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Friday, March 29, 2013

Darrell Coyle - Ghost

The Walled City Records featured video for this week is a new recording of Darrell Coyle's song "Ghost", which we have heard now in a few earlier iterations. This video is still a bit rough, as it was recorded in a bookstore, so it is not yet the nice polished studio recorded album version I suspect may be coming eventually. I still prefer his "Love Song" over this song, but both are lovely and will hopefully be on his next album later this year.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Recharging the Batteries: Paul Byrom in Natick

I hear often enough how when we take something we enjoy and try to make a living at it, it can be tough holding on to whatever made it something we loved in the first place. Blogging about music is no exception. This year I have had the great fortune to know enough great people in our local music scene that I can finally really start feeling like a 'real music blogger', whatever that is. I've even met a couple fans this year, including one or two who had never met me before. I've also had conversations with people lately that are in response to something I wrote, or discussing some band I recommended, and all these things are absolutely great. Of course, I would love to figure out how to pay the rent without cutting into the time I spend on things linked to music blogging. At the same time what I am doing online has the potential, at least, of helping other people in the local and not-so-local music world pay their rent, and over the past few months the stress of thinking so much on these aspects of music blogging has made writing new blog posts harder and harder. I don't know where the money is in local music, and apparently no one else does either, and maybe wherever money is lurking, it is time to step back and refocus away from the money to what mattered when all this started- the music. I started writing about music because I enjoyed the music and enjoyed writing about it and sharing my experiences involving great music.

Which is why this is the post I am writing after enjoying one of the few concerts I was not guest-listed for this year, a live-streaming online concert by Paul Byrom, who was performing just a short while ago in Natick, Massachusetts. There is no recording from this show, and I took no pictures, because the lighting on Paul washed his face out enough that taking screencaps would have been pointless. So since I couldn't go back and watch the bits I missed (there was a short section while he was introducing the song he wrote where the cat decided he was through with sitting quietly and rather persuasively demanded my attention) I had to just sit quietly and enjoy the concert.

I was actually glad by those last few songs that I was watching alone with my cat a few thousand miles away, as Paul's last few songs tonight hit a lot closer to home than I expected- I know, watching the audience as they gathered their things after the show, that I was hardly the only one so effected by Paul's music, but I think had I been there in person I would not have felt comfortable allowing his music to become so personal. Is everyone else like this? I was grateful that I had a whole section to myself at the Denver Celtic Thunder show last year because I could enjoy the concert without wondering whether I was annoying the people sitting nearby, and felt very much more constrained in Loveland a few days later because the woman sitting next to me would not clap or sing along to anything and kept glaring at those of us who seemed inclined to.

I very much enjoyed all of Paul's concert tonight- His rendition of "She" was a nice reminder of who he was when we first heard him on the Celtic Thunder show, and his insights on Storm were delightful. I haven't seen much point in griping about Storm, and as Paul admitted, that show has some lovely music, but I think he and I are on the same page with respect to Storm as a show. (One thing he didn't say and which I would not expect him to fully appreciate- Storm does at least allow us ladies to enjoy the images of Keith as a bandit and Ryan as a gypsy in a nicely low-cut shirt, so the costumes weren't all bad.) Paul's song for his lovely fiance, who was there and according to Paul was selling merchandise at the show, was beautiful, and I hope that he can fit "To Make You Feel My Love" on his next album. And, if Paul can parody his fiance's friends' reactions to his proposal and the ring and still have a fiance afterward, clearly he made the right choice in proposing to her. We also got to hear a few of the songs off Paul's latest album, "This Is the Moment", and several additional songs, mixed in among the stories and jokes.

Paul's original song, inspired by the events of September 11th, 2001, was especially nice, and captures nicely that odd feeling I am sure many of us have had over the past few years when we wake up on what could have been a perfectly normal day to discover that a tsunami or hurricane or bombing has occurred. Even sitting miles away from these things, we can't help but be aware on those days of the awful precarity with which we all live our daily lives. I don't know if I want to hear such a song on the radio on the next morning of a huge deadly disaster, even rendered in Paul's voice- some feelings need time to simmer wordlessly, especially on days like those- but it would be nice if he might slip this one on an upcoming album too, just in case it is ever needed.

