased Paddy Clancy through the famed Clancy Brothers’ song "Leaving of Liverpool."

And no better finale to this celebratory night could have been conceived than all the musicians massing on stage to play "Tarbolton/The Longford Collector/The Sailor’s Bonnet," three reels recorded in 1934 by legendary Sligo fiddler Michael Coleman, whose influence on Irish traditional music during the 20th century perhaps transcends all others.

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