Margeson on the Music May 2015

This is depressing. Things are getting out of hand. The walls are closing in. The fog of old age descends. Last month, we reviewed a terrific album, Oga, by a wonderful 15-year-old Texas fiddle player, Hailey Sandoz. Let me repeat. 15 years old. She is terrific. A fabulous fiddler, we raved—and, we were right.

We had just settled back into our old ways and easy chair. We were fully prepared to go on and pretend that Miss Sandoz was a one-off, a rarity come forward from the fervent Irish musical scene that has grown up around the annual North Texas Irish Festival.

Then came a note. Would we be interested in hearing a new album from another Haley—Haley Richardson? We responded immediately that we would be interested, indeed. Somewhere, deep in the haze, we remember talking to our friend, Manus McGuire. Manus is considered by many as the best of all Irish fiddlers. So, when he tells you he has just heard a phenomenal new talent, you are well advised to listen carefully. That talent is Haley Richardson. Her brand new album is called Heart on a String and features the wondrous Haley, accompanied on guitar by her brother, Dylan. There is so much about this album that is so very, very good. Critically, Haley shows a masterful musical maturity in her tempos, and a deep understanding of the music. She is taught by the fiddle playing New York prosecuting attorney, Brian Conway. Conway is a terrific fiddle player and in the succession of the masterful Andy McGann and other magnificent players. New York joins Texas in a very active trad scene. Out of these creative cauldrons come Haley and Dylan. Her first tune on the CD is a version of Porthole of the Kelps, which we remember from the playing of the iconic, Bobby Casey. The playing of the set includes a Liz Carroll tune, The Brocca. There are airs, jigs, fabulous reels, and barn dances. Each is played flawlessly, with great taste. Haley and Dylan have resisted the urge so ruinously common in much of Irish music to play everything at 375 miles per hour. No, these tempos are perfect, as they are meant to be in Irish music. It gives us room to hear style and ornamentation. On that first tune of the album, the aforementioned Portholes, we feel it could be Maurice Lennon playing.  Haley is that good.

Oh, did we mention she is 12 years old? Let that sink in, dear reader. 12. Her brother, Dylan, is the old man of the operation. He is 17. By the way, his accompaniment is just about as perfect as Haley’s playing. If my math is correct, she was born in 2003. I’m stunned. I’m thrilled that the tradition is in such good hands. The only danger is that Hailey and Haley are so young that they may decide to go off and be doctors and cure cancer, OR decide to be President of the United States! If they can play like this at this age, there is nothing that they can’t do! Find this CD and hear the long-range future of the music. You will be as thrilled as I am to know that it is in such capable hands.

Socks in the Frying Pan is out with their brand new cd, Return of the Giant Sock Monsters from Outer Space. That’s right. And if you think the title is something, wait until you see the album cover! Socks is another incredibly young group of musicians, though compared to Haley Richardson, they are ready for their old age pensions. They are in their early 20’s. They will be tearing up the summer festival scene this year, as they did last year. By the time you read this, they will have already had their American cd launch at Chief O’Neill’s in Chicago on April 24th.  The big deal here is that Socks, We Banjo 3, and now Jigjam are all highly successful young groups, and point the same direction. All three of them are combining Americana, Bluegrass, and Irish Trad in a music of wide and immediate appeal. All the groups play these tunes wonderfully, sing these songs with great feeling, and are immediately accessible. They will serve as gateways to Irish Trad in its more pure forms. But, this is no place for purists. Return of the Giant Sock Monsters from Outer Space is new, great fun, and played brilliantly. This is all part of a wonderful youthful music in popular Irish Trad, and it is going in new directions. Never mind the ‘auld ones who insist on a rigid adherence to the way Coleman or Morrison played a tune. These youngsters are very capable musicians, and seem to be writing new rules. They all share certain attributes. They are very good, young and attractive. Don’t underrate the latter. They put on a great show. None better than Socks, and long may they be in the Frying Pan. Good work, lads! This trio of the Hayes Brothers, and Aodan Coyne are on the stove, in the pan and hot, hot, hot.

We’re going to save space for a review of the Jeremiahs new album next month. They are wonderful and we want to give them due attention.

We must squeeze in a review of the album Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Deign 1690-1840. This CD is a musical accompaniment, really, to an exhibition of Irish Art and Culture that is at the Art Institute of Chicago until June 7th of this year. It is fantastic, and so is this album. Marty Fahey and our own Liz Carroll put together a lot of this and are joined by many of our great local musicians including Liz Knowles, Kieran O’Hare, Jackie Moran, and others in a gorgeously produced and sumptuously presented album of music designed to perfectly accompany the exhibition. Liz composed a number of these tracks, specially commissioned to correspond to the exhibition and its themes. Perhaps there could have been more tunes from the actual periods represented in the exhibition directly. Let us not argue.  Liz, Marty, and this album are fab, and so is the exhibition. Go see it. It is a blessing that it is in Chicago. It is also a blessing that you can get this CD. This is the real Ireland. This is the culture of Ireland. Not some drunken hash of a mixer at an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day. No, this is the real Ireland. And it is wonderful.