The Album: Sisters are doing it for themselves
My first connection with Africa was funding a women’s project in Ethiopia, as I believe that supporting women’s community programs makes the greatest impact. When Eamonn told me that Tim O’Brien and himself, after a long night in Edinburgh, copious amounts of water and music a plan had emerged to salute my sisters in Malawi, with my favourite anthem.
Little did I know that Tim would pull off a musical miracle. I have been a fan of Maura O’Connell since I first heard her, Tim is a musical genious, John Doyle has always reminded me of what George Best might be like if he took up the guitar and my new friends, of last year :the Duhks, make such a memorable burst of sound, that is the greatest salute I could have hoped for, to my empoverished but fascinating women. I haven’t forgotten the part played by Gary, Alison and Compass and I salute you all. What a blast!!
Born and raised in County Clare, Ireland, Maura O’Connell was the third of four singing sisters. However, it wasn’t ancient Celt folk tunes in which that household was drenched but their singing mother’s collection of light opera, opera and parlor song records. As a young woman, she joined the tradition-oriented Celtic band DeDannan but grew intrigued by the experimental roots music of America’s New Grass Revival when the bands’ paths crossed.
In 1986, she followed that sound to America — and to Nashville. Newgrass masters such as banjoist Bela Fleck and Dobro stylist Jerry Douglas (who has appeared on all of O’Connell’s discs but one) and a floating contingent of adventurous Nashville hands have provided backup and production for most of her recorded work — including the Grammy-nominated Helpless Heart and Blue Is the Color of Hope for Warner Bros., Stories and the Irish-oriented Wandering Home for Hannibal/Rykodisc, Walls and Windows and Don’t I Know for Sugar Hill.
Regarded as one of Nashville’s finest musical interpreters and one who prefers songs that other people haven’t recorded yet, O’Connell has gathered material from acclaimed writers such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, John Gorka, Patty Griffin, Jim Lauderdale, Kim Richey, Leslie Satcher, Ron Sexsmith, Mindy Smith and Cheryl Wheeler, to name a few.
Aside from the music world, Martin Scorsese cast O’Connell, scruffed up for the role, as an Irish migrant street singer in his 19th century epic The Gangs of New York.
Born in Wheeling, West Virginia, Tim O’Brien grew up listening to big band and jazz music. His earliest musical memories included listening to Benny Goodman and Lawrence Welk. When still in his teens, he started listening to a local country music show that was recorded live at a local theater. He began attending tapings of the show, and there he saw performers liks Merle Haggard and Roger Miller. Soon, O’Brien began learning Scruggs’ Style banjo from one of his girlfriend’s psychiatrist father’s patients. The patient was Roger Bland, a former member of Lester Flatt’s band. He then restrung his father’s old mandolin and began teaching himself how to play that instrument. He attended Colby College in Maine for one year, before moving first to Wyoming, then to Colorado. There, he formed the groundbreaking bluegrass group Hot Rize. While performingwith Hot Rize, O’Brien met country singer Kathy Mattea, who later had hits with her versions of his songs. Soon after, O’Brien left Hot Rize to pursue a career as a solo singer/songwriter. After a failed attempt at recording an album for RCA, O’Brien eventually signed a deal with Sugar Hill Records in Nashville. His debut solo album, Odd Man was released in 1991.
Hot Rize had a brief reunion in 1996, and have re-merged a few times since then. O’Brien has released 13 albums on Sugar Hill Records, and has received Grammy Awards and IBMA Awards for his incredible work.
There may be no one in Irish music busier than John Doyle these days and long may it last.
As one half of the stellar duo of Liz Carroll and John Doyle, and along with his many solo performances, recording, producing and composing gigs, his schedule rivals that of any music industry star. For an artist of such relative youth, John has made an ever-growing reputation for himself as singer, guitar master, producer, songsmith, arranger and performer.
From a musical family in Dublin, John’s influences include well known English folk singers Nic Jones, Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson, and The Watersons; Scottish singers Dick Gaughan and John Martin; and fellow Irishmen Paul Brady and Al O’Donnell as well as his father, Sean Doyle
After leaving Solas, John has gone on to perform and tour with other greats in the Folk, Celtic and Bluegrass worlds – Eileen Ivers, Tim O’Brien (John was included on Tim’s 2006 Grammy-award winning CD, Fiddler’s Green), Linda Thompson, Kate Rusby, Cathie Ryan He has appeared on soundtracks for the feature film, The Brothers McMullan, Soldier, PBS’s Out of Ireland and also composed the music for the film Uncle Robert’s Footsteps and the play Down the Flats
Impossibly in demand in the studio and on the road, immensely talented and blessed with an acute ear, a wicked sense of rhythm and seemingly endless bag of tricks in his playing, composing, performing and producing, John is solidly establishing himself as one of the most versatile, creative and prolific voices in folk and traditional Irish music.
John was honored by Irish American Magazine in March of this year by being named one of the “Top 100 Irish Americans”. An honor to be included with the likes of many internationally known authors, scholars, business people, humanitarians and people in the medical field, as well as former President Bill Clinton!
The Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Duhks have always gravitated towards traditional roots-based song structures, but they’ve never stopped evolving since their inception five years ago. Due in part to a collective musical worldview that knows no boundaries, that evolution led the band to their latest offering Fast-Paced World, the first Duhks record to feature wunderkinds Sarah and Christian Dugas (replacing vocalist Jessee Havey and percussionist Scott Senior respectively). The French-Canadian born siblings have been immersed in music their whole lives, thanks in part to their musician parents. “We had a family band that toured across Canada when I was 7 and Christian was 9,” remembers Sarah. “My father had a recording studio in the house, so I grew up hearing a variety of musicians playing everything from rap to rock to world beat. I grew up in a fun and creative environment .”Environmental issues are a passion for the band, inspiring them to launch The Duhks Sustainability Project (www.greenduhks.com) in October 2007. Spearheaded by Tania Elizabeth, the band’s goal is to “tour on as sustainable a basis as possible; fueling our vehicle with Biodiesel, supporting local organic farmers wherever we go, wearing sustainable eco-conscious clothing, using earth-friendly shampoos, soaps and cosmetics and offsetting remaining CO2 emissions with carbon credits.”Ultimately, according to Leonard, the Duhks’ ” just want to play music that speaks to everybody.” Mission accomplished.