Monday, June 30, 2008

Paddy Canny, RIP

I just got the news in this morning's email--no details yet, but he had been ill recently, and in hospital around the time Kitty Hayes died a couple of months ago.

(For those of you reading who aren't in the Irish trad scene, Paddy was a fiddler, and Kitty a concertina player. Both were of, as they say, an advanced age, and both were great musicians.)

I would not be at all surprised if Claire Keville does a tribute to Paddy on her radio show either on Clare FM this Tuesday or next. The show begins at 7pm Irish time, and I think it's archived online for a week afterward.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Night Roundup

...although I suppose I need a fairly large corral if I'm truly going to do a roundup: far too many days have passed since I waxed rhapsodical about Alison Krauss and Robert Plant! So this will be the short-attention-span-roundup.

I'm now in London, after spending last weekend in Clare, getting over jetlag and partying a bit (I had a nice session Saturday night back at the old scene at the Crosses of Annagh, after watching Holland get beaten by Russia in the Euro Cup). I arrived in London Monday afternoon and started settling into my fairly grotty dorm room near King's Cross. So far, it's fine (fine in the American sense: just about on the positive side of acceptable), and it suits my purposes--and the location's perfect for me, since I'm dividing my time between the St. Pancras and Colindale branches of the British Library.

I won't go into the various (non-dealbreaker) problems with the accommodation, except to say that it costs about $12 more per night to be furnished with cooking equipment for the fairly decent kitchen down the hall. So my cooking, if it can be called that, has been fairly minimal. I have been meaning to buy some cooking vessel (saucepan? wok?) since I got here, but have been too fried in the evenings to even think of cooking, so I've slipped back down the ready meals slope (though I'm microwaving them in a bowl I bought). So far, this is a dismal idea altogether, with one remarkable exception: Sainsbury's pizza with ricotta, spinach pesto, and sundried tomatoes. Foodie friends, I *promise* I am going to get out of this rut! I have decided that I Do Not Need to Know which supermarket curries are the best--though I hesitate to use the word "best," because it implies some suggestion of "good," and these most definitely have not been. (I have had better food on airplanes.)

On a more pleasant topic, tonight I went to hear Emma Kirkby and company, with Cambridge's Trinity College choir, at St. John's Church in Smith Square. It was a lovely concert, and the setting was absolutely perfect--the church is fairly closely contemporary with the repertoire they performed (Handel's Chandos Anthems 7, 9, and 11). Handel's not my favorite ever--although I think his orchestration was cool, and I like some amount of the instrumental stuff (including the 'backing' for these pieces), I tend to prefer vocal music from earlier, and I found the sometimes banal lyrics a little distracting at times. Those are all small criticisms, though, and based on my own taste--for me, it wasn't a transcendental experience, just an evening delightfully spent. I wouldn't have minded hearing more of Emma Kirkby herself, although I did thoroughly enjoy the other soloists, particularly countertenor Iestyn Davies. And it didn't hurt that I got my ticket for 9 pounds through a deal they have to fill some seats on the side of the hall that don't have a great line of sight to the stage. I could actually see all the performers--the only drawback was that, in a hall without amplification, my position created something of an imbalance of sound, and I'm sure parts of it rung out better for those seated in more ideal locations. I was worried about that in the beginning, but it didn't wind up bothering me too much.

But London hasn't been all good concerts and bad curry. I've been working me arse off in the British Library, which is exhausting but exciting work that brings up as many--or more--questions than it answers.

So that's the news!

The Book I'm Not Reading: Robert Kee's The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism

Thursday, June 12, 2008

One Damn Good Show

Last night, J & I went to see Alison Krauss and Robert Plant at Madison Square Garden--their second of two shows here. Fortuitous chance reminded us that the show was happening, and even more fortuitous chance pointed us toward StubHub, which still had some tickets for sale at a reasonable price. Yes, they were nosebleed, but it didn't matter. Damn, what a show.

