January 31, 2023
Cape Bretoner J.P. Cormier plays at Club Passim on February 5. Photo by Sean Smith
A look at some upcoming Irish/Celtic music events in the Greater Boston area.
•Harvard Square’s Club Passim has quite the intriguing mix of Celtic-related sounds/styles on the calendar this month, starting Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. with singer-songwriter Anna Mieke, a Wicklow native who also has lived in Bulgaria, Bangladesh, Switzerland, and Spain, and gathered all manner of musical influences and inspirations for her writing and singing. Her second album, “Theatre,” released late last year, features lyrics that are by turns vivid, sensual, dream-like, sometimes stream-of-consciousness – or some combination of all these; the music crosses through folk, psychedelia, rock and a few other genres that are definitely non-Western. Challenging? Perhaps, but worth a listen.
Feb. 3 will feature The Gaslight Tinkers as part of the Revels FRINGE program at Passim, which celebrates traditional music that “jumps fences” – incorporating jazz inflections, exotic and invented instruments and others of the folk/classical variety from around the world, and “familiar songs in unfamiliar settings.” That description certainly seems to fit The Gaslight Tinkers, whose members include fiddler Emerald Rae, a familiar figure to Boston’s Celtic music community, as well as band co-founder guitarist/mandolinist/songwriter Peter Seigel, whose wide-ranging career includes playing with the Greenfield Dance Band and folks like Pete Seeger and Judy Collins. Rae and Seigel, together with Garrett Sawyer, I-shea and Joe Fitzpatrick, concoct a fascinating mix of New England, Celtic and old-time music sounds with African, Caribbean, reggae, funk, and Latin styles. Last year saw the Tinkers release their first full-length album. The show is at 7 p.m.
J.P. Cormier, easily one of Canada’s most legendary folk/acoustic performers, brings his multi-faceted, multi-instrumental skills to Passim on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. The Ontario-born Cormier – whose parents came from Cape Breton, and whose fiddle-playing uncle Joe was a fixture of Boston’s Cape Breton community – is an accomplished Celtic musician, whose 1990 release “Fiddle Album” was a fresh take on Canadian maritime fiddle. But by that time, Cormier – who now lives on Cape Breton – had already cultivated a reputation as a phenomenal flatpicking guitarist in bluegrass and country music circles (fiddle and guitar, it must be noted, are only two of the instruments he plays). In the late 1990s and on into the 21st century, Cormier expanded his portfolio to include songwriting; his “Hometown Battlefield,” which deals with soldiers’ struggles with PTSD and was inspired by his tour of Afghanistan in 2007, went viral on Facebook and YouTube. Cormier has won a slew of East Coast Music Awards and other honors.
An event that’s been a long time coming, and a very welcome one to boot: On Feb. 14 at 8 p.m., Boston-area native Katie McNally will finally present the formal launch of her 2020 album, “Now More Than Ever,” recorded by her trio with pianist Neil Pearlman and violist Shauncey Ali and released right around when the pandemic took hold and ruined touring plans for musicians the world over. McNally came into her own as a Scottish/Cape Breton-style fiddler while in her teens, performing as a soloist as well as with luminaries like Irish singer Karan Casey and Galician bagpiper Carlos Núñez, and as a member of Boston-based fiddle ensemble Childsplay. She has built an impressive repertoire of her own material that sits very snugly alongside the traditional fare: Scottish, with its classical and European influences; feisty, rugged, highly rhythmic Cape Breton; and touches of American, Irish, Galician, or Scandinavian. Ali, who has a strong background in bluegrass, complements McNally by playing melody, harmony, bowed or percussive rhythm – and sometimes improvising – with effective use of the viola’s deeper tones. Pearlman is well-grounded in Cape Breton piano accompaniment, with its boogie-woogie-inspired walking bass, but also adds jazz, Latin, and other modern elements to nudge, push, lead, or gently entwine as necessary.
Corner House, a quartet of former Berklee College of Music students, returns to familiar territory on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. Virginia-born guitarist Ethan Hawkins, Scottish fiddler Louise Bichan, mandolinist Ethan Setiawan from Indiana, and Western New Yorker Casey Murray on cello pull together their various experiences and influences, including Irish, Scottish, Appalachian string band, New England contra dance, and bluegrass traditions – which often provide a basis for their own easygoing, groove-centric material. Corner House released its first full-length album, “How Beautiful It’s Been,” last year (the band also has two EP albums to its credit) and has appeared at BCMFest, the Red Room at Café 939, and the Grey Fox and Falcon Ridge festivals, among other places. Opening the evening will be singer-songwriter Charissa Hoffman, who has drawn inspiration from diverse sources including Chet Atkins and Duke Ellington for her ukulele playing – and was in fact the first ukulele principal to be accepted to Berklee.
For tickets and other information regarding Club Passim, see passim.org.
