SAINT PATRICK'S DAY is a celebration of all things Irish, with music no exception. But why settle for Tin Pan Alley pablum like "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," when there's plenty of real Irish music to be had? Here's a sampling of recent releases:
PAUL BRADY -- "Welcome Here Kind Stranger" (Green Linnet SIF 3015). Brady's last American release, "Hard Station," was quite a turnaround from his work with Planxty, flirting heavily with rock. Here, though, he's gone unabashedly traditional, combining a social consciousness comparable to Christy Moore's with a sturdy command of Irish folk idioms. The songs here are chosen with care and delivered with passion; especially admirable is his adaptation of the sean n,os style of singing to "Young Edmund in the Lowlands Low," an unassumingly virtuosic bit of singing.
VARIOUS ARTISTS -- "Cherish the Ladies" (Shanachie 79053). It's no news that Irish music has managed to take root and thrive in this country, but it is something of a surprise to note how many women have come to the forefront of American Irish musicianship. This collection of women soloists, assembled by guitarist Mick Moloney, offers an astonishing array of virtuosity, from the confident syncopation of fiddler Eileen Ivers to the blithe lyricism of Joan Madden's tin whistle.
PATRICK BALL -- "Secret Isles" (For Tuna FOR-LP029). This is the third album of Irish music by this California harper and, as usual, it's the West Coast side of his sound that wins out, as Ball tries mightily to become the George Winston of Irish traditional music. Although the lustrous tone of his instrument is immensly winning, it never quite compensates for the stiffness of Ball's performances, which seem to embalm rather than enliven the stately melodies of Turlough O'Carolan.
TOMMY PEOPLES -- "The Iron Man" (Shanachie 79044). The title suggests an awfully stern image for Peoples, but it refers not to the artist, but one of his most impressive feats of fiddling. Blessed with a solid sense of time and impressive technique, Peoples has no trouble negotiating the knotty phrases of the strathspey that lends the album its title, and even less difficulty with the more mundane reels and jigs rounding out the record. Add in crisp accompaniment by guitarist Daithi Sproule, and you're left with an album as listenable as it is impressive.
MOVING HEARTS -- "The Storm" (Tara 3014). Rather than try to replace Christy Moore with another singer, the Hearts have moved on, eschewing vocals entirely for an instrumental approach that cannily combines the instrumentation and rhythmic sophistication of rock with the fluid melodicism of traditional Irish music. Although "The Lark," a lengthy medley of traditional tunes, is the showcase here, it isn't the ingenuity involved in stitching all those tunes together that impresses so much as the fact that each individual element still manages to sparkle in its own right. A wonderful fusion of pop and traditional elements.