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Friday, August 24, 2012

Songlist Highlights: Ross Crean, Steve Balsamo

I won't be at another city event with live music until September 8th, most likely, but in the meantime there's always spotify, and I have a few weeks' worth of new music queued up to listen to on my playlists. So, the forays into the world of 'music I have never heard before' continues with a vengeance. And, as often occurs when I start poking my ears into new sounds, I once again have landed on a few new artists I am particularly caught up with for a while.

I have no idea any more where I came across Ross Crean to have added him to my queue, though if I had to guess I'd say it was the 'related artists' feature on spotify (yes, those related artist things really do lead to new listeners sometimes). I had a really hard time picking just one song to put on my weekly list from Mr. Crean's albums. Lovers and Other Kinds of Monsters is a great one to start with, but I am particularly drawn to the Irish stuff on Blackwater. His voice is rich and velvety, especially in his lower range, but nice and crisply clear at the top of his range as well- if I was a guy I would want his voice. And, his sean nos training shows through even where he is just singing lyrically, giving many of his songs a strange, haunting, other-worldly sound I could listen to all day. I only started listening to his music properly this afternoon, so I know practically nothing about him yet, but this guy's right up there with Paolo Nutini and Julie Fowlis as favorite new musicians I've cued into in the past year.

Ross Crean's website is really hard to navigate, and has one of those really annoying music players that starts up automatically (very annoying if one happens to be already listening to music while browsing). His myspace page is more browsing-friendly, though, and he posts links for listening to and downloading his music on myspace, facebook and his website. His followers on facebook are well-rewarded, as he posts links on there to limited-time free downloads, and as I have not yet heard a dud among the songs I've browsed so far, these would be free tunes worth the effort of downloading.


Steve Balsamo is the guy who sang "Gethsemane" in the youtube video Ryan Kelly shared a short while ago. His rendition of this Jesus Christ Superstar song really is amazing, but I find his album, All I Am, fascinating. It is a great pop/rock album, very catchy and well made, with a nice variety and a solid voice on all the tracks. But, it is hard to imagine the guy who sang "Gethsemane" singing pop songs at all. The transformation is mind-boggling, but both Steves are pretty cool, the dramatic/ tragic musical theater guy and the modern pop-radio star.

Mr. Balsamo's solo album is a dramatic contrast against a lot of the slower, heavier stuff I lean towards, but like Neil Byrne's Pale blue Jak stuff, Balsamo's music provides a musically interesting but lighter, happier counterpoint that keeps my music adventures from getting too exhausting. Listening to lots of great new music should not be exhausting, after all. Reading Balsamo's biography, though, on his website, there is apparently quite a lot more to this Welsh singer's musical offerings. He's been involved in several bands and projects which also have released albums, and there's plenty more here to explore. Follow him on facebook, visit the website for his band project The Storys, and check out his music on spotify, of course.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Comfort of Old Musical Friends

(I wish this bright purple concert shot was one I took- it would mean I had a chance to see Paul Byrom in concert, from close enough to get a good shot. I'll track down the credit info soon.)
The new semester and school year has begun for me any many others in the US and elsewhere, and this week is full of meetings and grand plans for the near future. It's a bit depressing, always, knowing that the likelihood of all these grand plans actually happening is slim, but some of these plans will work, and others I've not yet thought of will no doubt replace the failed ideas. This week, though, is the jumping off point, standing on the proverbial springboard, trying to remember how to swim as the feet leave the board.

And, of course, with all the newness and activity of this time of the year comes stress. Even when everything is going well, these times of transition are inherently stressful, so tonight I've set aside all my collections of new, unheard music, in favor of some 'old classics', which tonight means the Celtic Thunder albums. I started consciously pursuing new music in part because I felt a bit guilty about getting caught up in promoting the music of these lovely Irish men when I may never meet any of them properly, and there are so many local artists whose careers my efforts might actually benefit significantly. Considering that most of Celtic Thunder's attention is on the US East Coast and in the South, I'm not so sure most days whether anything I do here in Colorado could be of any significant help to any of them.

Still, the fact remains that whether I register on their radar, or have any significance whatsoever to them, the 'lads' of Celtic Thunder do still occupy a special place in my heart. As much as I enjoy writing posts that may actually be useful to great local bands, I still have to at least give a nod occasionally to the music and musicians because of whom I am actively blogging in the first place. I did, after all, start my tumblr because I liked the one Ryan Kelly and Neil Byrne set up for their Acoustic by Candlelight tour. And, I only started getting regular readers here after I archived my tumblr candle posts here, which only exist because Ryan gave himself a severe closed-head injury. Celtic Thunder is family, almost, at least distant cousins.

