The liveIreland Music Awards 2016 (2016 Livies)
2016 was a terrific year for Irish music. In general, the Livies Awards reflect a number of much younger acts this year. These artists are doing what has always been done in Irish music—changing it and keeping it at the same time. This year’s Livies winners reflect that perfectly. If ever there were a year where the old saying “Youth must be served” is evident, 2016 was the one. In any case, all seems well in a very healthy real Irish music scene. Let’s get to our annual Award winners. Lots of new names for you. Lots of established stars. What remains the same? The best music in the world!
These two artists from Northern Ireland have created what will be sure to become a classic. Living Roots features Brendan Hendry on fiddle and Jonny Toman on banjo, guitar, and dobro. Years ago, Brendan told me that he had started working with Jonny, and the results were going to be special. He was absolutely right. There were a lot of terrific instrumental albums this year, but this one magically mixed traditional Irish, Americana, and other folk idioms in what is a true gift of an album. Two Irish master musicians make one masterpiece.
The MacDonald sisters gave us The Willow Collection this year. When it comes to both vocal and instrumental work, these two are really worthy of a major spotlight. Hopefully, this Award is it. Their instrumental work is just about as brilliant as their singing. The reason we are recognizing both is that with their vocals, they offer the perfect sibling blend. You know. Think of the Everly Brothers and the Mills Brothers. Same accents, same vocal qualities, same physical vocal attributes. Perfect harmony. There is so much that goes on in each of their tunes and great live performances, it is easy to miss their beautifully offered harmonies. Perfection.
This group exploded on to the stage of Irish Fest in Milwaukee last summer. Based out of Newfoundland, they are virtually unknown in the States. But, go on iTunes and download Bad Boy. Try to sit still. Try not to smile. It’s a great polka. There are some spectacular musicians in the Dardanelles, and they all came together with this cut. Imelda and I play no tune more on our LiveIreland.com weekly radio show. We probably play it too much, but we can’t seem to get enough. You won’t be able to, either.
Irishfest in Milwaukee saw the fifth birthday party for WB3 as a group. A fab concert from the hottest group in real Irish music. Of course, they blend Americana and bluegrass in abundance—just making each show the best. This one was emotionally special, as well. WB3 was clearly saying thanks to Milwaukee for launching their career. Very, very special, indeed! Well done, lads!
These two musicians are so wonderful, we are often at a loss for words. Their new album, The Reel Note, shows two young women rapidly rising with a very unique and talented approach to traditional music. Their father, Mick, raised the girls well, and all three of them have given us blessings disguised as cd’s for years. Be it Michelle on harp (there are those who say she is the best in the world), or Louise on any other musical instrument in the universe, they too have a sibling blend. Just as Cassie and Maggie Macdonald have vocals that blend seamlessly and perfectly, so do the Mulcahys in their instrumental work. The perfection of it all has to be heard to be believed. There are few honors the two haven’t won in Irish music, and rightly so. Fantastic.
We always liked Donal Clancy. You know he is part of the iconic Clancy family. He co-founded the super group, Danu and went on to a lot of other musical projects including performing with his Dad and the wonderful, Robbie O’Connell. His latest album is On the Lonesome Plain. Here are the two important bits. His voice has really matured beautifully in the last two years on from his album, Songs of a Roving Blade. Second, his guitar playing has improved through the stratosphere. Totally tasteful, his voice and guitar blend perfectly in a thoroughly delightful album that showcases him perfectly. His voice doesn’t overpower you like some. It comes and sits comfortably by your side and warms your heart, just by being there. This is mighty stuff!
Iain and Joanna Hyde are from Denver. Heretofore, we haven’t thought of Denver as any kind of hotbed of Irish music. These two change all that instantly. Iain is a creative and superb guitar player in support of his sister Joanna on fiddle. They had some guest stars sit in on this album, and there is no more rapidly rising act in the business than these two. To say the least, they are gathering a lot of attention – and Alan O’Leary’s Copperplate Group in London has taken them on to introduce them to the British Isles. He and I agree—this album instantly establishes The Hydes in the forefront of our music. This is a magical duo to watch, and major talents are lining up to play with them.
You may have heard Kate Power sing before. She has a miraculous voice. It has been too long since she and her musical partner, Steve Einhorn’s last album. Portland Romance brings us Kate singing Paddy’s Lament and it completely revolutionizes the song, and reminds us all what a gift that Kate is. Dear God, this woman can sing. So can Steve. What a terrific duo! But, this time, it is for Kate!!
John McSherry is one of the founders of Lunasa and a wonderful uilleann piper and whistle player. Seven Suns is a tour de force of an album and John McSherry is a tour de force of a musician. He has won a Top TIR before, for his work with Michael McGoldrick. While there are plenty of guest stars on this cd, McSherry stands alone right now. Wow!
Vocal/Instrumental Album of the Year – Connla – River Waiting
This young group out of Northern Ireland has exploded on the music scene, and will be coming to America on tour next summer. The quintet’s first cd immediately establishes them as a major force in the Irish music scene. Their instrumental work in support of vocalist Ciara McCafferty sets them apart from just about everyone else. Emer Mallon on harp, Paul Starrett on guitar, Ciaran Carlin on flute and Conor Mallon on pipes are all the future, here today. So, this is not a group to watch for in the future. This is a group to find and treasure today. They are set for a long run. As of now, they have to be considered one of the absolute and very best Irish vocal/instrumental groups in the world. Stunning