•Veteran Scottish band Breabach, which comes to the Burren Backroom series on Feb. 15 at 7:30 p.m., is clearly not an ensemble that allows itself to get in a rut, not even after some 17 years on the go. Megan Henderson (fiddle, vocals), James Lindsay (double bass, Moog, vocals), Calum MacCrimmon (Highland pipes, whistle, bouzouki, vocals), Conal McDonagh (Highland pipes, uilleann pipes, whistle, vocals) and Ewan Robertson (guitar, cajon, vocals) mine their material from Scots tradition – including Gaelic language songs – as well as contemporary sources, like Dick Gaughan, and their own pens (or laptops, as the case may be). They’ve undertaken some quite fascinating collaborations, such as with Quebecois band Le Vent Du Nord, Cape Breton quartet Beòlach, indigenous Australasian artists Moana & The Tribe, video game composer Big Giant Circles and even award-winning animator Cat Bruce on the soundtrack for her short film, “Dùsgadh.” Their most recent album, “Fàs,” is an expression of concern, care, and respect for the environment – their own native Highlands as well as the wider world – that goes beyond lyrics and evocative musical passages: The recording, they note, was pressed at “the world’s greenest vinyl pressing plant,” Deep Grooves, using calcium zinc stabilizers, recycled packaging, as well as eco-friendly, vegan ink and carbon-neutral shipping. That, folks, is being true to your art.
Tickets available through burren.com/music.html.
Kate Chadbourne performs as part of Boston College's Gaelic Roots series on February 23.
•Boston College’s Gaelic Roots series kicks off its spring semester schedule with a concert of Irish songs and folklore by Boston-area performer Kate Chadbourne on Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in Connolly House (300 Hammond St. in Chestnut Hill). Chadbourne is a musician, poet, storyteller and part-time college professor whose background is in Irish language singing. She has made regular appearances in the Boston area, including at BCMFest and the Irish Cultural Centre in Canton. Chadbourne has released six EP or full-length albums, including “A Celtic Blessing Year,” with an accompanying e-book of folk tradition and scholarship, and an assortment of books of poetry and folklore.
Gaelic Roots events are free and open to the public; information is available via the BC Irish Studies website at bc.edu/irish.
•Boston College Irish Dance presents its annual performance at BC’s Robsham Theater on Feb. 17 and 18. BCID, which is entirely comprised of and run by undergraduate students, presents both traditional and original Irish dance choreography. Making guest appearances at the event will be other BC student dance groups, including the Golden Eagles Dance Team, Boston College Dance Ensemble, and Synergy Hip Hop Dance Company.
For ticket information, see the BCID Facebook page or contact the Robsham Theater box office.
•Harpist Maeve Gilchrist and fiddler Jeremy Kittel, two musicians who combine strong traditional roots with wide-ranging interests in other genres, form a double bill at the Groton Hill Music Center on Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. Gilchrist, a Scottish native living in New York City, has championed new directions and possibilities for the Irish harp, such as through various collaborations, including with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Americana musicians like Darol Anger, Tony Trischka and Kathy Mattea, and by electronically augmenting her instrument’s capabilities. Her projects also include a setting of “The Ballad of the Harpmaker” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Gilchrist also is known to Boston audiences for her work as co-music director and ensemble member for “A Christmas Celtic Sojourn.” She’ll be joined here by guitarist/composer Kyle Sanna and classical/folk fusion Rasa Quartet.
Kittel & Co. is the most recent collaboration masterminded by the versatile fiddler, who imbues his forays into Irish and Scottish music with jazzy, improvisational riffs as well as bluegrass, classical and other styles. He has worked with a wide range of artists, including local American Scottish fiddler Hanneke Cassel and Boston native singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan; he also was a member of the Grammy-winning quartet Turtle Island. His “company” includes Berklee grad Quinn Bachand (guitar), Josh Pinkham (mandolin), Ethan Jodziewicz (bass), and Simon Chrisman (hammered dulcimer), who for a while resided in the Boston area. In 2018, the band released its debut album, “Whorls,” which included “Chrysalis,” nominated for a Grammy (Best Instrumental Composition).
The Pure Dead Brilliant Fiddle Weekend has long been sold out, but you might at least be able to catch the opening concert at Groton Hill on Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. – if it’s not sold out, too. “PDB” was once a retreat/workshop for advanced Scottish-style fiddlers that has since grown into a major late-winter event, with an impressive array of musicians giving instruction in other instruments as well as fiddle (you can learn more at pdbfiddleweekend.com/pdb). The 2023 PDB faculty, most of whom appear in the opening concert, includes director Hanneke Cassel as well as the Katie McNally Trio, Jenna Moynihan, Natalie Haas, Lissa Schneckenburger, Ryan McKasson and Colin Cotter, Laura Risk and Keith Murphy.
For tickets, updates and directions, go to the Groton Hill website at grotonhill.org.