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Monday, January 28, 2013

Quick Notes: Songlist Change, Celtic Thunder in Australia, Guitar Duo in Nebraska

1) Just in case anyone is wondering, yes, I am shifting my songlist posts from Fridays (which didn't always work out as planned) to Mondays. Live music shows here tend to be on Fridays, Saturdays and Thursdays, so trying to write what is the equivalent of a 6 page text document for a Friday post-deadline was just not going so well. I am hoping to bring back my "Where Are They Now" posts this year, so maybe those will post on Fridays instead.

2) Apparently yet another of the Australia shows has been cancelled on the ongoing Celtic Thunder tour, and I am very glad I am not traveling along on this particular tour (though there would be lots of great photos for me to take, I'm sure). The weather where they are now sounds not just soggy, but rather intimidatingly scary, with far too much rain and high winds that would make traveling by bus particularly interesting. Here's hoping the Celtic Thunder folks are safe and relatively dry as they continue to slog their way from town to town for their tour. The folks in Brisbane are, I'm sure, disappointed at missing the show Celtic Thunder was to be performing there, but with all the flooding and roof damage folks in that area are dealing with, missing a music show may be the least of their worries for some people. And, if this is the first you've heard of this cancellation, click here for the blog post where Sharon Browne provides more information.

3) I'll write more on this weekend's shows soon, but if anyone in or near Friend, NE (Wed. Jan 30th) or Lincoln, NE (Thurs. Jan 31st) is looking for some great live music and doesn't yet have these guys on their calendar yet, check out the Andreas Kapsalis & Goran Ivanovic, Guitar Duo show that will be coming your way this week. These guys are absolutely amazing master guitarists.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Highlights of the 2012 IMA Results

The results are in, and huge congratulations are in order for all the winners and nominees. Barry Kerr and Seana Davey won the awards for Top Uilleann Piper and Top Harpist respectively. Among the ladies of Celtic Woman, Máiréad Nesbitt won Top Fiddle/Violin and Chloe Agnew won Best Female Vocalist, and ex-Celtic Thunder singer Paul Byrom won the 2012 award for Best Irish Tenor.
And last but certainly not least, George Donaldson won the award for Top Solo Performer in Concert, which is the one Ryan Kelly won last year, btw. I'd imagine there'll be some suitably sore heads on the Celtic Thunder tour buses in the next day or so. The Thunderheads were of course always certain that George, Barry, Seana and Paul deserved to win and therefore would, but since only people with some level of membership in the Irish Music Association could vote this year, not all Thunderheads could chime in to ensure their favorites would win. But clearly we Thunderheads know what we're talking about.
The fantastic musicians picked for Celtic Thunder (and Celtic Woman) are indeed talented enough to deserve a fanatically loyal fanbase stretching across the planet. Congratulations to all the excellent musicians recognized in this contest, as we move into 2013 and start all over. Can another Celtic Thunder singer snag Top Performer in Concert for 2013? It may take a year or so to happen, but I can certainly see Emmet as a finalist for Best Irish Tenor in the near future.
To see all of the IMA results, click here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Walled City Sessions (Part 2: The Headliners)

Fair warning: This is one of those posts where I feel as if I am sliding down the slippery slope from music promoter to music critic. I really like Damian McGinty as a musician, but I was a bit disappointed with both headliners at this show. They are both talented young men, and I would love to see them at their best. This show was not quite there yet. The girls in the audience at the Nerve Centre were there to see these two lads up close, not to hear a great musical performance, and for that purpose they both did a great job. I was very impressed that the audience was singing along so solidly when Ben did the the "Fairytale of New York", a song that the US online crowd would not have known all the words to, almost guaranteed. I'm probably just being a curmudgeon, honestly. I am sure when we see these lads again they will be amazing, as they usually are, and by next year they'll have their stage acts polished all the better, and Walled City will have all the year's experience to draw from to make 2013's Sessions jaw-droppingly great.

Ben Kelly
Ben Kelly, whose claim to fame so far in the UK derives from his appearance as a contestant on one of the BBC talent shows, The Voice, may have a bit more of a future in music than his brief successes on that TV show would suggest. His new single, released on December 5, 2012 (available on itunes) is very decidedly about Ireland, and Derry in particular, and many of his potential fans will need a bit of a refresher on the history and culture of Derry and Northern Ireland to really grasp some of his references. But, I think there are a lot of pop-music fans up to such a challenge. Perhaps if these fans make a habit of reading young Mr. Kelly's blog, and pester him enough about this song's lyrics, he might even oblige with a few quick history lessons, seeing as he has a blog he keeps up anyway. I am always a fan of artists who try to infuse meatier content into pop music, so while I'm not waiting breathless for Ben Kelly to release his next single, I kinda like this guy. He's still new enough to being a professional musician that he only has a 'personal' facebook page, not a proper professional facebook page, so it may be a while before he has one that you can 'like', but by the time he has more music recorded, he'll probably also have his web-presence worked out better.

