Category: Archive

Concert Review Musical feast for St. Patrick’s Day

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

THE CHIEFTAINS. At Carnegie Hall, NYC. March 17

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice helps, but the Chieftains have a better idea: Keep it interesting. And that’s exactly what the world’s most popular Irish traditional band did this night before a packed house.

Dedicating the concert to the late Charles Comer, the band’s publicist and friend, Chieftains leader Paddy Moloney introduced an eclectic array of guest artists: Japanese jazz singer-pianist Akiko Yano, pop-rocker Joan Osborne, "Titanic" vocalist Sissel, Bronx-born fiddler Eileen Ivers, stepdancers Donny Golden and Cara Butler, the Harlem Gospel Choir, and guitarist Gabriel Donahue.

Of those, Sissel, Osborne, the Harlem Gospel Choir, and Golden and Butler gave standout performances. With a beautifully clear voice of near-operatic range, Sissel did "Siúil a Rún," a Wild Geese song, and "O Mio Babbino Caro" ("O My Darling Daddy"). She sang this famous aria from Puccini’s one-act opera "Gianni Schicchi" with utter conviction and passion.

Osborne, who’s still working on the follow-up to her smash-hit album "Relish," sang "Raglan Road" with intentional slowness, allowing the lyrics to sink in emotionally. The Harlem Gospel Choir were sensational, tossing their heads back in full voice on "Shenandoah" and especially "Long Journey Home," an anthemic song composed by Moloney and Elvis Costello. And Golden and Butler — the latter stars in a recurring TV commercial for Folger’s coffee that Moloney drolly acknowledged — were in great form throughout the evening.

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Yano gave a sturdy if undistinguished performance of "Sake in the Jar," a song she wrote with Moloney, and Donahue’s acoustic guitar playing was pedestrian in comparison to Eliot Fisk’s superior fingerwork on "Maneo," a Galician tune from the Chieftains’ 1996 album "Santiago."

With Donahue backing on guitar, Ivers did an extended solo featuring music from her new release, "Crossing the Bridge." At one point stepping on a wah-wah pedal as if it were a gas pedal, she used her blue fiddle to create electronic effects that were strident and jarring. Only on the slow air "Dear Irish Boy" did she play with anything resembling restraint and subtlety. Puffs of rosin and a snapped string are signs of hard bowing, but they are not necessarily signs of bowing that meshes well with melody. Less would have been more here.

Individually and collectively, the Chieftains were in excellent form throughout the concert. Flutist Matt Molloy’s solo on "Death of Staker Wallace" and "A Fig for a Kiss" was stellar, Kevin Conneff’s rendition of "Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure" made one wonder why Loreena McKennitt was chosen at all to sing the song on "Tears of Stone," and the reels "Cup of Tea/Flogging/Rakish Paddy" as well as a pair of Turlough O’Carolan planxties captured the band at their Irish traditional best.

If Ireland is the Celtic Tiger, then the Chieftains are the Celtic Energizer Bunny: They just keep going and going and going. It was a strong, vibrant showing for the band, whose ideas and verve still flow freely after 36 years.

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