By Earle Hitchner
CHERISH THE LADIES, Towne Crier Cafe, 130 Rte. 22, Pawling, N.Y., July 9.
The lineups of few Irish bands remain unchanged over the long haul, and Cherish the Ladies now have just two original members in their sextet: flutist Joanie Madden and guitarist Mary Coogan. But like the Chieftains, another sextet featuring just two original members (Paddy Moloney and Martin Fay), Cherish have survived and thrived by finding replacements who can blend into the musical mix and keep it strong.
That is certainly true of Deirdre Connolly, who has replaced departed lead vocalist Aoife Clancy. Connolly’s first time singing with Cherish, in fact, was at this club about half a year ago. Daughter of 1980 All-Ireland uilleann pipes champion Mattie Connolly, she grew up in Queens and has appeared on "Cherish the Ladies" (Shanachie, 1985) and "Fathers and Daughters" (Shanachie, 1985), the latter album with her dad.
Connolly has a powerful voice, which she used to good effect on such songs as "The Curragh of Kildare," "To Welcome Paddy Home," and "The Banks of the Lee," the last learned from the late Maureen Glynn Connolly, one of her teachers. Deirdre Connolly is also a skilled tin whistle and flute player and a competent bodhrán player. In that sense, she is the first lead vocalist for Cherish who can contribute substantively to the dance tunes performed by the rest of the band. Such instrumental versatility from a singer is rare and should pay later dividends for the group.
The fiddle spot left by Siobhan Egan has not yet been permanently filled, but Kentucky-born Liz Knowles subbed splendidly this night. A veteran of such groups as Ensemble Galilei and the John Whelan Band, and more recently a featured musician in "Riverdance," Knowles delivered a galvanizing solo on "Skipping Lambs," a reel composed by Tipperary fiddler Seán Ryan. Living in Chicago now, she also blended well with Cherish on such medleys as "Limerick Lassies/Bird Feeder/Bank of Ireland/Grandpa’s Céilí Band" and "Harbor Jig/Falcon on the Hedge/Jack’s Morning Feast."
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Madden’s tin whistle playing on "The Waves of Kilkee" vividly evoked the seaside scene that inspired her tune, while her flute playing along with the crisp keyboard playing of Donna Long on the latter’s composition "The Nightbird" was lively and, in the middle passages, nearly sportive.
Mary Rafferty, daughter of Ballinakill musician Mike Rafferty, displayed greater command of the button accordion than I’ve ever seen before. She is certainly a box player to be reckoned with, and her tin whistle turn with Madden and Connolly also on whistles was a concert highlight. Still another memorable moment came when button accordionist Jim Coogan sat on stage for two sets of tunes with his daughter Mary playing banjo.
For sheer entertainment, Cherish the Ladies are hard to beat. What makes their concerts that much more enjoyable is the obvious pleasure and pride they take in the tradition — learned right here in America.