A Few Comments on the Show as a Whole
At the Walled City Records show, Ben (and Damian for that matter) had the misfortune of relying on recorded backing tracks, which did not work as smoothly as they ought to have. They also made the show a lot more of a middle-school style talent show, and less of a 'real' concert. I know Damian doesn't play guitar, and they couldn't stuff an orchestra onstage for their sets, but I would have loved to see what these guys are capable of as entertainers, not just as guys who can sing along to a tape. A bit harsh? Yeah, probably, but I know what Damian is capable of- I've watched him since he started Celtic Thunder at 14, and he is someone who ought to be able to entertain a crowd without taped backing tracks. I suspect that Ben Kelly is similarly talented, so the tapes seem to be a bit too much of a crutch, as if they don't really believe in themselves enough to generate more of their show live on the stage.

In fact, the one major criticism I had of the entire Walled City show was that it lacked confidence and professionalism. Had they brought in a local radio announcer to be their MC between acts, their transitions would have been less abrupt and awkward, too. (grumble, grumble, grumble....) Anyway, gripes aside, what we all were watching this concert for was not the logistics, but the music. Besides Ben Kelly, we of course saw Damian McGinty.

Damian McGinty
Damian started out his mainstream music career as one of the principal singers for the original lineup of Celtic Thunder, way back in 2007. He was the cute kid with braces who sang cute kid songs and earned the admiration of all the grandmothers and the adoration of all the preteen girls in the Celtic Thunder audiences. But, after a few years his voice changed, a transition caught on tape occasionally in the Celtic Thunder recordings (like that "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" video in which he has to switch octaves mid intro- so cute, and the sort of thing to make all those grandmothers go "awww!" but probably also rather embarrassing for Mr. McGinty). Now, he has a nice rich low baritone/bass voice, which he is still growing into. He is, after all, only 20 yrs old. Once he grows into his low sexy voice, with his dark hair and brilliant blue eyes as well, he'll be able to charm just about any woman into just about anything, at least temporarily.

In the meantime he is working with his friend Oran, running their recording studio Audio Booth and record label Walled City Records. In addition to this new venture into the production and business sides of music, Damian is still recording music, mostly covers of different genres of pop songs. His first solo EP was released at the beginning of December, and is doing quite well. He sang quite a significant chunk of his EP songs at the Walled City show, and while his performance lacked confidence, it probably was more than good enough for the fans actually at the show, and for all his not-so-critical fans elsewhere. My guess is that he was also very stressed and distracted, considering that he was appearing as not just a performer, but as one of the key people running the label. Maybe if he was just there to sing he would have had a bit more to put into his set. I do have to say, though, that once he got into it, his duet with Gem O'Reilly was fantastic, and he seemed to be really enjoying himself.

All in all, it was a good, solid first run for a brand new label, and there were some amazing moments within the Walled City Sessions this year. The singer-songwriter competition which they used to select two of the supporting acts was a brilliant plan and highlighted more of the great new local talent in Ireland and the UK. All the singers in this show are about the same ages as the undergrads I used to teach as a grad student, so they all seem very young, and I am always tempted to accept whatever halfway decent music these 'kids' come up with. But, as so many of these young musicians amply demonstrate every day, they are capable of making breathtakingly great music, not just tolerably ok stuff.

And, if you, dear reader, disagree with me about how amazing this Walled City Sessions show was, go to the artists' pages, 'like' them, listen to their music, share their videos, buy their EPs and singles, and help them continue to be successful as professional musicians. We all will have differing opinions on music- it would be a sad and boring world otherwise- but so long as we all support our musicians so they are not just singing to a proverbial brick wall, they'll weather a bit of constructive criticism from some random blogger just fine.

Walled City Sessions (Part 1: Supporting Acts)

Part 1( Supporting Acts)
Walled City Records Presents Walled City Sessions at the Nerve Centre, Derry, NI (December 21, 2012)
This show was a live concert (on 12/21/12, almost as good as 12/12/12) in Derry, Northern Ireland, which was also streamed live (and free) on the internet, and recorded, so that it can still be seen online. I highly recommend watching it. The recording includes almost an hour of silence before the show starts, so skip forward until you see a crowd filling in the space in front of the stage(start at about 1:01:00). Once the show began, and there were two opening acts, Chanel McGuinness and Gary Elliott. Gem O'Reilly was in the 3rd slot; she is a hot new act signed to Walled City, with an EP now on pre-order before its January release date. Up 4th was the first of what I consider the main acts, Darrell Coyle. (Actually, I am pretty sure they were all considered support acts except Ben and Damian. Oh well.) The the headliners: Ben Kelly played a set after Darrell, and Damian McGinty finished the show. I have to say, Oran O'Carroll has a really cute speaking voice, and is a lot cuter just in general than I had noticed before.

