By Earle Hitchner
LIZ CARROLL and JOHN DOYLE. Pequot Library Hall, Southport, Conn. May 14.
Before this most recent tour, the last time Chicago fiddler Liz Carroll performed in the NYC/Connecticut region was at the Irish Traditional Music Festival in Snug Harbor, Staten Island. So you know it’s been half
a dozen years or more — too long — between visits by Carroll, one of the truly great Irish fiddlers of our time (or any other).
"People in Ireland will come out to hear her," Belfast’s Frankie Kennedy, the late flutist with Altan, once confided to me. He was referring to his countrymen’s abiding appreciation of Carroll, one of a select handful of American-born musicians who command as much respect in Ireland as they do stateside.
On a postcard-sunny Mother’s Day in a high-vaulted, burnished-wood library hall that first opened its doors in 1893, people came out in force once more to hear Liz Carroll, who was joined by Solas guitarist John Doyle in an unamplified acoustic set.
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Carroll opened the concert with four reels: "Clarke’s Favorite," a tune associated with Coombe fiddler Tommy Potts, "The Morning Dew," and an Ed Reavy composition. She played the first two on her own, adding a bit of Windy City wit to the Potts’s tune by slyly bowing a couple of bars from the 1922 song "Chicago (That Toddling Town)." Potts himself was famous for his own clever quotes from pop and classical music in the tunes he played, so Carroll’s cheekiness was wholly appropriate. Doyle skillfully came in on the third reel, and right away you knew you were in expert hands this afternoon.
It was a memorable mikeless concert: well-conceived, varied, relaxed, funny, impeccably performed. "Lost in the Loop," a three-part reel Carroll wrote, had an impish edge, while there was a quiet ferocity to her playing of "Sevens/Michael Kennedy’s/The Cup of Tea."
Carroll can also tap into the emotional depths of a slower tune she wrote, such as "Letter to Peter Pan," without slipping into sentimentality. Her pairing of a slip jig with Dougie MacLean’s tender "Mr. and Mrs. MacLean of Snaigow" was inspired, and it was refreshing to hear a musician recognize the quality of Dougie MacLean’s tunes rather than just his songs. (MacLean wrote this lovely air for his mother and father in the Perthshire village of Snaigow.)