Paul Byrom always seems like someone I should know, even though I have not yet met him in any context. He and I are almost exactly the same age, so even though he grew up in Ireland and I grew up in Colorado, we grew up in different corners of the same world, where MTV had lots of music and phones used to have those curly cords on the headsets. The Ireland I remember hearing about as a kid was the Ireland that "The Island" belongs to, a terribly protracted war zone that seemed to hum with tension even when seemingly at peace, and probably part of what fascinates me about the Irish singers I 'love' is the idea that they actually lived in that world. I loved that Paul turned the last segment of his show towards Irish songs and talking more about Ireland, not because I expect Irish people to sing Irish music and American people to sing American music, but because it was a bit more of an introspective and nuanced Ireland in Paul's set- not the jigs and reels and whiskey, but the anguished partings and neverending conflicts and that Irish flavor of misery where even the pretty love songs can make you cry. "Carrickfergus", "The Island" and "Danny Boy" are all songs that all Celtic Thunder fans know by now, and Ryan Kelly, Keith Harkin and Emmet Cahill sing some lovely versions of these songs too, but Paul's set lent these familiar songs a melancholy air that is never quite equalled by the Celtic Thunder show.

I hope that those of my readers who missed Paul Byrom's show streamed from Natick can see him themselves soon, if nothing else on PBS when his newly filmed solo show starts making its rounds on our televisions. And, with how tickled Paul seemed to be about the idea of fans watching him from around the world tonight, maybe we'll see more streamed concerts from him in the future.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bonus St. Paddy's Day Songlist

Do you have enough Irish music yet for the weekend?

 As it is Saint Patrick's Day this weekend, here is an extra playlist made up of songs from all the lists since July. These 40 songs are all classic Irish tunes, contemporary songs by Irish artists and/or songs in Irish. The spotify playlist for this selection of tunes is posted below:

 Snapshots- the first 20 songs:

The last 20 songs:

Ravenmount 2013 St. Paddy's Day Songlist

I'll write more on some of these songs, but the format I have been using for my weekly songlists so far would be rather unwieldy for thirty songs. I would imagine I may choose a hybrid of this format (which feels far too easy to me still, but takes a lot less space, and requires far less time to create) and the rather more laborious posts I have done since last July. Any readers who have particular preferences for more commentary and information, or any other aspects of the format I have been using, versus this new one, please do leave your feedback in the comments. The link for the spotify list that corresponds to the this week's songlist is posted below:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Cool Blog: Damian McGinty Fan Blog

I was expecting that with a name like this, the Damian McGinty Fan Blog would consist of a biography page with all the random details one could possibly scrounge up about this very young man, plus a gallery with copies of every photo on the Internet of Damian, and lots of gushy posts about how amazingly blue his eyes are and how cute he is when he does his eyebrow thing. Well, while I am sure these things are on this site somewhere, there are some very cool things turning up on this site as well. Walled City Records and Audio Booth recording studio are not big enough to hire PR/marketing staff just yet, I'm sure, and I am nowhere near Derry, NI, to use my blog effectively to promote their artists and music activities. I'd love to interview Darrell Coyle sometime (it really is on my to do list, so this might in fact happen sometime if he's cool with it) but otherwise I am relying on Damian and Oran to tell me who their artists are and what they sound like, which means I know very little.

This is where the Damian McGinty Fan Blog comes in, because as a natural extension of its focus on Damian, this blog also focuses on the artists and activities of Walled City Records and Audio Booth. Here one can read interviews and other information on many of the artists who have recorded music in Audio Booth's studios and those artists signed to Walled City Records. So, no I have not lost my mind and turned into a Damian-obsessed would-be teenager in adding this blog to my short but growing list of music blogs and sites. It's an evolving blog that is heading in a very cool direction.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Celtic Thunder: Mythology, CD #2

So you've heard Celtic Thunder's new album, Mythology, on spotify or maybe having purchased it or listened to a friend's copy. Right? Well, actually that album is only half of the Mythology CD release, because for those people who purchase the deluxe version off the Celtic Thunder webpage, and for folks who purchase this 2-disc CD set through PBS, there is a whole second album's-worth of music to be heard. And, while many of the 2-disc special editions bands release simply include a bunch of different live and studio versions of the same few songs from the primary album, the Celtic Thunder deluxe package really is two different sets of songs. (This was my first query when Celtic Thunder started posting tracklists a few months ago.) The second CD gives you an additional 15 songs that are not on the other disc. Is it worth the extra money? Well... short answer- yes, of course. Long answer...

