By Earle Hitchner
After some idle speculation and even misreporting of the facts in other publications, the exciting Irish traditional band Lúnasa has recently inked a three-album, worldwide deal with Green Linnet Records in Danbury, Conn. Their new album, "Otherworld," is scheduled for release on Oct. 12.
Lúnasa’s self-titled first album was issued on their own label in November 1997 and was selected as the Irish Echo’s sixth-best traditional album for that year. At the time the band comprised Mayo-born Seán Smyth on fiddle and tin whistle, Manchester native Mike McGoldrick on flute and low whistle, Belfast-born John McSherry on uilleann pipes and low whistle, Dubliner Donogh Hennessey on guitar, and Tyrone-born Trevor Hutchinson on double bass.
Though that lineup, plus Clare resident Kevin Crawford on flute, tin whistle, and bodhrán, appears on "Otherworld," McGoldrick and McSherry cannot commit full-time to touring with the group because of McGoldrick’s commitments to Capercaillie and his own band, and McSherry’s commitments to Dónal Lunny’s Coolfin and Tamalin. In those instances, Lúnasa has often performed on the road with such guests as Donegal piper Paul Harrigan, Dublin piper Ivan Goff, or Armagh piper Cillian Vallely.
The band will again be on tour in the U.S. this September, kicking it off with the 23rd annual Washington Irish Folk Festival over Labor Day weekend, Sept. 4-5, at Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md. ( 565-0654). Kevin Crawford will actually be doing double duty that festival weekend, playing with both Lúnasa and Moving Cloud, an Ennis, Co. Clare-based quintet with two albums out on Green Linnet.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
From Troy, Inverness, Cape Breton Island, Natalie MacMaster will release her fifth recording, "In My Hands" (Rounder), on Sept. 14. She is no stranger to Irish music, having recorded a number of Irish tunes on her albums and also appearing on such recordings as "Eileen Ivers" (Green Linnet) and the Chieftains’ "Tears of Stone" (RCA Victor).
Among the guest musicians on "In My Hands" are Clare sisters Sharon (button accordion) and Mary Shannon (mandolin), harper Laoise Kelly, bassist James Blennerhasset, Coolfin drummer Ray Fean, Alison Krauss (on the song "Get Me Through December"), Nashville fiddler Mark O’Connor, nuevo flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook, and Halifax guitarist Dave MacIsaac. MacMaster even makes her vocal debut on the album, speaking-singing the title track with a light hip-hop beat behind her that will put listeners in mind of another Cape Breton fiddler tacking toward the contemporary, Ashley MacIsaac.
Solas, Casey coming to TCC
Everything that goes around, comes around, or so it seems. Solas, now touring with guest vocalist Sheila O’Leary as an opener for Mary Chapin Carpenter, will be performing on their own on Friday, July 30, at 9 p.m. at the Towne Crier Cafe, 62 Rte. 22, Pawling, southern Dutchess County, N.Y. ( 855-1300).
Less than four weeks later, on Thursday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m. ex-Solas lead vocalist Karan Casey will be in concert at the Towne Crier Cafe with Nomos founding member Niall Vallely (brother of Cillian) on concertina. Casey, pursuing a solo career now from her home in Cork City, is working on her second solo album for Shanachie. Vallely has recently issued his first solo album, "Beyond Words" (Beyond Records), in Ireland.
As part of the Celebrate Brooklyn performing arts festival, Solas will follow up their TCC concert with an outdoor performance (rain or shine) on Saturday, July 31, at 7:30 p.m. at the Prospect Park Bandshell, 9th Street and Prospect Park West, Park Slope, Brooklyn. Opening for Solas will be Orrin Star and the Sultans of Swing, a bluegrass-based group. Call (718) 855-7882, ext. 52 for further information.
Nothing to weep about
What’s the shelf life of an original tune? If you consider "Weep Not for the Memories," composed by Solas’ Seamus Egan, it’s stronger than ever after nine years, though in an altered form. The melody initially appeared on his second solo album, "A Week in January" (Shanachie, 1990). Then it was picked up for the Arista soundtrack to Edward Burns’s 1995 hit movie, "The Brothers McMullen," for which Egan provided the entire score. For the end titles of the same movie, Egan’s tune was shaped into a song, "I Will Remember You," by Dave Merenda and Sarah McLachlan, who also sang it. All three share writing credit on the song, and Egan’s original tune title is part of the sung refrain.
