CD Review: TriBeCaStan’s “New Songs From the Old Country”

November 12, 2013


New Songs From the Old Country (Evergreene Music)

By Brian Arsenault

I’m a bit late getting to this gem and it is one. A rare gem that perhaps could only come out of New York — especially the “TriangleBelowCanalSt.” — where there is as much diversity as just about anywhere in the world.

Diversity of instruments — some I am not sure how to pronounce or spell. What’s a charango? Diversity of influences — from the frozen tundra of Mother Russia to the deserts of North Africa. All channeled through an American jazz sensibility with traces of bluegrass, blues and rock.


I know. I’m not being clear enough. But it’s hard since there’s a good chance you’ve never heard anything like it before if you aren’t familiar with the band.

Eastern and Western rhythms intermingle. Stringed instruments from around the world are combined. Is that a flute? No a penny whistle. Maybe both.

It’s music that seems both terribly foreign and yet very comfortable. You might like playing it as a Holiday album, whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year. People might smile and start to dance a step or two. On the other hand, they may go ‘What the hell is this?’

A caravan moves across a desert before we decided to hate each other to death. Maybe after we stop.

You move from a room where an Irish folk tune is being played to a room full of jazz, then back again to the penny whistle and so on and so forth till you might feel a bit dizzy. Happy though.

Then you’ll be at the Circus’ Christmas party in Tinker Tailor singing something like the old Soviet national anthem.

You can cook to this music. I did. Breakfast. (Pancakes) But a bunch of Russians from an old movie may suddenly dance in your kitchen.

This is music that seeks the world but may not make it out of New York. It’s too unique. I don’t think we do unique any more.

Oh, it’s not flawless. The album drags a bit in the middle as if it’s running out of ideas and energy, starting to repeat, but then there’s a new surge of energy.

Adrian’s Leap” leaps to a bit of rock.

The Blue Sky of Your Eyes” brings bluegrass into play and shows that Delta harmonica has the same musical roots, a connection not often made.

Kecapi Rain” is maybe the most beautiful piece on the album. Soft rain falls. It’s warm.

Strings and pipes. A flute? I don’t know. I get confused and stop trying to pick out everything.

Let the soft warm rain fall.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

CD Review: Roisin O’s “Secret Life of Blue”

October 30, 2013

Roisin O’Reilly

Secret Life of Blue (3 U Records)

By Brian Arsenault

Secret Life Blue of begins with the Irish instruments on “Here We Go” rising like a summer storm. Then a voice so pure, Roisin O’Reilly’s, which I have compared to Joni Mitchell’s, as I can think of no higher compliment.

Roisin O'Reilly

Roisin O’Reilly

Yet she has very much her own pipes; a voice as yet undamaged by time or self abuse. Like a new flower or a fresh mowed meadow.

Roisin has the background. I first saw her on a short U.S. tour singing a few songs with a family member. And I knew. I just knew. This gem of an album was bound to occur.

And what should I call this music, I ponder. Rock through a Celtic haze perhaps. New Irish folk tunes maybe.

Something else, though, in this music. A next generation. A circle fully drawn.

How Long” has an opening from the West Virginia hills. Emmy Lou could sing it. As if Irish pain has crossed the Atlantic to American folk then bounced back again to its native land.

Tell me no lies” she pleads. “That’s all I want.” Good luck with that.

Roisin’s song writing, often in company with the various band members, has a Neil Young directness and deceptive simplicity with an occasional wild Irish howl that is like a female response to Van Morrison with the Chieftains.

And, ah, the others in the band.:

Ruth O’Mahony Brady on keys mostly. Must be her wonderfully on piano on “Tea Song.“

Brian Murphy on bass and singing deep and soulfully, also on “Tea Song,” with Roisin; his deep notes the perfect counterpoint to her high end work here. They might think about doing more of that.

Alan Joseph Tully, principally on guitar, strumming like David Crosby on “You Owe Me a Drink“ and elsewhere slippin’ and a slidin’ in and around Roisin‘s vocals.

They are linked by soul if not entirely by blood.

The layered Celtic rhythms in all the songs seem to rise from the very earth. They spin and weave like faeries in a folk tale. Integral to the poetry of the songs.

Hope and melancholy blend throughout on this album. Something terribly Irish about that.

From “Filled With Snow” wherein she sees her lover’s “buckle(d) brow” and feels “the dew from your skin on my hand.” Oh there will be “a day that is just ours.” But just a day, not a lifetime.

Again Irish . If it’s good, there’s a good chance it won’t last.

On “Let’s Find Some People,” there’s a Carole King-like life affirming hopefulness interspersed with bed-ridden depression.

Nothing sugar coated here but there is strength and love, or is it the strength of love, emerging and perhaps redeeming throughout.

On “Climb High” Roisin argues “There is a reason for all this dreaming” while wondering if “Writing down words just cause you can” is “how it’s supposed to be.” Neil Gaiman would approve of the “dreaming” portion and countless scriveners with the second part.

The album closes with an admonition to “Find the Light” and an homage to “The Secret Life of Blue.”

Is blue to dominate? Is sadness winning? There’s something terribly Irish about that too. Still, there’ll be a fight if only fought with poetry and music.

