Heatons, McEvoy, Gaelic Storm top lineup
By Sean Smith
Special to the BIR
Performances by Boston/New England acts Matt and Shannon Heaton, Lissa Schneckenburger and Annalivia, the return of popular Celtic rockers Gaelic Storm, and rare appearances by Connie Dover, Eleanor McEvoy, and The Waterboys highlight Irish/Celtic concerts in the Boston area this month.
The Heatons’ “Back to School” concert on Sept. 17 in Harvard Square’s Club Passim combines, in typical fashion, traditional songs with whimsy. The husband-and-wife duo will perform selections from their still-in-formation CD project, “Tell You in Earnest,” which Shannon describes as “all-dialogue ballads – narratives and stories that are each like a two-person play.” Playing on the beginning-of-school-year theme, the Heatons will add a pedagogical dimension to the proceedings.
“We’ll set it up like a classroom, with a school bell, school supplies and a whiteboard,” explains Shannon. “And each song will be used for a different subject, from math to English to driver’s ed, and we’ll figure out what we’ve all learned together.”
There’s a more meaningful aspect to the show, though, she adds. “The folk tradition is so much bigger, so much older than us, and yet it remains relevant. We’re focusing on the notion that ballads can teach us some universal, enduring lessons, and we in turn can teach other in this community. A song like ‘The Cruel Salt Sea,’ for example, is basically a lesson in self-defense for women.
“So in some ways the show will be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but in a mindful, thoughtful, and conversational way. We want people to consider what’s in these songs, and to be engaged in them, and to share what they hear and think.”
In fact, the “Tell Me in Earnest” project has a story all its own. The Heatons are set to launch a crowd-sourcing effort that will enable them to formally launch the CD next year in Thailand, with 10 percent of the funds going to support a music and dance program at Mercy Centre, a Bangkok-based foundation that helps orphans, street children, and other youngsters in need.
Thailand occupies a special place in Shannon’s life and memory; she traces the beginnings of her musical career there, and it is the home of many of her key mentors and dear friends.
“My first year in college, I went on a scholarship and lived in Thailand, and I got in with the Thai trad music crowd. It was much like any trad music community: dedicated to learning something that’s bigger and older than you are, and where people help each other to learn and grow. I saw the parallels with the Irish music community, and so I was inspired to seek out and be involved in that part of traditional music.
“So, going to Thailand will be a homecoming, in which Matt and I will give a concert to traditional musicians there. And it also will help support programs that give children access to programs in music and dance – things that transcend us all.”
Also at Club Passim this month will be fiddler/vocalist Lissa Schneckenburger and Celtic-Americana band Annalivia, who will share a bill on Sept. 5 at 8 p.m. Schneckenburger has performed with Childsplay and fiddle trio Halali, and has been a mainstay on the New England contra dance circuit, but also is known for her singing of traditional and contemporary material. Annalivia – Liz Simmons (guitar, vocals), Flynn Cohen (guitar, mandolin, vocals) and Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle, vocals) – blends music from Irish, Scottish, English and American traditions with solid musicianship and an innovative approach.
And on Sept. 22, Club Passim will host former Scartaglen vocalist Connie Dover, acclaimed for her exploration of the interplay between Celtic and American musical styles, who will perform with cowboy singer/musician Skip Gorman.
[See passim.org for information on these and other events.]
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Eleanor McEvoy, who plays at The Burren in Somerville’s Davis Square on Sept. 15, is one of Ireland’s leading singer-songwriters, with 10 albums to her credit (her latest, “If You Leave,” was released this past spring) and several honors from Irish Music Magazine and Hi-Fi+ Magazine, among others. Her music also has been featured in TV and films, including “Some Mother’s Son,” HBO’s “Six Feet Under” and ABC’s “Clueless.”
Perhaps her most celebrated and enduring creation, though, was something she never expected to become a hit. During 1992, while she was a member of Mary Black’s touring band, she began working on a song in her little bedsit in Dublin – “I’d been feeling low for a while,” she recalls, “and the song came out of that.” The chorus of the song went:
“My heart is low, my heart is so low
As only a woman’s heart can be
As only a woman’s, as only a woman’s
As only a woman’s heart can know”
When Black heard her perform the song, she invited McEvoy to contribute it to an album of Irish female singers that Black was recording along with Dolores Keane, Sharon Shannon, Frances Black, and Maura O’Connell. “A Woman’s Heart” not only wound up as the album’s title, it was released as a single; the album went on to become the best-selling Irish record of all time.
As McEvoy sees it, the success of “A Woman’s Heart” was the culmination of several factors, many of them well beyond the realm of music. “Ireland was a very different country 21 years ago,” she explains. “When I went to college, contraception was illegal and divorce didn’t exist. Within my lifetime – up until 1975 – a woman working for the civil service had to give up her job when she got married. Up until the mid-1970s women were not allowed to sit on juries.