I could wax rhapsodic all evening about it, but instead will paste in the review from the New York Times (the whole thing, with photo, is here). Lots of standout moments from the show--the old Zep stuff was fabulous, but the thought that struck me again and again was how *well* it all fits together--not at all merely a lamination of one style on top of another, but a melding of the copacetic parts of each style and repertoire that makes the material fit together like it's always been that way, just not ever as good as this. For example, I'm a longtime fan of Fairport Convention's take on "Matty Groves," but these guys did just as amazing a version as that (though it was somewhat truncated).

Anyway, here's what the Times said:

Harmonious Tension and Dueling Flaxen Locks

On “Raising Sand” (Rounder), the spooky, beautiful album they released last year, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss tilt toward each other from starkly different vantage points: heat-blistered arena rock (his) and coolly plaintive bluegrass (hers). Their material, scouted out by the producer T Bone Burnett, mines a deep, dark region of Americana somewhat familiar to them both. But their chemistry springs partly from contrast; even the most harmonious moments convey a subtle, fruitful tension.

Mr. Plant and Ms. Krauss approached common ground more literally at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, the first of two concerts there. Taking the stage from opposite wings, each assumed a stalking gait, like cartoon predators. Their pace had a parallel in “Rich Woman,” the R&B throwback that also opens the album. There was casual symmetry in their height and black attire, and in their flaxen manes.

Things loosened, and quickened. The next song up was “Leave My Woman Alone,” a spunky admonition by Ray Charles; Ms. Krauss grabbed her fiddle, and Mr. Plant sang bracingly over a two-step groove. Then came “Black Dog,” a classic by Led Zeppelin, Mr. Plant’s old band. Arranged in a minor key for banjo, acoustic bass and guitar, it felt muted but menacing, especially as both singers arced their voices upward with a harmonized “ah,” just before an instrumental squall.

“Welcome to the Raising Sand Revue,” Mr. Plant said after that song, summing up a basic truth about this tour. While plainly inspired by the album, it takes welcome liberties with repertory and tone. Mr. Burnett, leading a band of aces, including the drummer Jay Bellerose and the guitarist Buddy Miller, keeps the momentum crisp. The set list doesn’t appear to change much from night to night, which doesn’t suggest a lack of imagination so much as a sturdy formula. It’s working mightily, judging by Tuesday’s results.

As a revue the tour also favors the strengths of its headliners, in a way that “Raising Sand” doesn’t. So there were two more Led Zeppelin tunes, each a powerhouse. “Black Country Woman” had the band exploding at each emotional spur in the lyrics, and then subsiding until the next furious wave.

“The Battle of Evermore” was quieter but stronger, owing to its Celtic drone (a sound not far removed from Appalachia) and its female vocal part (which Ms. Krauss sang grippingly). And even on some songs from the “Raising Sand” album, Mr. Plant was rewardingly forceful: “Nothin,’ ” a Townes Van Zandt lament, found him caterwauling like his younger self.

Ms. Krauss had her own showcase, beginning with the traditional hymn “Green Pastures,” on which she received sparse support from Dennis Crouch on bass and Stuart Duncan on guitar. Then she pared down further, singing a serenely penetrating version of “Down to the River to Pray,” initially with no accompaniment at all. (Halfway through, Mr. Plant mock-tiptoed onstage to contribute to an a cappella gospel harmony.)

If this collaboration encourages Mr. Plant to be a bit more ethereal, it has certainly made Ms. Krauss seem earthier. Her characteristically sweet, high singing was balanced against more strident and cathartic belting. On “It’s Goodbye and So Long to You,” which doesn’t appear on “Raising Sand,” and “Trampled Rose,” which does, she proved she can wail as hard as anybody, even you know who.

Elsewhere there was better proof of a cohesive blend, as in the back-to-back closers: “Please Read the Letter,” a ballad by Mr. Plant, and “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” a classic by the Everly Brothers. Then there was the final encore: “Your Long Journey,” by Doc and Rosa Lee Watson. Ms. Krauss and Mr. Plant sang it exquisitely, with a somber intensity that they couldn’t possibly have summoned before they hit the road.

Monday, June 9, 2008