Category: Archive

Trad Beat Major label, major achievement

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Earle Hitchner

THREADS OF TIME, by Cherish the Ladies. RCA Victor 09026-63131-2

Elegant hair, makeup, clothes in the front-cover photo: must betoken another commercial sellout, right? Rubbish. The same criticism was leveled against Altan when they made the jump from indie to major label with "Blackwater," and the fact of looking sharp from a marketing/publicity perspective has nothing to do with whether the music inside the package sounds sharp.

On "Threads of Time," Cherish the Ladies both look and sound sharp. The band’s fifth release overall and first for RCA Victor is by far their best recording to date, with production values to match the musical ones. The energy and tight playing on the traditional reels "Thady Casey’s Fancy/The Ladies’ Pantalettes/The Monaghan Twig/The Linen Cap" are exceptional, with some frisky alternation between fiddle-bodhrán and accordion-bodhrán.

"The Anascaul Polka/Pat Enright’s/Joe Wilson’s" exhibit a mastery of tempo, and the last polka in particular, written by the band for the director of the National Council for Traditional Arts, is as tasty a dance tune as you’ll hear anywhere. Two other originals, Donna Long’s "Liza’s Dream" and Joanie Madden’s "The Westside Highway," are combined in an arrangement bringing out the fire of each. It’s a stirring mix of piano, mandolin, flute, fiddle, and banjo, with guest percussion from Arto Tuncboyaciyan and acoustic bass from Phil Bowler, a jazz musician who hosts a radio show on WPKN-FM in Bridgeport, Conn.

Still another Cherish original was composed by Mary Rafferty, "Tip Toe Home," a terrific reel powered by Rafferty’s fine button accordion playing that’s preceded by some nimble hard-shoe taps from stepdancers Donny Golden and Sinead Lawler. And Siobhán Egan’s "The Galloping Hound," named for the family pet, briskly closes out the album-opening instrumental set, while her equally engaging "Five of Diamonds" is the penultimate tune on the album.

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Tipperary-born Aoife Clancy has a clear, forceful voice that is shown to particular advantage on "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," Yeats’s famous poem from 1893 set to her music. The spare arrangement of Long’s piano and guest Dan Barrett’s cello is a perfect backdrop to Clancy’s moving vocal. She also provides the music to another of Yeats’s poems, "The Ballad of the Foxhunter," and Clancy’s voice blends well with Madden’s and Long’s on the choruses, though the insertion of bloodhound sounds to boost "atmosphere" is more intrusive than intriguing.

Where those three voices peak is on "The Bonny Light Horseman," a song often associated with the singing of Dolores Keane. It’s reminiscent of what the Poozies, another excellent all-women’s group, usually do on each of their albums: a drop dead beautiful a cappella number. And Cherish’s Clancy, Madden, and Long certainly rival that quartet’s vocal intensity.

As one of the world’s premier Irish traditional bands, Cherish the Ladies have broken into the rarefied ranks of major-label status with undiminished strength and imagination. There’s nothing patchwork about "Threads of Time," which has been cut from the whole cloth of what makes Irish traditional music so extraordinary, then woven together with exemplary care and craic.

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