The Livies 2009
This has been the greatest year ever in writing about the music. There are three reasons. First is Beal Tuinne. It is the most beautiful and important album we have reviewed in our 25 years of writing about Irish music. The second reason is Maranna McCloskey. This Derry singer is out with her first album, At Last. At last, indeed. Third is Laura Smith. Listen to her Vocal Cut of the Year award, My Bonny. We stand in awe of this woman. Let’s get on with the specifics for these major league, big time muscle Awards from LiveIreland:
Vocal/Instrumental Album of the Year. Beal Tuinne
We wrote a lengthy article on this album and its history for a recent issue of Irish Music Magazine. We also reviewed it here on LiveIreland. Rest assured we could, theoretically, make only one Award this year, and entitle it The Everything Award. That is all we would need to do for Beal Tuinne. Another masterpiece from Shaun Davey. If you do not have this album, you have nothing in regards to the music. A miracle, and a gift from all involved. Easiest pick ever.
2. Vocal Cut of the Year Laura Smith My Bonny
We have never, ever heard a song like this. About 10 years ago, Laura recorded her version of this classic for The Chieftains in their Fire in the Kitchen album. Laura Smith is a genius. A songwriter of such taste and intelligence. A singer, perhaps unequalled. No one—NO ONE sounds like her. She is spectacularly gifted, and we are all the beneficiaries. Just listen to this cut. Unique. Gorgeous. She wrote the two new verses, of course. The rumor is that she is at work on a new, Celtic, trad-oriented album. We have never looked forward to an album more. We are honestly at a loss as to what to say. Words can’t do it, and don’t do it. Just listen. Stunning. She is, quite simply, the best.
3. Instrumental Album of the Year Tuned Up Hendry, Mulholland, McSherry
Brendan Hendry, Brendan Mulholland and Paul McSherry are from Derry and Antrim, and have produced the virtually perfect traditional, instrumental album. Master musicians all. We have played the first cut on the album about 125 times. It is a set of three reels, Fox in the Town/In the Tap Room/The Belfast Traveller. Hendry is on fiddle, Mulholland on flute and McSherry on guitar. This is straight ahead, no frills, no gimmick trad played by wonderful musicians. This is what it is all about. Or should be. Incredible. Again, when dealing with this level of musicianship, words fail us. Get up, ‘ya boyos!!
4. Male Vocalist of the Year Matt Keane Out in the Field
We have loved Matt Keane’s voice for decades. His first album, we believe, was the little known masterpiece, Music of the Valley. The Keanes are all magic. Dolores was the best trad singer in the world. We also love Matt’s brother, Sean. But, Matt. Matt. Years ago, we called him The Voice of the West when reviewing Valley. Was then, still is. Galway is the home of this master of the form. He also released a wonderful album this year with his daughter, Orlaith entitled, Pictures in Time. The family’s heritage of greatness in music is in safe hands with Orlaith, also. But, this is all about Matt. He is Irish music, in so many ways. For us, he is the greatest of the Keanes, and that is saying something. This humble man is a walking treasure. A very easy pick this year.
5. Female Vocalist of the Year Rita Connolly and Eilis Kennedy Beal Tuinne
There are just no words. Eilis has been named as Female Vocalist of the Year previously in The Livies. This Dingle singer is so wonderful. Rita Connolly is a force that made other Shaun Davey projects such as Granuaile so memorable, along with the music itself. These two teaming up on the same album give us all the chance to hear Ireland singing. It cannot be done better. They are a blessing. Listen to this cut, and get the album. Just see if we exaggerate. We are obsessed by this album, and still listen to all or part of it every day. There IS perfection on earth after all, and it is this album and these two singers.
6. Newcomers of the Year Rattle the Boards Rattle the Boards
Benny McCarthy on accordion, Pat Egan on fiddle and banjo, John T. Egan on vocals, John Nugent on guitar and vocals and Donnchadh Gough on bodrhan have stormed onto the scene this year with one of the biggest selling and most loved debut albums in memory. The key? It is fun. It is a BALL!! Terrific tunes and songs, all imbued with a real sense of the joy that Irish music is. Mason’s Apron is our favorite tune, and Patrick Was a Gentleman our fav song. These guys get it. No self-involved navel-gazing here about “the meaning of the tradition”, and all that crap. No pretentious egos. Just a sense of the fun of it all. We love these guys and cannot wait to see them in person!
7. Female Musician of the Year Catherine McEvoy The Home Ruler
She is in Meath now, we believe. Saying Catherine McEvoy plays the wooden flute is like saying Pavarotti sang. This is the way the wooden flute is supposed to sound. She is, quite simply, a master of her instrument, and the leading exponent of the Roscommon style. She is just perfect. It doesn’t hurt to have musicians the caliber of Felix Dolan and Geraldine Cotter accompanying her on piano. But, this is all about Catherine. A marvel. Our favorite is The Concert Reel/Forget Me Not. We think the secret is her tone. This is the way the wooden flute is meant to be played. The tone---soft, yet direct, clear. Gorgeous. Thank you, Catherine, from every Irish flute fan in the world.
8. Male Musician of the Year Chris Newman Heartstring Sessions
Chris Newman may well be the best trad/acoustic/folk/ Argentinian tango/ mazurka player in the world. Or, put another way, he is the music’s best guitarist. He and fellow musician, Maire ni Chathasaigh on harp have defined and refined their positions in the music to the point where they have become iconic. Team the world’s best Celtic harpist with the best guitar player, and you have it all. It is criminal that Chris has not won an individual Livie before, but that is now redressed. He was a child prodigy on the guitar, and now he is an adult genius on the thing. Impeccable taste and soul meet technical brilliance. Wow! This album, this musician and this ability left us speechless—as we usually are in the presence of Maire and Chris. He has been the best for years---and remains so. Chris, you are the deal, and so say us all!
9. Instrumental Cut of the Year The Exploding Bow Ailie Robertson
This Scottish harp player immediately ranks in the presence of Maire ni Chathasaigh and Michelle Mulcahy as among the very top of the field. Her new album, First Things First is a wonder throughout. She has a fresh, jazzy approach to the tradition, but never gets wacky or too far gone to lose touch with the heart of it all. She is a master player with a truly unique take on it all. She is wonderful. She is a winner. At the top, where she should be.
10. Vocal Album of the Year Maranna McCloskey At Last
This Derry singer establishes herself as the best of all, and straight out of the shoots on this winner. An alto of exquisite warmth and grasp of the tradition. You just can’t sing traditional music better than this. She is one of those singers who stops you in mid-step, as you turn to hear her better. We have sat and sat and sat in front of the sound system listening to At Last. The voice is a gift from God. But, the understanding, the grasp, the intuition are hers. Like Laura Smith, no one else sounds like this. Maranna McCloskey owns the future. We are sitting here writing this as we hear her singing, The Home I Left Behind. I’m going to do what we all should do. Stop what we are doing and listen to Maranna. Like her voice, she is a gift. We will all truly hold this singer and this album dear in the future.
11. Composer of the Year Shaun Davey Beal Tuinne
Shaun Davey is, indisputably, Ireland’s greatest composer. His career in symphonies, movie scores and television composition is far too vast to even introduce here. He is Irish music. Shaun embodies the country's best in the soul of his heart, the power of his musical insight, and the sureness of his hand as he writes it all down. We think Beal Tuinne is his most intimate, and greatest, work. His library is for the ages, but none more so than Beal Tuinne. “Masterpiece” hardly covers it. But, it will have to do for now, as there is no word for him and his body of work. Thank you, Shaun.