Music

Greengrass Vol. 2

This is my second installment in the Greengrass Spotify playlist series. (I think I’m getting pretty good at this, if I do say so myself). One of this week’s artists, Martin Hayes, was also featured last time, so I won’t need to write much about him. Most of the others are new appearances, however, though Chris Thile and Sara Watkins were both included in bands featured last week (between Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers).

The Irish group Planxty is a major influence for all modern Irish musicians, whether they know it or not (member Bill Whelan went on to compose the soundtrack for Riverdance). Their albums appear on several influential individuals’ top ten lists. So we open with “Cunla”, a jig rendered here on uilleann pipes and Gaelic vocals. As an instrumentalist, I’ve become familiar with so many of these tunes but as I did not grow up in the Boston or Ireland of my ancestors, I’m not used to hearing them sung in their native Gaelic. Though it be the language of my people, it sounds completely foreign to me. (Aye, we Americans with our melting pot… I do wish I had a stronger connection to my roots.) We’ll see more of this later in the work of Darach Ó Catháin, and in later playlists when I plan to feature Willie Clancy.

“Saddle the Pony”, etc. (Patrick Street) – Patrick Street’s all-star cast includes master fiddler Kevin Burke (who also played in the Bothy Band), as well as former members of Planxty and De Dannan. The Irish super group has been recording together since 1986. This jig set nicely follows the first track.

“Long Hot Summer Days” (Sara Watkins) – I love this rocking fiddle jam. Sara Watkins (formerly of Nickel Creek) knocked it out of the park with her first solo release. She appears three times in this week’s playlist, later with the instrumental “Freiderick”, and the beautiful and haunting “Bygones”.

“Tomas Ban Mac Aogain” (Darach Ó Catháin) – Ó Catháin is a rich resource of traditional Irish music in the mid-20th century. I include him because he appears on Martin Hayes’ own top ten list, which, should you do you research, will prove to have been a resource used a lot in these compilations.

“The Fairy Reel”, etc. (Danú) – This award-winning Irish traditional group begins this reel set with a nice pipes/box blend. I wish there was more of their material available on Spotify.

“Paddy Fahy’s Jig/Sean Ryan’s Jig”, etc. (Martin Hayes) – I have collected several recordings of Paddy Fahy’s jig and Paddy Fahy’s reel. Until recently I had listened to the jig with the time wrong, as if the first three notes were a pickup to the downbeat rather than the first note being the downbeat, since the original version of it I had didn’t have proper accompaniment to indicate the harmonic rhythm. It’s going to take some adjustment for me to get used to it being done properly. I should mention that even to Spotify opens the doors to music discovery, it also limits you. The Bothy Band isn’t available on Spotify, and they’d surely be featured here regularly if they were. Also, Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill’s latest album, Welcome Here Again, isn’t on Spotify. It’s excellent. I recommend you get it on iTunes.

“My Love Is in America”, etc. (Seamus Egan) – This reel set includes the D-major version of “Toss the Feathers” (or as we used to jokingly call it in the Ric Blair band, “Toss the Cookies!”). The E-minor version will appear below later as part of Martin Hayes’ long set. I also have a recording of a long set by Kevin Burke in which he brilliantly works both versions in. I may feature that one in a later playlist.

“Bonita and Bill Butler” (Alison Krauss and Union Station) – If you think this sounds like George Clooney from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, it’s because that wasn’t Clooney singing. It was Dan Tyminski. AKUS just won another Grammy for best bluegrass album with their latest, Paper Airplane, which this track comes from.

“Pol Ha’penny/Butterflies”, etc. (Martin Hayes) – Pol Ha’penny is another of those popular tunes of which there are going to be several recordings. Hayes does it like no one else, with his trademark “lonesome” style. This long set is one of my favorites, and as I already mentioned, you’ll hear the E-minor version of “Toss the Feathers” at the end.

“The Eleventh Reel” – We end this week’s playlist with a rapid tune from mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile from his 2006 solo album How to Grow a Woman from the Ground. (He’s better than me, by the way. I couldn’t play this if I tried!)

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