“This was the law of the land. Women really weren’t regarded as being equals. So I think this image of six fairly strong-minded women coming together made an impact on people; they hadn’t really seen anything like this before. Add to this the quality of the songs, various musicians who played on the various tracks, the strong team around Dara Records at the time, and then the song itself, which seemed to capture people’s hearts.”
But McEvoy can’t be defined by one album, let alone one song. Browse through YouTube, for instance, and you’ll see clips of her playing a very dynamic violin with a rock band, or belting out a bluesy-sounding number with a guitar accompaniment to match, or singing in an arresting folk-rock-pop style that few can pull off with any conviction.
“I had an extraordinary amount of musical influences surrounding me as a child,” she says. “I grew up on the north side of Dublin in a household that was both profoundly religious and strangely bohemian. The house was full of musical instruments and religious iconography. My father would listen to Wagner and Mahler, my sister loved Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen. My brother played electric guitar and listened to Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and my mother listened to the national radio station.
“I think I learned early on that good music is good music regardless of the genre, so I never really had that musical snobbery that can be found in some niche artists.”
At The Burren, McEvoy will present selections from “If You Leave…,” which comprises eight originals and four covers, including “Lift the Wings” from “Riverdance” and “True Colors,” popularized by Cyndie Lauper. The album’s title, she says, offers a clue to the guiding vision behind it.
“Departure, in all its forms, was foremost in my mind as I went into the studio. I’m seeing people leave Ireland again in droves, so emigration was on my brain. I had also been listening to a lot of early Rolling Stones, Beatles and Beach Boys as I was writing the album. I’d read an article on Brian Jones that had an effect on me, this also fed into the theme of departure – both his departure from the Stones and his tragic death.”
McEvoy, however, is upbeat about some new arrivals: the emerging generation of performers in Irish music, especially females – including Mary Black’s daughter, Róisín O (who performed at The Burren this summer). To be sure, they face their share of issues – trying to make a living in the wake of the Great Recession, and in a rapidly evolving music industry – but also claim some advantages that McEvoy and her contemporaries didn’t have when they were in a similar stage of their careers.
“It’s fantastic to see the next generation coming through now. I guess for people like Róisín there’s a wealth of knowledge about the business in their families. They don’t have far to go for advice about the industry. That was probably the biggest hurdle for me, literally not knowing where to go or how to start.
“The other big difference is that a lot of the new crew write their own material now. Back then, that wasn’t the done thing. The amount of people who asked me who wrote ‘A Woman’s Heart’ and literally wouldn’t believe me when I said I’d written it myself was staggering. I used to get asked ‘Who helps you write the songs?’ Extraordinary.”
[See burren.com for details on the concert and other information.]
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Rollicking, often incorrigible Gaelic Storm plays at Boston’s Wilbur Theater on Sept. 12, having released their 10th album – recorded over the course of a week in a Chesapeake Bay boathouse. The quintet has regularly placed at number one in the Billboard World Music albums chart and appeared on the same bill with such acts as the Zac Brown Band, the Goo Goo Dolls, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett, and at various events and venues including the Boston Irish Festival, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Milwaukee’s Summerfest.
One week later at the Wilbur will see the first Boston performance in some years by The Waterboys, who will feature selections from their most recent album, “An Appointment with Mr. Yeats.” Led by singer-guitarist Mike Scott, the band – first formed in 1983 – drew plaudits for its folk-rock sounds and the literary and spiritual dimensions in its songs, many of them written, co-written or adapted by Scott. After releasing six albums, including the highly acclaimed “Fisherman’s Blues,” the band went on hiatus for several years in the 1990s before being resurrected by Scott.
“An Appointment with Mr. Yeats,” the band’s 10th album, consists of 14 songs inspired by the poetry of William Butler Yeats. In a press release, Scott described his interest in Yeats and the great poet’s legacy: “I love the way Yeats’ poems lend themselves to music. But I also like Yeats as a guy — a dandified, opinionated, larger-than-life character. I feel a kinship to him. My purpose isn’t to treat Yeats as a museum piece, but to connect with the soul of the poems — as they appear to me — then go wherever the music in my head suggests, and that means some surprising places.”
The CD had its American release earlier this year, marked by a concert in New York City’s Town Hall.
[Ticket information and other details are available at thewilburtheater.com]
Meanwhile, area Celtic Thunder fans can look forward to getting their October off to a fine start: The famed Irish vocal super-group, known for its specials on PBS, will come to Boston’s Orpheum Theater on October 1. Their 10th album, “Mythology,” was released earlier this year, in tandem with a DVD, with such songs as “Carrickfergus,” “The Isle of Inisfree,” “Scarlet Ribbons,” “Katie,” “Carolina Rua,” “Now We Free,” “The Boys are Back in Town,” “The Star of the County Down” and “The Rocky Road to Dublin.” [For more information, see orpheum-theater.com/orpheum_theater_boston.php.]