Well, it was definitely a banner year for traditional music. Certain trends strengthened, such as the popularity of the music around the world, with a growing and growing audience in the Far East, of all places
But, we're not here to discuss trends, but to make Awards! "The Livies" !! (And remember, you can click on the presentation program David Lattimer and I did showcasing a cut from each of the albums. You can hear why they were selected!)
These are the second annual recognitions of the best of the best. As the net's most listened-to source for traditional music, we know how much these Awards mean to the recipients, and they have let us know repeatedly!! To be eligible, the artists must have been reviewed in the previous year here on LiveIreland. We try to make sure the albums we review are new to the market, but with so many recordings now, that is impossible. We DO review great artists whom we hear for the first time, and want to share with you immediately. This is irregardless of how long the album has been out. We get literally buried in new albums each year that the artists want us to review. We listen to them all, but only review the really good ones, and that is why you are likely to read only positive reviews here. We are not "Pollyannas" when it comes to the music, and there is a load of awful stuff released each year. But, why waste time telling you about those? We want you to be hip to the best. And, then come "The Livies". The best of the best. So, here we go again! We "reach for the envelopes", flex the LiveIreland marketing muscle worldwide, clear our throats (ahem) and proudly announce the winners----and winners indeed they are!!
Instrumental Cut of the Year- Sue's Celebration from the album, Simple Tricks
This album was a wonderful collaboration between Angus Lyon and Ruaridh Campbell on Greentrax Records. But, what had the trad world buzzing was the combination on "Sue's Celebration" of a tango and a reel !! Musicians worldwide were stunned as they heard this track, and many wondered why they hadn't thought of it! Nobody we talked to had ever heard of such a combination--it was truly new. Even more importantly, it was played flawlessly, as were all the tracks on this terrific instrumental album. Young, gifted musicians taking the tradition in new directions. Great stuff, altogether.
New Female Artist of the Year-Nan Tom Teaimin (Buy CD Here)
Now, this is an example of a great album that has been out for a couple years. We were made aware of this gem by listening to a program from Stella O'Malley, here on the site. We heard Nan's voice, and were captured! She has won numerous sean nos singing competitions, and they are abundant on the album. We felt she shines the brightest on "James Connolly", a song about one of the heroes of the 1916 Rising. We are not big fans of "rebel songs", as a rule. But the beauty and power of her rendition is on a different plane entirely from the usual, roaring pub renditions that are so trite. There is magic here--both in her voice, and her song selections. What an unbelievable debut! What an alto!! The album is entitled, Songs From Connemara, and is available here on the site. Wow!!!!
Vocal Cut of the Year-Fraser Island from the album of the same name--Maranna McCloskey
We showcased this vocalist's stunning work last year in voting her New Artist of the Year. That Award was for her work on the last album from the talented and well-regarded group, Oige. She replaced the popular, Cara Dillon in the group, and had Oige fans forgetting the former singer in a flash. Maranna wrote this song during a trip to Australia, and it is about the magical legends on Fraser Island. We know David Lattimer is getting this album for the site. It is entitled, Fraser Island. It is actually a four-song EP. We hear she is hard at work on a new, full album, and we cannot wait. This Derry singer may prove to be the best in the business. She is a miraculous alto and a treasure. Song and artist--perfect together.
Composer of the Year-Denis Carey
Newport in County Tipp must be very proud of their hometown genius. His all-instrumental album, "An Turas" is overwhelming. The selection and amazing differences in the tunes truly stagger you as the realization dawns that all these tunes are being created by one person! Be it an air, such as the title tune, or a wondrous polka, such as "Polka Dots", this is an album impossible to grasp with only one or two listenings. We have played this album over and over and are still finding hidden treasures within. Dennis also plays piano or button box on every tune, along with other instruments. We have heard many an instrumental creation from artist-composers, but never the like of this in the tradition! Look, we have no words. Get this album here on site, or contact Carey in Newport .....but get this album. Your collection is not complete without it, trust us on this one. A major new talent on the international scene!
Female Musician of the Year-Maire Ni Chathasaigh
This harp player has reinvented the traditional harp. She and her S/O, Chris Newman, are indescribable, as his guitar virtuosity joins her musical genius. Any of her albums will showcase what a commanding presence on the harp, coupled with a whole new take and technique on the instrument, can do. We had never been partial to the harp. Oh, we liked it well enough, and why not? It is a beautiful instrument. But, they all do tend to sound alike, or so we thought. Then came Maire. This is a whole other universe of harp playing---paralleling ours, but something, well, heavenly!! The speed and grace of her playing still leaves us gasping as we are listening to her at this moment. We know we have called Denis Carey and Maire geniuses here. That term is thrown around way too easily today. But, here, it fits. Buy her albums. Visit her website. Listen to her here. And, see her in person. How often to you get to hear someone re-invent an instrument, like Miles Davis on trumpet. Ray Charles on piano, along with Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller, Django Reinhardt on guitar, Jerry Mulligan on sax--and Maire Ni Chathasaigh on harp. Really. Truly. Good Lord, this woman is a wonder!!