So, while I will be back to gushing about great local music soon enough, I have to at least whine about not living on the East Coast (Boston, New York, Baltimore), where this guy, Mr. Paul Byrom, will be singing several shows very soon. I could not afford to buy tickets anyway just yet, at least until I start making at least enough to buy groceries again, but if he were coming to Fort Collins instead, I'd like to think I would find enough tutoring/editing clients by then to go to one of his shows. (Heck, if his hair looks anything like it did in this picture, Paul even has just about the same haircut as me- surely a positive sign, if only he was coming here!)
Oh well. I can at least listen to his songs from the earlier Celtic Thunder albums, and listen to his solo album again, and maybe watch the youtube video of him in rehearsal singing "The Island", a Paul Brady song Keith sang/sings with Celtic Thunder. And, in a few weeks (but who's counting?) Keith Harkin's debut album comes out. Between that and the various youtube videos and promo media Celtic Thunder and its members post, I'm sure I'll find more to blog about as further excuses to mention them and see their lovely faces on my blog some more, even before they (George, Ryan, Neil, Keith, Emmet,and Colm, but NOT Paul, unfortunately) get to Denver in November.

(Sorry, for those readers who really would rather just see the local music posts- there will be plenty more of those too. I promise this won't turn into just another Celtic Thunder fanblog, even if that might artificially increase my humble blog's readership for a short while.) In the meantime, I have lots of meetings and 'things' again tomorrow, and must get some beauty sleep. Happy Listening, as always, and if you are going to be in town where Paul is singing, go see his show. I'll be very jealous.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Now Listening to- Celtic Thunder: Voyage II :)

I wasn't sure if I would, but yes, I did in fact buy a copy of Voyage II, the CD, recently released by Celtic Thunder. It was very inexpensive, on one of those nifty amazon.com mp3 album promo sales, and I did really want "Girls, Girls, Girls" for my spotify playlists. Ever since my DVD speakers died I've been stuck with whatever music my sad little laptop can play for me, which does not include the songs which are only on the Celtic Thunder DVDs. Sadly, even with the Voyage II CD, I still cannot listen to the trio arrangement from the DVD for "My Lagan Love" in its Voyage II form. Oddly enough, Paul Byrom's voice still chimes in for the Voyage II CD's version of this song, so it is in fact a recording from the Storm era.

There are several tracks on Voyage which are not simply brought forward from other earlier albums, though, so for those of us who have been fans of Celtic Thunder for a few years, there is still reason enough to buy this album. It's not just a starter album for new fans. But, it does seem decidedly tailored as a sort of supplemental album, a bonus of sorts for old fans, and a great introduction to the group for new folks just now being transformed into fledgling Thunderheads.

The fact that the young Mr. Daniel Furlong is featured so much more on this album than on the first Voyage album means that this is the disc new child fans would latch onto. They would of course be very disappointed if Daniel is not being kept on, so we must hope he's still on board; but, so long as he's still singing with Celtic Thunder in the future, Voyage II would be the equivalent of The Show and Act II, and a whole new batch of fans could grow up listening to the maturing voice of the newer CT boy singer, just as fans grew up listening to their beloved "Damo", Damian McGinty, over the past few years. It may not be possible to engineer the kind of synergy that made Damian successful, though, and so it's anyone's guess whether we'll hear much from Daniel through Celtic Thunder this next year. But even I like him a lot more hearing him on this album, and I'm not really a fan of kid-singers in general. He's adorable in "You've Got a Friend In Me" and his voice really helps improve the overall effect of the ensemble in "Danny Boy".

Voyage II sports a lot of rerecordings of older, classic Celtic Thunder tunes, and they're pretty good. "Danny Boy", with Daniel as part of the ensemble, has a few shaky bits in the middle, but the harmonies at the end make this arrangement quite impressive. "A Place in the Choir" (a song I have been in love with since I was 8yrs old, btw) is particularly nice in the Voyage II version. I like the earlier arrangement, with Damian showing off his bass range, but for showcasing the song, this newer recording is far superior. The CD recording of the "Clancy Brothers Medley" is also very good, not better than the version the guys sing on the DVD, and not better than the less dramatized version they sang for their PBS promo spots, but equally as good.

And, of course, there's "Girls, Girls, Girls", an adorable cover of a song by the European pop/rock group Sailor, a group which I am sure few fans on this side of the Atlantic had ever heard of before. I had heard this song, I am sure, as a barbershop song, back when I was in elementary school, but I had no idea where they got it from then. The Celtic Thunder version is really, really good, and its a nice twist from the usual Celtic Thunder sound we're all pretty used to now. Oh, and "My Irish Molly O" is also pretty good. I think because Emmet is so much younger than I am, I am a bit out of the "Emmet" fangirl loop- no, I am not in love with him, and for my taste he's not exactly perfect, though I am glad he has so many fans who think he is. Still, his rendition of this classic Irish tune is gorgeous. Actually, after hearing a few of his off-stage video recordings, I am being slowly won over, not to the extent that most of my fellow tumblr Thunderheads seem to be, but ...

So, if you are on the fence about buying Voyage II, yep there are a lot of 'repeats', but there's plenty more to this one than just repeats of tracks from old albums. And, if you are newer to Celtic Thunder and do not yet have the older albums, this is a really good introduction to Celtic Thunder's musical range and style. There is almost nothing on this album with Ryan Kelly's voice in it, because he was going through a bit of an adventure outside the group last year when the rest of the group was in the studio. But even without him, Celtic Thunder sounds great on these tracks. (Better by far with Ryan included, in my humble opinion, but then he and Neil are my favorites. I am not so sure how long I would remain a devoted fan of the group if those two were to leave.) Now, just over a month left till Keith Harkin's debut album comes out (!!!). In the meantime, Happy Listening!