Unlike some of their earlier albums, this year the new Celtic Thunder show has very few repeats of songs from earlier shows. "Danny Boy" makes yet another appearance on Mythology (on disc 1), and "Seven Drunken Nights" is back, still only with the first 5 'clean' verses (the last two verses would make this song decidedly not one for a family show). "Danny Boy" is now a solo, though, and has a different intro that almost makes it a whole different song. And there are several songs off Keith Harkin's solo CD ("Rosa", "Tears of Hercules") mixed into the Mythology show. [For the most part it probably is just an artifact of the fact that Keith was very busy in L.A. getting his own album finished. I doubt Celtic Thunder is planning to ditch Keith any time soon, though I do think Keith will need to spend a bit more time and attention on his solo career over the next year.] I love "Tears of Hercules" (disc 2), easily my favorite song of Keith's solo album, and the Celtic Thunder stage version is gorgeous, and I like the idea that "Rosa" might be one of the songs Keith sings on tour this fall, since it is a personal song written for his young god-daughter who is still back in Derry while Keith is away touring. It's not the same as having him home, but at least the real Rosa can know Keith thinks of her whenever he sings her song.

Two 'Paul Byrom tunes' turn up in Mythology- "Galileo" (originally written and recorded by Declan O'Rourke in 2006 and recorded by Josh Groban in 2010) and  "My Land"(on disc 1) This one is somewhat misleadingly touted as one of the new original songs written for Celtic Thunder, though fans know that Paul has recorded this song as well, a few years ago, though the arrangement in Mythology is new; it is now a 6-part ensemble piece, not a solo. "My Land" was written for Celtic Thunder, I'm sure, but back when Paul was a member of this group still. But otherwise most of the songs that the Celtic Thunder singers and band perform in this new show are actually new additions. For new fans this of course doesn't matter, but for those of us who have been fans for years, it is great to hear more new songs from these musicians.

The second disc has a lot of different covers of popular tunes, including "Galileo", Simon & Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence", and another Garth Brooks cover by Ryan, "Thunder Rolls". In fact, over half of this disc is made up of such covers. They are very good covers, not just cheap imitations of the original songs and most of them on par with, even improving on their originals, though Celtic Thunder may wish to practice a bit more before launching a side career as a bluegrass band. (They cover "Man of Constant Sorrow" on disc 2, and I'm sure it will be great fun to sing along to live in concert, but after hearing this song performed live last year by Alison Krauss & Union Station, with Dan Tyminski on lead vocals and Jerry Douglas on dobro, well, Celtic Thunder did a great job for not being a bluegrass band....)

Not quite all of disc 2 is pop covers. but the tracks I am most in love with off this disc are covers. One of the nicest surprises in the Mythology show, for me, was hearing Keith Harkin and Colm Keegan singing together. For some reason when I met these fellows a few months ago I got the impression that these two, Keith and Colm, were really not the best of friends, however professional they can both appear. So I really hadn't considered what they might sound like together. Well, these two lads perform "Sound of Silence" together and while I still like Art Garfunkel's part better for singing along, I actually like this new Celtic Thunder recording at least as well as the original, which has always been one of my favorite songs.

Actually my other favorite on this 'album' (disc 2) is "Galileo". I love Josh Groban, and this is a gorgeous song, but it was never quite a favorite of mine on Paul Byrom's album, or even on Josh Groban's album. I got the impression from Josh's version that this song needed a voicing that sounded less formally trained, and Paul's version took it in the opposite direction, turning it into something that would blend in well with a Frank Sinatra & Friends radio station's playlists. It's pretty, and many people love it for good reason. I prefer Neil Byrne's new rendition of this song, which sounds just about perfectly like what I'd hoped to hear.

There are of course things to like about the rest of the 15 tracks on this second Mythology CD as well, but long story short, yes if you have the opportunity it is well worth the extra money to buy both CDs. I only bought the standard DVD, and have not yet found a friend who has the deluxe DVD package for me to borrow, or the money to buy it myself, but I know there is still some more excellent music on that version of the DVD that I have yet to hear, too. These deluxe packages will be available as part of the various PBS pledge drives Celtic Thunder will be involved with over the coming weeks. Contact your local PBS station for information about whether Celtic Thunder will be coming through your area this month on their promotional tour, and if you live outside the US, or in states whose PBS stations are not promoting Celtic Thunder this year, check out the Celtic Thunder webpage to order the deluxe CD and DVD packages (these are not available in stores anywhere or on amazon.com).