Oh, by the way, when I first saw her, Roisin was on tour with the great Irish singer Mary Black, her mom. I didn’t want to make too much of that at the start as it might make you think of her only in those terms. Wouldn’t be right.

Final note: The album seems to be available in CD form only in Ireland and curiously in Sweden, Germany and Austria. Elsewhere on iTunes.

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Photo courtesy of Roisin O’Reilly.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Brian Arsenault’s Short Takes: CDs by Lunasa and Olivia Foschi

March 17, 2013

Of Music Beyond Ireland and Back to Italy

By Brian Arsenault


 Lúnasa with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Lúnasa Records)

Up the Irish. Up the rebels. I always used to like my cousin’s husband bellowing those calls to rising first thing in the morning.

To get your dose of real Irish instrumental music with St. Patrick’s day upon us, give a listen to Lúnasa (whistles, fiddle, pipes, etc.) with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra (Ireland’s national orchestra).

It’s all there: jaunty jigs, melancholy melodies, mad passion, soft beauty. A wall of sound created by traditional Irish acoustic instruments enhanced by the restrained but not understated playing of the orchestra. Phil Spector might dig it, if he digs anything these days.

There are wonderful moments on several selections when Lúnasa starts on its own for several bars and then the orchestra comes up behind in support. That very moment when the orchestra begins is just dazzling. Perfection.

The surprise of this album (for me at least) is the band taking listeners to Celtic regions beyond Ireland’s shore–Brittany in western France, the former kingdoms of Galicia and Asturias, still autonomous regions in northwest and northern Spain.

The “Breton Set” is one of the delights of the album.  It is akin to Irish music but somehow different, calling across centuries to one another.

But my favorite for spunk and joy is “Morning Nightcap”. That’s not an oxymoron, darlin,’ it’s Irish.

You can get this album on i-Tunes and such in time for St. Patrick’s Day but not till mid-April in CD form. Go figure.

And if you’re anywhere near Powell, Wyoming (is anything near Powell, Wyoming?) today, on the big day itself, you can see Lúnasa at Powell High School Auditorium. Try and figure.

Olivia Foschi

Perennial Dreamer (Olivia Foschi)

Olivia Foschi tells the listener to kick off shoes and pour a glass of wine. She wants the album “to take you to a comfortable, cozy place.” But I didn’t put the CD in the Bose to be comfortable and cozy. I’d like to be thrilled, dazzled, enchanted, maybe grabbed and shaken.

And at times, Olivia, you come close.

On “Bridge” you and the piano mastery of Miki Hayama chase each other and make a perfect match.

On “Legend of the Purple Valley,” you set the mood perfectly during the opening by singing notes only. We are among the violets.

In other places, even though you’re a match for the bevy of current female jazz singers in clarity, pitch and tone, real angel stuff, I think I’m hearing the self imposed limitations of extensive music schooling. Music school is great, I’m not against it, but have you noticed how many times they tell you what you can’t/shouldn’t/mustn’t do?

I just don’t hear a complete singing style of your own yet.  As a songwriter, though, you’re hitting a nice stride.  “Disillusionment,” for example. And “Secrecy and Lies.”

Take more chances.  Have you spent enough time in the clubs?  You were born and raised in the States but had the fortitude to serve an orphanage in Katmandu, gain a European education and study music in Rome.   Surely you don’t just want us to only get all cozy.

Just keep going and don’t get too comfortable.

To read more reviews, posts and columns from Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Short Takes: Of My Favorites in Twenty-Twelve

December 29, 2012

By Brian Arsenault

I really don’t feel comfortable calling a column like this “The Best of 2012.”  It’s not that I’m not opinionated enough to do so, it’s that integrity would require me to have listened to a whole lot more during the year.  Wouldn’t one have to hear just about everything to do an honest “Best of 2012”?  Oh well, let others worry about that.

If  I absolutely had to select an album of the year it would be Dreams of the San Joaquin (Blix Street).  Maia Sharp combines with her parents, Randy Sharp and Sharon Bays, and Johnny Cash songwriter Jack Wesley Routh to give us a piece of America and thus a better sense of all of America.  It’s a Steinbeck novel, an early Capra movie, a train whistle in the night.

Here are my other favorites from the year drawing to a close:


Halie Loren’s Heart First (Justin Time). How can this singer of grace and style not be near the top of everyone’s list? Great phrasing, emotions that resonate not nauseate, humor, wit. I truly don’t think there’s anyone better.

ave CDCheryl Bentyne’s Let’s Misbehave: The Cole Porter Songbook (Summit Records). This is a master class in jazz singing, in Cole Porter, in the American songbook. Cheryl Bentyne can make magic with Manhattan Transfer and on her own. Special magic here.

Graham Dechter’s Takin’ It There (Capri). Jazz electric guitar virtuoso. You’ve heard that before but this guy will take you there. And beyond. You feel the music imbedded so deep in the DNA.  In this case, by nature and nurture.

Jesse Cook’s The Blue Guitar Sessions (Entertainment One Music). I know, two guitarists. But this is something completely different.  Softly stated, yes, but more accurately, lyrically stated. A world of its own inviting you to enter.

