The sum of the parts will always prevail in the Transatlantic Sessions and for me the wonderful highlight of the evening was a full accompaniment celebrating the life of the late Guy Clark with a moving rendition of his classic cut ‘Desperados Waiting for a Train’. At this moment all five special guests – Tift Merritt, Jim Lauderdale and John Paul White plus this year’s British Isles invitees Eddi Reader and Karan Casey – converged at the focal point of the stage to pay the most fitting tribute to a wonderful songwriter.
Depending on your preferred access point into roots music, the intrinsic highlights may differ, but there was rarely a misplaced moment of musical marvel. Whether it’s the fired up fiddle faction of John McCusker and Aly Bain or the twang-led input courtesy of Jerry Douglas and his band of compatriots, the elaborate Symphony Hall was awash with the sound that has bound the roots fraternity of both lands together over at least a couple of hundred years. For me the Dobro of Douglas is the key pivotal sound, probably adding an adhesive edge to a majority of the songs forming this year’s set.
In contrast, John Paul White’s latest record is around six months old, but BEULAH was the long awaited post-The Civil Wars release from an artist who admitted he had rather enjoyed an extended time away from the spotlight at home in Muscle Shoals Alabama. The good news for his fans is that the hiatus didn’t become permanent and the swampy sound that emanates from this new set of songs was an essential part of the aura that circulated around this pristine environment. ‘I’ve Been Over This Before’ was the pick of John Paul’s twin-song sets complete with a backing vocal trio of the highest order. In line with the tribute angle to this show, John Paul paid his own respects to Ray Price with a delightful version of ‘Crazy Arms and Heartaches’ complete with the atmospheric tones of accompanied pedal steel giving the proceedings a very country flavour.
|John Paul White|
Joining Eddie as the home representative (providing you view music as ignoring boundaries and borders) was Karen Casey from Waterford who like Tift utilised the piano well for a couple of her songs. This ensured there is always a Celtic element to the touring show. Although regular contributor John Doyle is always there to help a hand in this quarter and duly stepped forward from his backing role to sing one song.
Not quite, but nearly a regular to the touring show is American banjo/guitar player and vocalist Dirk Powell. He was invited a couple of times to share a song. ‘Waterbound’ was recalled from seeing him on this very stage a couple of years ago and ‘Motherless Children’ ensured that no serious music show is devoid of relevant political content in 2017. Dirks' partner for the evening on the US side lines was the ever present Russ Barenberg on guitar and mandolin.
Any reflection of a Transatlantic Session show would be remiss without acknowledging the contribution from this stellar assembly of gifted musicians. Joining Aly and the two Johns from the home ranks were regulars: Phil Cunningham, Michael McGoldrick, Donald Shaw, Danny Thompson and James Mackintosh. A packed Symphony Hall suggested the thirst for this regular early February post- Celtic Connections gathering shows no signs of abating. As long as the commitment of Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas to mastermind and co-ordinate the project remains, the infinite list of willing guests will ensure this event continues to flourish within the established format.