Before a packed house, the sextet combined spirited instrumentals, fine lead singing and vocal harmonies, and solid showmanship in a performance of admirable pace and diversity.
New to the lineup were Kill, Co. Kildare-born Heidi Talbot, a singer whose voice has a resilient upper register and a husky lower register, and Whitestone, Queens, native Martin Reilly, the talented button accordion-playing brother of Cherish fiddler Marie Reilly. Martin Reilly was, as CTL leader Joanie Madden jokingly described, “the rose among the thorns,” filling in on box until a suitable distaff replacement can be found.
The evening featured only a smattering of holiday music, specifically, “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” which was wedded to “The Cordal Jig/Old Apples in Winter/Con Cassidy’s” in a crisp, clever arrangement. Amid all the Santa Claus-trophobia choking off the oxygen of a sensible yule season, it was a breath of fresh air to hear mostly Irish traditional tunes and songs on this last night in November.
The sextet opened their concert with the “Luckpenny” jig, exhibiting the lift and drive they are famous for. Accompanied by Donna Long on piano, Joanie Madden played whistle with moving expressiveness on “The Distressed Soldier,” a tune kicking off a medley further highlighted by Long’s nimble-fingered solo on “The Fairy Reel.”
A couple of original barndances featured Madden on silver flute, a hornpipe had Marie Reilly and Donna Long joining forces, Mary Coogan played one of her own tunes, “Road Dust,” on acoustic guitar, and Martin Reilly leaned into some Donegal highlands on the button accordion before the ensemble joined him for “Dowd’s No. 9” reel. All were executed with precision and well-tempered power.
An unexpected treat came when Joanie Madden’s father, Joe, walked up on stage and played his nine-coupler red Soprani button box with CTL on a short rendition of “The Galway Shawl, a song requested by an audience member, and on “Paddy Murphy’s Wife.”
Heidi Talbot delivered a lovely lullaby, “The Castle of Dromore,” framed by delicate harmonies from Joanie Madden and Donna Long. CTL’s new lead singer also stood out in her unaccompanied version of Patrick Kavanagh’s “Raglan Road,” and Talbot’s band-backed take on Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times” expertly conveyed a wish that finds new purchase in today’s troubled economy.
Cherish the Ladies’ well-earned encore was a medley starting with the reel “Last Night’s Fun.” For those in the audience arriving home after midnight, it was all that and more.
Here are the remaining Christmas tour dates for CTL: Dec. 5, River Center (with symphony), Columbus, Ga.; Dec. 6, Spivey Hall, Morrow, Ga.; Dec. 7, Academic Arts Theater, Westchester Community College, Valhalla, N.Y.; Dec. 8, Dana Center, St. Anselm College, Manchester, N.H.; Dec. 10, Shea Center, William Paterson College, Wayne, N.J.; Dec. 11, Kirby Center, Wilkes Barre, Pa.; Dec. 12, Arts Center, College of DuPage, Glen Ellyn, Ill.; Dec. 13, Sanagamon Auditorium, University of Illinois, Springfield; Dec. 15-16, U. of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls; Dec. 18, Iowa State University, Ames; Dec. 19, Meyer Theatre, Green Bay, Wis.; Dec. 20, Fairmont Opera House, Fairmont, Minn.; Dec. 21, Sheldon Auditorium, Red Wing, Minn., and Dec. 22, Grand Opera House, Oshkosh, Wis.
O BROTHER: TRACKING A TREND
Was it that long ago when the marketing phenomena of “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance” ushered a glut of Celtic-related music into the retails stores and onto public television?
Recall how that ’90s trend developed: “Riverdance” swarmed PBS-TV fundraisers and won a Grammy, Michael Flatley danced on an Oscar telecast, new imprints or subsidiary labels sprang up (Celtic Heartbeat, Wicklow, Kells, Hearts O’Space), compilations came out by the scores, the world music charts were dominated by Celtic releases, “Riverdance”-clone stage, CD, and video productions started to pop up, and trad-rooted acts (Altan, Cherish the Ladies, Eileen Ivers, Davy Spillane, D