Friday, March 1, 2013

More Deep Thoughts: Celtic Thunder & Social Toaster

It has been a few days now since the dedicated core of the online Thunderheads discovered the new promotional program Celtic Thunder launched this week with Social Toaster. Within hours of this group realizing it was not a hoax, the Thunderheads mobilized their efforts to ensure that no Thunderheads who wished to 'win' a shotglass, hat or t-shirt through this program would be left out. Even before the Thunderheads from outside North America were re-included in the program these Thunderheads, too, were included in the collective efforts to help everyone gain the points necessary to win prizes. (For a brief time there was a clause in the official rules limiting eligibility for prizes to just those who legally reside in the US or Canada, though to the credit of Celtic Thunder and Social Toaster, it did not take long for this clause to be removed once Thunderheads made it clear they were very unhappy with such restrictions.) I, as a music blogger and someone very interested in music marketing and promotions, am very interested in how this program works out, whether I win anything or not in the course of my participation. (I had pretty much decided I was not playing with the intention of winning anything, but in the course of helping my fellow Thunderheads, I might just wind enough with enough points after all to win something.)

So, how is the program going so far, from the Thunderheads' end of the game? Well, from what I have seen, the initial momentum of the first few days is now starting to die off. The website that is supposed to tally points seems to get bogged down by the enthusiasm of the Thunderheads currently participating. Whether this is true, or whether we as a group are not quite interpreting the points portion of the program correctly (perhaps we really haven't earned more points than we see, and simply expect more points because we understood the roles wrong), it is very frustrating for those who have not yet reached 4000 points (the lowest prize level) to see their points totals barely change from one day to the next despite everyone helping everyone else out just about equally.

There may also be some free-ridership built into our end of this game, of course- it may occur to some Thunderheads to say they are helping everyone else without actually doing so, in order to gain points relative to everyone else. We have no way of really monitoring free-rider behavior, but in the spirit of the game as most Thunderheads seem to see it, if a few of these free-riding folks also get shot glasses, they are after all still part of the community. I'm not sure anyone is really all that stoked about getting a shot glass anyway; the experience of winning something is probably the bigger motivator in all this, even if most of us will also enjoy whatever prizes come our way.
Most of us who use our twitter accounts professionally or to keep in touch with lots of non-Thunderhead people have simply not taken advantage of the twitter portion of the program as much, rather than scare away valuable contacts with Celtic Thunder spam. Even so, for a brief while there were lots of Celtic Thunder related tweets streaming through my twitterfeed, a lot more than usual, though most were not messages I would wish to retweet. After an initial flurry of posting, which gradually led to fewer and fewer points showing up on their social toaster accounts, many Thunderheads seem to have drifted away and the volume of Celtic Thunder tweets in my twitterfeed has dropped back despite my following more Thunderheads now. (Just as happens when training pigeons to peck levers, if you stop rewarding fans reliably when they post messages with key words on their social media accounts they eventually stop posting.) I had thought maybe if handled right that the act of rewarding fans for tweeting might cause Celtic Thunder or Mythology to trend in some places, but I am not so sure now that I've seen how this program actually is working.

Another source of points in this program besides posting and interacting with posts on facebook and twitter is of course recruiting. Get a friend to join the program and you get points, a pretty simple idea most of us have seen before in other programs. But, as I have seen for myself while watching the hit-counts for my posts on Ryan Kelly's accident last year, the Thunderheads who are actually online regularly on social media are but a small subset of the total population of Thunderheads. Most of the folks who are actively involved in the social toaster program now are also fans who were online and decidedly aware of the fact that Ryan Kelly had that terrible accident he survived last summer. The hundreds of hits I've seen every month on the posts I wrote about that event are from all those other fans who go online to find out more about something they already encountered in 'real life'. (Every time Ryan talked about his accident at a Celtic Thunder concert this past tour, another few fans would wind up on my blog reading those posts after the show.) These are a huge portion of the Thunderhead fan community, of course, but they are not yet online to see all the posts currently being generated by Celtic Thunder's Social Toaster Guinea Pig Thunderheads. Most of the Celtic Thunder fans who are online have already seen and followed links to join the program by now, so while the Thunderheads are actively recruiting still, they are getting far fewer points from recruiting than they were earning earlier this week.

