Lots of challenges come up, but Fódhla makes it happen

When the time came to work on their first recording, the members of New England Irish trio Fódhla literally had to meet each other halfway.

That’s how it is when one-third of your band lives in Greater Boston and the other two-thirds in Portland, Maine. Fortunately, Mill Pond Studios in Portsmouth, NH, lay equidistant between them, and owner/operator/engineer Jim Pendergrast kindly allowed the trio some rehearsal time there before letting the tape roll. Their six-track CD, “Notes from Mill Pond,” was released in December.
Fódhla will perform locally on May 28 in the Arts at the Armory Café, 191 Highland Avenue, in Somerville, sponsored by notloB Music [see notlobmusic.blogspot.com for full details].

Formed in 2013, Fódhla – which has appeared at BCMFest, the Maine Celtic Festival, the Saltwater Fest in Portland, and elsewhere in New England – epitomizes the effort often involved nowadays in keeping a band together, and dealing not only with geography but the challenge of balancing family life and other musical commitments. Fiddler Ellery Klein, the trio’s Boston anchor, has two young children, teaches at the Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann Boston branch music school and Powers School of Music, and offers private lessons as well. Flute player Nicole Rabata has a strong classical background like Klein but also an interest in Brazilian choro music, so her gig calendar is full of sessions and concerts. Guitarist Bethany Waickman – a one-time Boston-area resident – plays with Vermont fiddler/vocalist Lissa Schneckenburger and the contra dance trio Anadama, among others.

Technology – Skype, MP3s, email – aids in keeping up with one another in such situations, of course, but ultimately satisfaction and success comes from being able to work on one’s own and then focus like a laser when everyone is together.

“Basically, we end up doing our rehearsing before a gig – and I mean usually on the same day,” says Klein, a former member of Celtic rockers Gaelic Storm and of the now-defunct Boston all-female quartet Long Time Courting. “But having a gig about every six weeks or so works out fine. We make plans, go about with our lives and projects, and stay in touch.”

What helps enormously is that Klein and Rabata have a longstanding musical connection, having performed together occasionally for some 15 years and having appeared on one another’s solo CDs. So when Klein returned to the Boston area in 2013 after a three-year sojourn with her family in Jerusalem, they felt it was high time to form a band, and recruited Waickman to join them.

The exactitude between Klein and Rabata, not to mention their command of their respective instruments, is readily apparent on “Notes from Mill Pond,” especially on the opening track, a good, solid set of driving reels (“Cleaning the Henhouse/Reel with the Beryl/Charlie Harris’ Reel”), and later on a pair of sprightly barn dances (“Napoleon’s Charge/Jimmy Duffy’s”). A medley of jigs begins with Klein and Waickman on “Crabs in the Skillet,” and when Rabata joins in on “Gort Na Mona” the result is nothing short of glorious.

Not to be overlooked is the contribution of Waickman, whose DADGAD guitar style was shaped to a great extent by her studies with renowned accompanist and singer Keith Murphy. “Bethany has this quiet but powerful way of playing, where you suddenly realize she’s driving the bus,” says Klein. “She has a great sense of timing, and comes up with some very tasty chords, so she really adds a lot to the melody.”

In fact, Waickman ushers in the CD’s most intriguing track, in which Fódhla goes outside its Irish repertoire to include a pair of Quebecois waltzes that begins with “La Valse Matique.” After Waickman’s intro, Rabata picks up the melody, and Klein alternates between playing in tandem and long bowed notes that bring a Scandinavian feel to the arrangement. The second waltz, “Boureé Longue,” sees Rabata switching from melody to harmony alongside Klein, Waickman softly but firmly nudging the rhythm along.

The trio’s virtues are at their peak on the final track, as Rabata and Waickman start out on “Kemo’s Jig” before Klein enters and clicks the set into a pair of reels, “Palmer’s Gate” and the infectiously rollicking “Foxhunter’s Reel” – Klein and Rabata let everything fly (Rabata offers up some especially bravura triplets along the way) and Waickman has that metaphorical bus at full, but controlled, throttle.

“Nicole and I can really lock in – I think that’s what comes from having the classical precision in our backgrounds,” says Klein. “We’re able to bring out variations by playing together, and kind of micromanaging the tunes. I’ve always enjoyed that about our music.”
Klein notes that Fódhla is adding another dimension to its sound, working on some selections from the Frank and Anne Warner collections of American folk songs.

“It’s very enjoyable to finally be able to work consistently with Nicole, and to have Bethany be involved in the partnership as well,” says Klein. “We can’t do much in the way of extensive touring, but the opportunities that we do get to play together make it a very rewarding experience.”