Celtic Connections: Transatlantic Sessions 2017 review by Pauline Keightley
An electrifying and enriching concert to warm those cold winter blues! The Transatlantic Sessions concert is Celtic Connections grand finale every year. As the lights flickered on stage we were treated to a concert of welcome variety – of energetic Scottish jigs and reels, flamboyant country airs, foot-stomping thrills and fine musicianship.
The Ttransatlantic Sessions’ band was led by musical director, host and expert dobro player Jerry Douglas and the gifted, unassuming fiddler Aly Bain. Aly always makes it look so easy and as usual he was flanked by composer and long-time partner, Phil Cunningham.
Michael McGoldrick, the ever popular Uillean pipes, whistle and flute player was on the left of the stage with fiddler, John McCusker, and festival director Donald Shaw on piano. While on the right of the stage there were American banjos – with Jerry Douglas, Dirk Powell and guitarist Russ Barenburg, who also took up the pace and rhythm. It was a welcome coming together of those strands of music that travelled from these shores to the Smokey Mountains and the Great Plains. When American country meets Scottish roots and fiddle tunes it’s a delightful mix-up.
The stage was buzzing with Douglas was on grand form and the backing singers having a dance. The stage was set up as a casual back porch session with a sofa for the singers – all adding to the warm chemistry. And then there was those heart-warming melodic songs sung this year by Jim Lauderdale, Karan Casey, Dirk Powell, Tift Marritt, Eddi Reader and John Paul White.
Tift Merritt, who’s from Carolina, sang in her powerful voice: ‘Heartache is an Uphill Climb’, ‘Easter Lights’, ‘Good Hearted Man’ and ‘Wait for Me’. Award-winning Americana and Bluegrass singer Jim Lauderdale showed loads of character with his accomplished ‘Headed for the Hills’, ‘Angel Band,’ I Lost You’ and ‘We’ve Only Got So Much Time’. Irish lass Karan Casey delighted the audience with the lovely lullaby ‘Lovely Annie’ and the anti-colonial song ‘The King’s Shilling.‘
Russ Barenburg performed his tune ‘Hymn’ – he knows when to hold back, keep it subtle but bring emotion too. While Dirk Powell, played old-time Appalachian style banjo with his ‘Motherless Child’, ‘High Score King’ and ‘Waterbound,’ where he spoke fondly of his grandfather’s inspirations. Irish guitarist John Doyle sang ‘The Bonny Light Horseman’ and Phil Cunningham played his moving tune ‘Irish Beauty.‘
From Alabama Grammy-winning John Paul White (The Civil Wars) mixed country and blues and impressed us with a dramatic soulful performance of his songs ‘Make You Cry’, ‘Crazy Arms’, ‘What’s So’ and ‘I’ve Been Over this Before.’
The ever popular, flame-haired Eddi Reader, sang songs to lift our spirits in these turbulent days, including, Burn’s song ‘Winter is Past’, Willie Nelson’s ‘Back to Earth’ and a rockin’ ‘Hummingbird.’
Douglas spoke of the musicians we have sadly lost this past year and all the singers performed a rousing tribute to country singer Guy Clark, described as the King of Texas Troubadours, with his ‘Desperados Waiting for the Train.‘
It was clear that not only were the band all good friends but had formed great musical partnerships – such as Jerry and Russ, Aly and Phil, Michael and John. Plus the engine room of the band Danny Thompson (double bass), James MacIntosh (drums) and John Doyle (rhythm guitar) – with their tight and right-on rhythms. Performing with such a high quality band certainly raised everyone’s game.
The Americans Tim O’Brien and fiddler Bruce Molsky haven’t managed along to Transatlantic Sessions recently, I hope there’s a chance they’ll return. This concert was all about what works, tradition, depth and high quality players. It would be good to see an accomplished woman musician joining the band sometime soon!.
Review and Photos Pauline Keightley – pkimage.co.uk/
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