Nik Bartsch’s Ronin (ECM).  In medieval Japan, Ronin were Samurai without masters.  That works here.  Smoothly flowing jazz funks to a frenetic pace. To quiet piano bars. There are spaces, gaps, silences. And wondrous sound.


Rickie Lee JonesThe Devil You Know (Concord Records).  A long time. A lot of pain. A lot of courage. A lot of living. Not covers but reinterpretations that in several cases are more articulate, more profound, more evocative than the originals.

All Purpose Blues Band’s Cornbread and Cadillacs (Catbone Music) because the traditions of Otis Redding, Sam Cook, all the Delta bluesmen, funk, soul, Neville Brothers, and Bourbon Street must continue to be there to renew and enrich our souls.

s CDRolling Stones’ reissue of Some Girls Live in Texas 1978. (Eagle Rock Entertainment) Mick and the boys at the height of their powers. If you’re not sure you are comfortable with today’s geezers in concert, you will be reassured by this remarkable live album.

Various artists, hell, many artists, on Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan.. This album of Bob Dylan songs was done for Amnesty International, and such collaborative efforts seldom get a lot of recognition. Well, it’s not actually a full blown work of art, critics sniff dismissively. But it you miss this, you miss some magnificent interpretations of Dylan’s work. Disc 2 alone is worth the price of admission.

Mary Black’s Song from the Steeples (Blix Street) both in its own right and as a representative of a great year of music from Irish female singers.  Not sure what’s going on but it seems like a virtual renaissance of Irish singers. Of course, they’re always there, aren’t they. We just aren’t always listening.

Martha’s Trouble’s A Little Heart Like You (Aisling).  There are new babies in our family, both arrived and on the way.  If there are newcomers in yours, this album of artfully done lullabies will please both babe and parents. Not sing-songy sweet to send you screaming from the room on a third play, but genuinely good music.


– Ike & Tina On the Road 1971-72 (MVD Visual). Low quality video/audio in places can’t diminish the powerful birth of real superstar Tina Turner and innovator Ike Turner. A remarkable portrait of musical performing artists.

To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

CD Reviews: Mary Black and Cathy Jordan

February 22, 2012

Mary Black

Stories From the Steeple (Blix St. Records)

Cathy Jordan

All the Way Home (Blix St. Records)

By Brian Arsenault

There are Irish Angels in the Air(waves) or at least there should be on any radio stations left with heart and soul.  Blix Street Records is softening deep winter with the back to back releases of Stories from the Steeples by Mary Black and All The Way Home by Cathy Jordan.

On a sunny winter’s day on Maine’s Casco Bay, for those fortunate enough to be on the bay (or unfortunate if a squall comes up), the air is so clear you can see the whole 80 miles or so to the snow capped peak of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington. That’s how clear these two magnificent voices are, yet each is equally distinctive and won’t be mistaken for the other.

Mary Black

They are, of course, both distinctively Irish, and where Jordan’s singing is mostly devoted to traditional songs, Black’s is attuned to more contemporary compositions springing from the same musical and poetic heritage.  As an American (Irish American only by marriage but good luck is not to be discounted, as the Irish well know.) accustomed to repetitive chorus lines and just a couple of verses in pop tunes, the poetry of these songs (tales put to music, as it were) touches me deeply.

Each of the song’s verses could be published as poems without the music, and some have, they are that good.  But why would you want to? The music is so fine, the musicians so talented.

Cathy Jordan

The interplay of joy and sadness, of love and violence, of pathos and humor heightens the tension and the tenderness of both albums.  Where Stories from the Steeple begins with a tale of two lovers destroyed by a father’s anger, “Marguerite and the Gambler”,  All The Way Home begins with the revolutionary saga of “The Brave Fenian Men” who led the rising of 1916, a critical moment in Irish nationalist history.  The intermingling of personal and political passion is essentially Irish.

Then again, so is singing.  The remarkable Molly Bloom in James Joyce’s Ulysses is about to embark on a singing tour.  Joyce himself was a singer of significant renown, that talent carried no doubt into the poetry of so much of his writing.  It’s said that Ulysses should be read aloud to fully hear that poetry, that music, and I think it’s true.

The music on these two albums is as much a trip to Ireland as Ulysses is a walk through Dublin even if you’ve never been there.

There’s heartbreak for anyone and everyone whose ever had a “break” with a lover and hoped that “Faith in Fate” might heal matters. Ritchie Buckley’s saxophone playing is nearly as pure as Mary’s singing.

Cathy’s rendition of “Banks of the Foyle” reminds us that all can be cast out and grieve for home no matter where we’re from.

Speaking of home, both albums end with a reuniting, in the title song in Cathy’s case and in the “One True Place” beyond in Mary’s.

Yet for all the fine songs on both albums, it’s not the individual tunes I will most cherish.  What’s dearest is the journey to places in the land, in the heart, in the mind, in the soul that are essentially Irish and therefore universal. It’s been said, after all, that there’s no place you can go on the planet that you won’t find the Irish.

To read more reviews and posts by Brian Arsenault click HERE.


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