Crossing borders goes along with traveling. In many ways crossing borders goes along with playing music, too. In both cases, there’s an art to keeping centered while taking on adventure and challenge. Let these artists share their journeys across borders and inspire you on yours.
Andrew Finn Magill grew up in the North Carolina mountains, where his father was director of the Swannanoa Gathering. That’s a crossroads of music in itself, as every summer top class musicians get together to learn, to teach, and to share ideas. Magill’s instrument is the fiddle. He’s taken that with him into being a finalist at the All-Ireland championships, to study at the University of North Carolina, to a Fulbright fellowship producing music in Malawi, to living in New York and Brazil, and to creating two albums called Roots and Branches.
On Roots , as you might expect from the title, Magill explores and puts his own mark on tunes from traditional sources, among them Roisin Dubh and The Greenfields of America. Joining him are, among others, innovative Irish musicians John Doyle on guitar, bouzouki, and mandolin, and Cillian Vallely on pipes. On Branches, Magill looks to his own music, offering tunes composed during and inspired by his travels. Listen out for quiet reflection on Horizons, funk grooves on December, and and high energy flight that goes along with what the title evokes in Shooting Stars. Among those joining in are Duncan Wickel on cello and fiddle and Paul McKenna on guitar.
Katie McNally grew up in New England, with family ties to Quebec and Prince Edward Island in Canada. While taking her degree at Tufts University in Boston, she spent time studying in Scotland as well. All those things play a part in her second album, The Boston States.
McNally chose the name of the album from the term Atlantic Canadians have long used to refer to New England, where many have crossed the borders to the States to find work over the years. McNally herself, and her trio members Neil Pearlman and Shauncey Ali, traveled to Cape Breton to record the album, bringing in renown Cape Breton fiddler Wendy MacIsaac to produce the project.
With McNally on fiddle, Ali on viola, and Pearlman on keyboards, they offer tunes from contemporary Cape Breton musicians well loved in the Boston states, music from Scotland, and tunes of McNally’s own composition. The low notes of Ali’s viola and the often exuberant style of Pearlman’s piano are in good conversation with McNally’s fiddle as the three travel Atlantic Canada, New Enlgand, and Scotland in music. Listen out especially for a blazing set which pairs a classic from Scotland, Niel Gow’s The Fir Tree, with McNally’s The Batmoreel, and for the slow dreamy treatment of Down the Burn, Davie Lad, a tune from the tradition.
There’s a Canadian connection in Claire Lynch’s album North by South, too. The Alabama raised Lynch explores the work of Canadian songwriters including J.P. Cormier, Chris Ludecke, Gordon Lightfoot, and David Francey. When Toronto based teacher Ian Gray wrote to suggest that Canadian songwriters were being overlooked by bluegrass artists, Lynch, winner of many International Bluegrass Association Awards and a fine songwriter in her own right, began to look into this. The exchanges with Gray continued. As their relationship evolved into marriage, so to did Lynch’s exploration of the work of Canadian songwriters. She began looking for ways to build bridges between the work of Canadian folk and contemporary singer songwriters and bluegrass.
Lynch has done that. Her award winning understanding of ways to present a song and her fine soprano come in to full play on songs including Molly Mae, Kingdom Come, and Gone Again. Contributing to the stories in song are Bela Fleck on banjo, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, longtime members of Lynch’s road band including Mark Schatz on bass and Bryan McDowell on fiddle, and Alison Brown in the producer’s chair.
The members of the band Doolin explore beyond their homeland borders in their self titled release Doolin, too. The six formed their group in Toulouse in France. They bring a French Celtic accent to music which includes not only Irish trad but songs by Sinead O’Connor, Steve Earle, and Bob Dylan. Legendary Irish guitarist John Doyle helmed the project which was recorded in Nashville in the studios at Compass Records, which have seen many a groundbreaking and genre crossing project come to life.
Drawing on their varied backgrounds in jazz, rock, chanson, and classical music and their shared love for and knowledge of the music of Ireland, with voice, guitar, fiddle, accordion, bodhran, whistles, and bass, Doolin creates a Celtic infused sound all their own. Listen out especially for their take on that Bob Dylan song Ballad of Hollis Brown, Sailing Across the Ocean by band member Wilfried Besse, and Reel Africa, which marries irish tradition with other sounds. Among the guests sitting in are Michael McGoldrick on flute and Mary Shannon on tenor banjo.
The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc crosses borders from the start through the make up of the band. Olav Luksengard Mjelva comes from Norway, Anders Hall is from Sweden, and Kevin Henderson hails from Shetland. From the days of the Vikings geography has prompted connections among these three northern lands. As different as their cultures are, there are threads that pull through as much as there are distinctions, and the trio explores both sides of this equation on their recording Deliverance. Violin, viola, hardanger fiddle, and octave fiddle are the instruments they use to explore the drone backed sound of Norway, the triple fiddle harmonies of Sweden, and the dance infused styles of Shetland. The polska Flinken is a tune from tradition, while the title track Deliverance was composed by Luksengard Mjelva while touring in Norway’s north during the dark of winter and then seeing sunlight return. Da Scallowa Lassies is Shetland reel from that tradition and is joined with Lorna’s Reel, a tune from respected Shetland fiddler Willie Hunter.
Photograph at top by and courtesy of Jordan McQueen; bottom photograph Clett Head, Whalsay, Shetland, Scotland by and courtesy of John Dally. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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