Male New Artist of the Year-John Daly (Buy CD Here)
This Cork-born lad now lives in Chicago, and has given us one of the finest fiddle debut albums we have ever heard. His self-titled album is on Ossian. It is available here on-site. He is so confident in his playing that each selection seems effortless. There is an ease, grace and joy in his playing that immediately catapults him into the top tiers of players worldwide. He also wrote a gorgeous, and we mean gorgeous air for the album, entitled "Alcie", for an old friend. Backed by some wonderful musicians, John's generosity lets each shine as they join him on one terrific cut after another. This guy's class and talent have been known around Chicago for some time, and now it is the world's turn to meet an astounding musician with a blessing of an album. More! More!
Traditional Album of the Year-Tap Room Trio
Galway-based fiddle wonder, Jesse Smith , is joined by Harry Bradley on flute and John Blake on guitar for a miracle. Both Smith and Blake are huge fans of the Sligo traditional icons such as Michael Coleman. Having listened and listened to the 78's from the original masters, these two made a brilliant decision. They created this album as a tribute to those players, an exactingly pure tribute. Thus, we are treated to a beautifully crisp, clean recording that surely shows what the greats such as Coleman, Morrison and the others would have sounded like if they had enjoyed more modern recording techniques. And, therefore, this album is perfect. Two years ago, Jesse gave us a stunner of a self-titled first album. Pure. Gorgeous. How could he top this, we wondered? Well, this year, he married another fab Galway fiddler, Yvonne Kane (we loved and reviewed her and her sister's debut album here), and gave us Tap Room Trio. These are masterful, young musicians who are at the pinnacle of their profession. In their prime, dedicating themselves to the pure drop. Yeah, that's our definition of perfection. Which is what this album is.
Female Vocalist of the Year-Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola (Buy CD here)
Talk about a tsunami!! This young lady hit with a "force ten" in the trad field with her debut album, An Raicin Alainn. This album hit the market and has been a surprise crossover hit in Ireland. From the Aran Islands, Lasairfhiona has become an instant and well-deserved smash with this album, which combines sean nos and other traditional singing forms into something new, different and great. She has a wonderful voice that is sweet, strong and sexy--all at the same time. The selections are beautifully thought out, as is the engineering and production. We stopped in at The Celtic Note Music Shop on Nassau in Dublin over the holidays and inquired as to the availability of the album. Sold out. More on order. Get this album. You'll hear why. Special. Very, very special. Up Aran!!!
Male Musician of the Year-Brian Finnegan
Finnegan is one of the founding members of the astonishing and breath-taking group, Flook. His flute and whistle work with this ground-breaking quartet has left writers the world over running out of adjectives. Flook is the most inventive and sensational group that we have heard for years, maybe ever. What a fresh take on the tradition, what energy! We listened to no album all year as often as this one. It never grows old, as it is so richly layered. All the musicians in the group should be up for an Award for their individual abilities. We have never heard a bodhran player near John Joe Kelly, for instance. But, we decided on Finnegan, for his sure hand is at work here. The album is "Rubai". Okay. Third time during these Awards, here's the word-----genius. Wow!
Vocal Album of the Year -Karan Casey's Distant Shore
This is yet another Award for Karan Casey. She is among the very, very best in the business, and this album shows her at the peak of her considerable prowess! Joined by a phenomenal list of side musicians, she is astounding. All the selections score. We won't pick a favorite. We saw her at the Dublin, Ohio Festival last summer in performance. She has never been more relaxed, in control---and she has never been better. We have watched and listened to her grow, after she fortunately left the disappointing group, Solas, of which she was an original member. The group's format, such as it was, held her back. This rare and lovely bird flies far, far higher on her own. The album is available everywhere. Get it!!
Vocal/Instrumental Album of the Year-Summer At My Feet-North Cregg
One of the hardest things to do in the business is introduce a new singer into a well-established, dynamo of a popular group such as North Cregg. Well, North Cregg did it this year. Beautifully. Fiona Kelleher joined one of the most respected and beloved groups in trad and fit right in on its new Greentrax record. Great stuff. North Cregg has been a favorite for a few years now. Nobody does better slides or polkas! Fiona's voice is a light soprano of a thing, and she could have easily been overwhelmed by North Cregg--one of the most powerful groups in trad. Great production, song selection and careful arrangements made sure that Fiona had her day. This is North Cregg, still the great group we love so, with a new singer who adds---not subtracts---adds to the group's dynamic. Well done, and a great, great album.
Album of the Year-Rubai by Flook (Buy CD here)
This may be the all-time Album of the Year!!! First time we heard them we were stunned. Speechless. Gobsmacked. Left lurching around the house gasping for air. On our knees imploring heaven for more! Addicted! Fans! Rubai MUST be one of albums you own!! This is totally traditional and brand new---all at the same time!! We have found no one--no one, who does not love this group. There is nothing like them anywhere. We have a countdown going in waiting for their new album, which should be out soon. And what a live performance! We saw them three times at this year's fabulous-as-usual-Milwaukee Fest. They were the hits of the Fest, and that includes mega groups like La Bottine Souriante and North Cregg, among others! This is a great, great album. Get it and get ready to smile. This is just about as good as it gets!
Congrats to all! Well done!! Good on 'ya!! More!!