By Earle Hitchner
A fairly reliable sign that an artist’s or band’s situation has changed is when they issue a greatest hits CD. Last year, Clare-born button accordionist and fiddler Sharon Shannon released "Spellbound" (Grapevine; Green Linnet), 21 tracks plucked from her previous recordings.
Apart from her guesting with Dónal Lunny’s Coolfin on their last couple of U.S. swings, Shannon has not toured here with a band of her own for quite a while. That should change this fall when she is expected to present a brand-new lineup stateside: Liz and Yvonne Kane on fiddles, Jim Murray on guitar, James Blennerhassett on bass, and Mary Shannon, Sharon’s sister, on banjo, fiddle, and mandolin.
From time to time, Sharon returns the favor to her sister by guesting with the Bumblebees, an all-women’s band who include (besides Mary Shannon) Liz Doherty on fiddle and Laoise Kelly on harp.
The new group fronted by 30-year-old Sharon Shannon, a Galway resident for the last few years, has been described as a "modern-day céilí band."
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Two former members of the Sharon Shannon Band, bassist Trevor Hutchinson and guitarist Donogh Hennessy, are part of Lúnasa, a group whose initial recording ranked No. 6 in the Irish Echo’s top 10 traditional albums of 1997. Those two will join flute, tin whistle, and bodhrán player Kevin Crawford, fiddle/tin whistle player Seán Smyth, and guest Cillian Vallely on uilleann pipes for a stateside tour this month. (John McSherry, a member of Coolfin, and Mick McGoldrick, who plays with Capercaillie and also heads his own band, will still appear and record with Lúnasa when schedules permit.)
With Dublin’s Ivan Goff guesting on uilleann pipes and flute, Lúnasa came out to America for a short promotional tour last January, and the buzz was so strong that the band decided to return for a longer stretch. Here’s when and where you can catch them in concert: May 12, Claddagh Pub, Lawrence, Mass. ( 688-8337); May 14, 9 p.m., Towne Crier Café, 62 Rte. 22, Pawling, N.Y. ( 855-1300); May 15 , Fez Under Time Café, 380 Lafayette St., NYC ( 533-2680) — late show, after Livingston Taylor; May 16, The Burren, 247 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville, Mass. ( 776-6896).
Solas to open for Carpenter
Like Altan last year, Solas will have the opportunity to perform in front of mostly new, larger audiences when it hits the road with progressive country singer-songwriter Mary-Chapin Carpenter from late May to late July.
The first date of this joint tour will be May 20 at 8 p.m. at Tramps, 51 W. 21st St., between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, NYC ( 544-1666). Other Mary-Chapin Carpenter/Solas dates include May 21 at the Mann Center, Philadelphia; May 22, Flynn Theater, Burlington, Vt.; May 28-29, Wolf Trap, Vienna, Va.; July 4, Pier 6, Baltimore; July 14, Ravinia, Chicago; July 16, Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh; July 22, Proctor’s Theater, Schenectady, N.Y., and July 23, Harbor Lights, Boston.
By themselves Solas, back-to-back winners of Association for Independent Music awards and a nominee for a third, will be giving two shows, at 7 and 9:30 p.m., on May 26 at the Iron Horse, 20 Center St., Northampton, Mass. ( 584-0610). The band will also be at the Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival, Trumansburg, N.Y., on July 24; West Kortright Center, East Meredith, N.Y., on July 25; Wilde Auditorium at the University of Hartford, West Hartford, Conn., on July 29; and the Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn, on July 31.
Celtic clout in TCC calendar
I suppose I’m not the only one to notice that the Towne Crier Café, a well-respected club celebrating its 25th anniversary last year, has stepped up its bookings of Irish and other Celtic music acts.