Has the program led to any positive results so far? Within the online Thunderheads' portion of our fan community, the biggest effect this program has had is with respect to our internal cohesiveness. In order to 'like' and comment on each other's facebook posts we have to be facebook friends. All of a sudden we all have a lot more Thunderhead facebook friends, and are following each other on twitter as well. This is actually a huge benefit for Celtic Thunder, and one that had not developed without the recently added influence of Social Toaster. And, through the course of our activities as the Thunderheads continue helping each other towards more points and those prize shot glasses (&hats & t-shirts) there are suddenly lots of conversations taking place among all these fans, creating a truly social community rather than just a bunch of fans all obsessed about the same Irish (and Scottish) men. Will it last? We'll just have to see. There are of course ways Celtic Thunder could use social toaster to encourage a continuation of this sort of community development, and I'm sure they have better ideas than what I could suggest. [I do think that electronic rewards, like sound downloads, photos (maybe even digital photos that have been personally signed, a much cheaper option that mailing photographs), or tweets from the musicians would work just as well as the current prizes offered.]

The one part of the points system we have yet to try out, for the most part (I don't know if some fans are getting content sent to them so far) is the bit about earning points for sharing content. We've seen the week's Celtic Thunder video of the week post now, and it has begun filtering its way onto every Thunderhead's facebook wall (KeithHarkin & the rest of Celtic Thunder performing "Now We Are Free", a cover of Lisa Gerrard's gorgeous song, which many people know from the Gladiator soundtrack, embedded below).


We have also all seen the blog post Sharon Browne put up yesterday, though I did not see any mention of it from Celtic Thunder on facebook, twitter or my email. All of the Thunderheads who are teamed up to win the social toaster prizes together also all know what cities Celtic Thunder will be in for their fall 2013 Mythology tour, and have started planning out which ones they will be attending and how they might make it to a few more shows. I would have expected that this sort of information would be on the queue of materials fans were supposed to share to earn points, so I was a bit surprised that we have the schedule without yet having any emails to share information from, but as I said earlier, Thunderheads share stuff like this anyway. We also have been sharing Keith Harkin's tour schedule, which I am not so sure would have been on an information sharing queue for Celtic Thunder. How our behavior changes once we start receiving material via email through Social Toaster remains to be seen. Points, prizes and recognition would indeed be nice, and may be long overdue to some of the most dedicated Thunderheads, but it seems to me that the value to Celtic Thunder in using Social Toaster so far is in the group cohesion we have been developing all week that makes information sharing faster and easier, rather than the actual sharing of Celtic Thunder news which would have happened anyway.

The fact that the 2013 tour schedule is spreading itself through our community may be one of the better demonstrations of the potential for Social Toaster to benefit Celtic Thunder, actually, so long as Celtic Thunder is prepared for us Thunderheads. Back in June and July of last year, when Ryan was still in the hospital and Colm had been brought in all of a sudden to fill in for Ryan in his absence in Atlantic City, the Thunderheads online were united around supporting Ryan and his friends and family. While overall being extremely respectful of Ryan's privacy and the feelings of the Celtic Thunder musicians and management, the Thunderheads also were very decidedly not willing to be left out. Had Sharon Browne not responded publicly to all the fans when she did, I am sure noting any of us could have done would have stopped the nasty rumors and anti-Celtic Thunder sentiments that would have started finding their way online. I'd imagine that this sort of fan community might seem a bit more like a trained lion, powerful if treated well, but also potentially very dangerous, and I really hope going forward that Celtic Thunder remains as dedicated as always, if not more so, to their devoted Thunderheads.

[I should add here that first of all, this is my own personal perspective, though I have tried to gain as broad a perspective as I could through communications with other Thunderheads. Second, while this is my own personal perspective, and my own blog, the other active Thunderheads do read these posts, and I hope will add their own perspectives in the comments, especially if their own perspective is not well represented by what I have written here. We are all aware that this program through Social Toaster is new and that we are guinea pigs helping to road test the system, so for all our gripes, I suspect most of us are more focused on the growing community we are involved in, rather than on the seemingly lagging point totals and occasional confusion about what all earns points in the first place.]