Chanele Mc Guinness
I really liked the first singer, the fiery-haired Irish singer Chanele Mc Guinness, from Donegal (Ireland). If the line-up had been designed according to my tastes she would have had a 40-50 minute set, because she was obviously just warming up in her first song, and was already really good. Chanel won second place in a singer-songwriter contest Walled City Records did this fall. I'm guessing that Gary Elliott performed a lot better in that competition than he did on the stage for this concert, because ... well, listen for yourself. They are both talented musicians. Chanel is just about finished with her first EP, for which she did a successful fundraiser earlier in 2012 on indiegogo.com. Hopefully there'll be more information forthcoming soon on this new EP, because at the moment I am having no luck figuring out if there is a link anywhere to a site where one might pre-order this one, let alone much additional information on it. In the meantime, though, her youtube channel has a lot of great stuff. She and Darrell Coyle are very prolific singer-songwriters whose youtube channels seem to offer something new and entertaining unusually frequently.

Gary Elliott
This fellow won the Walled City Records Singer-Songwriter competition, and he certainly seems to have a style that turns up on the radio a lot on the contemporary pop scene. I'd have to see him again, at a smaller venue, to really say for sure what I didn't like about him. His songs sounded frantic and rushed, a lot more like the rough covers that turn up on youtube, played by nervous kids in their bedrooms, the kids who aren't sure if it's ok for them to post their singing in public. So, maybe it was nerves. He has a fair voice, and good taste when it comes to selecting music, so hopefully he has more chances to play for the sorts of crowds Damian McGinty can draw in. Gary has just finished recording a first EP, so if this is where my tastes and yours diverge and you really love this guy's music, there'll be a release coming out soon. He has a style that could be very commercially successful, maybe almost as successful as Gem O'Reilly, selling to the teen and young adult crowds, but I'll leave off critiquing him before I burn my bridges with him so far that they can't be rebuilt. His one song on his facebook page, "The Wooden Boat", sounds alright, and a lot more carefully measured & relaxed compared to what he was doing at the Walled City show.

Gem O'Reilly
This girl is like a British brunette version of Taylor Swift, and she covers Taylor quite decently. As Taylor starts growing up enough that her life's adventures begin appealing to older fans, I could see Gem filling in some of the gaps in the music world. Neither of these ladies is as insipid as some of their sappy teenage love songs might seem to suggest, and I'm sure Gem's audience will start out pretty broad, not just appealing to teenagers. Still, teenagers need music they can relate to, by people they understand and who understand them. Listening to some of Gem's lyrics, I'm pretty sure she is happy for now singing the songs that today's teenagers need. Considering that Damian's Glee fans include quite a few folks in this younger demographic, this may be a very successful combination. Gem O'Reilly has her solo EP coming out in January via Walled City Records, and it is now available for preorder.

Darrell Coyle
The last of the 'support acts' in the Walled City show was the guy I would have been attending the show to see, if I was in Derry. Darrell Coyle is a young, fun-loving guy who posts all sorts of silly things online (actually a lot like Keith Harkin, or at least what I imagine Keith would have been like had he been on twitter back in 2007 or 2008). But, when Darrell starts writing music, it's as if he's channeling someone else, maybe his own older self or something, and his singing similarly doesn't sound like that of the kid posting silly faces on twitter. Most of the better musicians I've met have this sort of duality about them, and it doesn't really do away so long as they are still happy enough or alive enough to write music.

Darrell Coyle is the first artist Walled City Records signed, and his EP when it came out earlier this year charted in several countries, reaching #1 in Mexico. I wish he had released a full album, not just a 4-track EP, because 4 songs is just not enough. But, as I mentioned earlier, Darrell also records a lot of rough covers and originals as youtube videos. Several of the songs he played at the Walled City Records show were songs he introduced to the world via youtube videos sometime after his EP came out. I've run through all 4 of his EP tracks in my playlists, as my more regular visitors might have noticed. If I ever make it out to Derry, this is one musician I hope to meet while I am there, hopefully after a live show so I can take a few pictures for my blog and facebook page too.