Owner Phil Ciganer, who organized the prestigious Bear Mountain Festival in the past, has slated an eclectic roster of artists for May-June. Besides Lúnasa on May 14, there will be the Mollys (Celtic Tex-Mex group from Tucson) on May 22, Newfoundland’s Great Big Sea on June 4, the John Whelan Band (Irish Echo’s Traditionalist of the Year for 1998), with special guest Matthew Phelps on warpipes and shuttle pipes (the Connecticut youngster was an eye-opening opener for Niamh Parsons this past March), on June 5, the McKrells (Celtic-folk-bluegrass combo) on June 6, the Paperboys (Canadian Celtic trad-rock) on June 18, Altan (band in the forefront of Irish trad) on June 25, and Susan McKeown and the Chanting House with Kila (their 1998 Key Records release, "Tóg é Go Bog é," is now out on Green Linnet Records) on June 27.
It’s also probable that Solas will perform at the TCC sometime in July or August. The club is at 62 Rte. 22, Pawling, Dutchess County, N.Y., about 90 minutes north of Manhattan. Details, (914) 855-1300.
Up and coming
An Irish traditional band to keep an eye on is Cían. They feature two extraordinary young instrumentalists, flutist Brian Duke and ex-Turas concertinist Padraig Rynne (a pupil of Clare legend Paddy Murphy), along with Damien Quinn on bodhrán and other percussion. Tim Murray, formerly of Danú, is a competent guitarist but a woeful singer.
Vocals are the only serious shortcoming in the quartet, whose self-produced, self-issued debut album, "Three Shouts From a Hill" (Cían Records 001), is an instrumental knockout. With the right singer, there’d be no stopping them. Hunt down this album.
1999 Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil
Competitions to qualify for Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann’s Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, to be held this year in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, from Aug. 27- 29, will take place June 6, starting at 10 a.m., at Manhattan College, Riverdale, the Bronx. For further information about the Mid-Atlantic Fleadh Cheoil, contact Terry Rafferty, 229 Baldwin Ave., Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604; (201) 288-4267.
The night before, at 8 o’clock, there will be a céilí mór, featuring the music of Mid-Atlantic Region Hall of Famer Pete Kelly and his Premier Céilí Band, at Gaelic Park, W. 240th St. and Broadway, the Bronx.
Friday night fever
The Blarney Star in lower Manhattan continues its bookings of fine Irish traditional music with America’s premier uilleann piper, Jerry O’Sullivan, on May 14 and father/daughter duo Mike and Mary Rafferty on flute and button accordion, backed by Eileen Ivers Band guitar/bouzouki player Dónal Clancy, on May 21.
The Blarney Star is at 43 Murray St. (near Church Street). Sets are at 9 and 10:30 p.m. Details, (212) 732-2873.
Boys of the Lough forge ahead
Christy O’Leary (vocals, uilleann pipes, tin whistle) and Chris Newman (guitar) have departed the band over the past year and been replaced by Kerry box player Brendan Begley (still working with Beginish) and Scots guitar/bouzouki player Malcolm Stitt. The new lineup — long-time stalwarts Cathal McConnell, Aly Bain, and Dave Richardson remain — is featured on "The West of Ireland," a new album on the group’s own Lough Records. Guests include Kathryn Tickell on Northumbrian pipes, Mick O’Brien on uilleann pipes, Ron Shaw on cello, and Garry Ó Briain (formerly of ‘ngus and Skylark) on guitar, mandocello, and piano.
Ireland’s most accomplished four-string banjoist, Tipperary-born Gerry O’Connor, has signed with Compass Records in Nashville, Tenn., to distribute his outstanding 1998 solo album, "Myriad," in North America. It will be out with new cover art in mid-May. Compass can be reached at 117 30th Ave. South, Nashville, TN 37212; (615) 320-7672.
Helping to push the deal along was no less than American five-string banjo phenom Béla Fleck, who put in a good word for O’Connor with the co-owners of Compass, five-string banjoist Alison Brown and bassist Garry West.
Fleck himself has an album coming out June 22 on Warner Brothers. "The Bluegrass Sessions (Tales From the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 2)" will feature a monster lineup: Jerry Douglas, Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Mark Schatz, Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clements, John Hartford, Vince Gill, Tim O’Brien, and Ricky Skaggs. Interestingly, there’s an Irish-flavored tune on the new release, "Maura on a Bicycle," that refers to Clare-born singer Maura O’Connell, whose earliest U.S.-recorded solo albums were produced by Fleck.