The soundtrack with that song on it stayed in Billboard magazine’s "Top World Music Albums" chart for over 15 months, or about 63 weeks. The song also became one of McLachlan’s most requested numbers in concert and even showed up on MTV’s "House of Style" with then host Cindy Crawford.
More recently, Kenny Rogers — yes, "the Gambler" himself — recorded the song on his comeback recording "She Rides Wild Horses" (Dreamcatcher), which has reached No. 6 on the country charts. This past spring, well before McLachlan’s latest album, "Mirrorball," came out, a live version of the song popped up on adult contemporary and adult top 40 radio. Part of its popularity stemmed from the ability to digitally download the song free of charge from an Internet site.
Then, in June, McLachlan released "Mirrorball," and the live-version single, "I Will Remember You (Live)," soon cracked no fewer than five separate Billboard charts: adult contemporary, adult top 40, top 40 tracks, hot 100 airplay, and the hot 100 singles. As of July 17, it was No. 18 on that last chart, with McLachlan’s "Mirrorball" album at No. 8 on the top 200 albums chart.
Wonder if McLachlan and her fans realize that Egan’s beautiful, enduring melody was inspired by the passing of legendary Cavan composer Ed Reavy and other Irish traditional music greats?
Making book on it
For years, fans of Irish traditional music have been hoping for some single reference source that would act as a handy, fact-filled, up-to-date guide to the music and its performers. That day has arrived with the April 1999 publication by Cork University Press of "The Companion to Irish Traditional Music," edited by Armagh-born flutist and critic Fintan Vallely.
This 478-page book runs the alphabetical gamut from "accordion" to "Zozimus" (a singer-composer from Dublin who died in 1846). Over 100 contributors, including myself, wrote for the project, covering songs in Irish and English, instruments, tune types, various dances, a history of regional styles, and musicians, dancers, and instructors through the years. By the end of this October, the book will be made available stateside from New York University Press, which has a co-publishing arrangement with Cork University Press. To place an advance order, contact New York University Press, Attn: Order Dept., 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012 (phone: 1  996-NYUP; ext. 6987, or  998-2575; fax:  995-3833 or  505-9183; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
New recordings, signings
Shanachie will release new albums by the Irish traditional band Danú, featuring fiddler Jesse Smith (son of Cherish the Ladies’ Donna Long), and singer-songwriter Luka Bloom. The Danú release is scheduled for February, while Bloom’s album, "Salty Heaven," should hit stores in late September.
On Sept. 14, Green Linnet will issue Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill’s "Live in Seattle," recorded at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern this past January. It will be the fourth recording for Hayes on Green Linnet. He also co-produced and performed on "Kevin Burke in Concert" this past spring. In addition, Green Linnet recently signed Old Blind Dogs, an Aberdeenshire band founded in 1990 who formerly recorded with the K.R.L. label in Glasgow.
Milwaukee-based Narada Records has recently released "Celtic Aire," the second album by Galway quartet Dordán for the label. After a period of licensing their EMI Canada albums to Guardian Records in the U.S., the Rankins (formerly the Rankin Family) of Nova Scotia have signed with Rounder Records and issued their seventh album, ‘Uprooted," on the Cambridge, Mass., label. Cherish the Ladies have released their second album for RCA Victor, "At Home," while Ontarian fiddler Pierre Schryer and Altan button accordionist Dermot Byrne have put out their first collaboration as a duo, "Two Worlds United" (New Canadian Records).
Finally, "Transatlantic Sessions 2," two separate CDs issued on Iona Records in 1998 and culled from a series of TV performances for BBC Scotland that year, should be coming out in the near future on Ceili Music. If the label name sounds unfamiliar, it was begun last year by famed country-bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs out of Hendersonville, Tenn. Among the Irish artists on "Transatlantic Sessions 2" are Tommy Hayes, Maura O’Connell, Paul Brady, Ronan Browne, Sharon Shannon, and Breda Smyth, sister of Lúnasa’s Seán Smyth.