Passover, Holy Week, the turn of seasons, graduations, weddings… late spring is a time of reflection for many reasons. Here are three albums which are good companions along such journeys.
Donal Clancy’s album Close to Home is a meditative, thoughtful take on tunes from the Irish tradition, played on guitar. The guitar is, relatively speaking, a fairly new instrument in Irish traditional music. One of the things that means is that though he is working within the tradition, there is great room for exploration and creation. Clancy is a good man to do this. He grew up in southeastern Ireland, in the Gaeltacht area around An Rinn, the son of musician Liam Clancy of the world renown Clancy brothers. He was a founding member of the band Danu, played with the Irish American group Solas, returned to Danu, with whom he still performs, and recently recorded an album with his cousins Robbie O’Connell and Aoife Clancy. Close to Home, though, is a solo album.
“I like to think about the mood of the piece, to have that come through, rather than make the tune fit my playing,” Clancy says. “No flashiness or anything like that, the arrangements are straightforward, a relaxed and laid back tempo. I wanted to make a very traditional Irish sounding recording” It is that, but perhaps not what you may be thinking if you’ve been listening to groups such as The Celtic Women and Celtic Thunder.
Engaging stories told with a sureness of touch, all without speaking a word.
Carrie Newcomer is thinking about change and trust and making one’s way through the mysteries those things provoke in her album Before & After. Contemplative, poetically told, and with a dash of wry humor now and then, her use of words and music fits many sorts of reflective journeys, and suggests others. The title track, for example, invites thought about those moments where life turns on a dime: things change and they are never the same afterwards, whether the circumstance is a hit and run or Jacob wresting with the angel. In another song Newcomer brings in unexpected but exactly right images to frame the uncertainties of life’s journey and the questions that offers, and in another she trust and love in a trip through county fairs in her native Indiana.
Hanneke Cassel speaks through the sound of her fiddle — and occasionally, her singing voice — to reflect on travel, faith, history, and good stories. The Boston based artist has played western swing, Americana, and Irish music, but it is in Scottish tradition that she grounds herself — Scotland with a a taste of other places. “America is a Celtic country too,” Cassel says, and that comes through in the tunes she composes herself as well as the ones she chooses from other sources. Her album For Reasons Unseen offers the listeners a journey grounded in Scottish tradition, reaching out to American folk tradition and that of Ireland, and taking in a piece Cassel learned on one her trips to China.
Each of these albums includes reflection, joy, humor, as well as a few unexpected twists and turns. That makes all of them fine companions for spring journeys, whether those are physical trips or journeys of thought.