Irish Tenors at Wolf Trap
The Irish Tenors, the Emerald Isle's reply to the more popular trio of two Italians and one Spaniard, launched what may be its last tour Thursday night at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap. Ronan Tynan's second-act announcement of his departure from the trio following this summer's performances inspired a standing ovation from the appreciative audience.
It wouldn't be the last standing ovation of the night as Tynan, Anthony Kearns and Finbar Wright, darlings of the PBS set, performed an engaging program of Irish ballads and pop tunes accompanied by a 60-piece orchestra.
As the show was the first of the tour, the few miscues were forgivable -- Wright's snappy "South of the Border" had to be restarted to reset the tempo; the trio's vocals were less than parallel on "Isle of Hope" -- but overall it was a pleasant way to spend a summer evening.
The show worked best during the solo portions, when the singers' voices soared over the Broadway-style orchestrations. Kearns's reading of the Irish freedom ballad "The West Awake" was particularly poignant; Wright momentarily energized the crowd with two lines of an a cappella version of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" by way of introducing Cash's "Forty Shades of Green," which he then proceeded to make his own.
Tynan took his last local bow as a trio member after a six-minute rendering of "Song for Ireland," setting a high standard for any potential replacement.
The highlights of the three-voice harmony selections were sincere and emotive versions of the inevitable "Danny Boy," Ireland's answer to "O Sole Mio," and the heartbreaking "Fields of Athenry."
A running gag was the impact onstage of the July heat and humidity. The tenors might want to rethink their wardrobe: white dinner jackets, vests and bow ties might look snappy, but it made one sweat just to see.
-- Buzz McClain
Youssou N'Dour at Lisner
Being Youssou N'Dour's backup singer is not one of Afro-pop's more challenging gigs. Thursday night at Lisner Auditorium, the phenomenal Senegalese vocalist frequently dueted with himself, singing retorts to his high, supple tenor in an even higher falsetto. On such exuberant songs as "Birimi," N'Dour also supplanted his female backing vocalist by pointing his microphone at the audience, which filled the room with its "ohhhs" and "whoas."
N'Dour could rely on the voice of the crowd because he and his 10-piece band, Super Etoile de Dakar, performed a greatest-hits set. The musician's new album is "Egypt," a statement of his Islamic Sufi faith that downplays the complex, percolating rhythms of the Senegalese style known as "mbalax."
At Lisner, though, those cadences were well represented at N'Dour's two-hour performance, which included no "Egypt" material. Although the singer's onstage English patter has improved since his last Lisner show two years ago, N'Dour skipped his crossover-courting English-language material in favor of songs in Wolof and French. This was no great loss for listeners who don't understand those tongues, since the performer's duets with Anglo-American stars generally pale next to such lilting, propulsive tunes as "Set" and "C'est l'Amour."
As N'Dour proved with a hymn to Africa backed by only a keyboardist, his voice can soar in any context. But he's unlikely ever to find a more congenial setting than the one provided by the chattering drums and chiming guitars of Super Etoile, which lifted Thursday's concert to rapturous highs.
-- Mark Jenkins
Chris Stamey at Iota
Chris Stamey, whose latest CD, "Travels in the South," features an airplane on its cover, showed his buoyant, soaring spirit at Iota on Thursday, despite a smaller-than-expected turnout and a few technical glitches.
The self-effacing North Carolinian opened with "Something Came Over Me," after opining that he'd recorded it "several times, never successfully." Partway through, he broke a string on his Stratocaster and had to switch guitars. But none of this affected the richness of the performance; keyboardist Tyson Rogers bridged the guitar gap with a sweeping, jazz-inflected solo.
Stamey's rough-hewn, passionate vocals, and his tendency to approach the notes from below and ease up into them, evoked Warren Zevon. But his guitar playing was more reminiscent of Richard Lloyd and Richard Thompson, two axemen who apparently prefer to let the strings do the talking. Stamey let peal big, shimmering, spacey notes during "Ride" and "The Sound You Hear."
With a strong backup from the rest of the band, Stamey and Rogers coaxed their instruments into tumultuous, nonconcurrent rising and falling melodies, occasionally letting it all collapse into a brilliant heap. In the instrumental exit to the spiritually questioning song "Kierkegaard," Stamey seemed to be trying to settle on a hook, the sequence of notes occasionally approaching a sort of transcendent perfection. But free will always won out over predestination -- and beautifully so.
-- Pamela Murray Winters
'WWII USO Review' at Strathmore Hall
The rain stopped, conveniently, a few minutes before concert time Thursday night, and Strathmore Hall began its outdoor Summer Serenades series with a concert titled "WWII USO Review," devoted mainly to music recorded on V-Discs (heavy shellac '78s) and distributed to our troops through the United Service Organization.
The program was divided: Before intermission, Benjamin Britten's "Simple Symphony" and Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring" were crisply played by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Andrew Constantine conducting. The Copland was played in the original chamber orchestration used for its premiere at the Library of Congress. Neither piece offered the orchestra any serious challenge.
After intermission, the Brooks Tegler Band played a program of big-band hits from the World War II era. This ensemble is a bit smaller and less brilliant than the best big bands of the 1930s and '40s, but it echoed the styles of its various models precisely, from "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" to the concluding "Caravan." All the major bands of the swing era and several less-known ensembles received tributes in a segment lasting more than an hour, with such classics as "C-Jam Blues," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "My Blue Heaven."
Tegler, a drummer, gave a good imitation of Gene Krupa in "Tickle Toes" and sang up a storm in "Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens." Solo opportunities were generously distributed and capably handled throughout the set.
-- Joseph McLellan