Getting Jiggy With It

For years audiences on St. Patrick's Day have tolerated hokey bands dressed in Aran sweaters crooning "Danny Boy" while Americans of questionable Irish roots ("my great-great-grandmother is from County Dublin") invent their own version of the jig. New Yorkers were blessed this year with a variety of shows, from the Chieftains at Carnegie Hall and the Prodigals at Webster Hall to Ireland's hottest musical export since U2, the Corrs, headlining Roseland.

"I'm a bit nervous," said lead singer Andrea Corr after working up the crowd with the title song from the band's 1995 album, Forgiven, Not Forgotten. Sure enough, the pressure is now on for this quartet— three sisters and a brother from Dundalk— to break the mainstream American market. Their second album, Talk on Corners, sold millions in Europe after Todd Terry remixed their cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."

Given the current media obsession with Irish writers, music, and theater, it's not surprising that this band, which has been struggling for eight years, is now being heavily promoted and reworked by big names (Talk on Corners also features remixes by K-Klass and Tin Tin Out). Blending traditional Irish music with folk and pop sensibilities, the Corrs can seem formulaic, and the stage show certainly seemed very packaged at Roseland à la the Spice Girls meet the Clancy Brothers— attractive sisters wielding violin, tin whistle, and bodhran, while brother takes the backseat on the keyboards and guitar. Flashes of personality emerged only intermittently, in songs like "Queen of Hollywood," with violinist Sharon letting rip. The other highlight was a fiery instrumental piece, "Carraroe Jig." The Corrs tend to falter when they allow a pop gloss to overshadow the music's more soulful, traditional elements. The best way they can avoid being a fly-by-night fad is to concentrate on what they do best— Celtic folk— and forget about chart domination. — Deirdre Hussey

The Road From Rio

Songwriter Vinicius Cantuária relocated from Rio de Janeiro to Brooklyn five years ago and became, he claims, even more Brazilian as a result. His performance at the Knitting Factory last Thursday was uncompromisingly so, if in a roundabout manner. Not a single non-Portuguese word was sung (or uttered), with the exception of "sayonara," a linguistic relic of Cantuária's 1996 collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto, whom he deems the world's best new Brazilian musician.

Downtown-associated jazzers like drummer Joey Baron and cellist Erik Friedlander figure prominently on Cantuária's new album, Tucumã, a gaze toward the singer's Amazonas roots filtered through his unwavering affection for the bossa nova tradition. Cantuária's touring percussionist, Paulo Braga, was in fact Antonio Carlos Jobim's accompanist for some 15 years, and knows virtually everything there is to know about bossa and the syncopated rhythms of northeastern Brazil. Trumpeter Michael Leonhart and cellist Mary Wooten added discrete, often pointillist coloration to Cantuária's subtle melodies, fingerpicked guitar, and vibratoless voice. The set arced into a series of duets featuring each band member, and palpable joy accompanied the forró beats Cantuária traded with Braga on dueling tambourines.

Cantuária's songs take time to sink in, and Tucumã contains soft, atmospheric samples absent onstage. But once they do connect, it's difficult to imagine him as the teenage folk-rock star he was in the '60s, before Jobim's influence overwhelmed David Crosby's. His writing flourished when he started working with tropicalistas Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, who still loom large from afar. Cantuária's set included Veloso's "Joia," a sly ode that compares a cashew-plucking native to a girl sipping Coca-Cola on the beach, and "Pra Gil," a loving evocation of his "parabalicomrade" 's Bahia aesthetic. Cantuária romanticizes Brazil from his northern vantage point, singing of "strong, Brazilian, around-the-house love," and cautioning young soccer stars about the perils of success abroad. He suggests that only those truly at home can appreciate clearly what has been left behind. — Richard Gehr

Escape From Chopsville

Sometimes it seems the bow isn't touching the strings when fiddler Martin Hayes begins one of his ethereal Irish airs. In interviews the 37-year-old master claims to be wholly unimpressed with music geared to astound, and downplaying flamboyance has earned him a singular rep on the traditional Celtic scene. Like Alison Krauss, Hayes is looking for an escape from chopsville, so it was little surprise that during last Tuesday's set at the Knit, the six-time all-Ireland contest winner waxed unassumingly enough to fly in the face of Lord of the Dance lasers and the Corrs' size-2 chic.

There are moments when virtuosity seems just as tight a trap as incompetence. In a search for enlightened simplicity that takes him back to the bighearted scratching of John Doherty and Hugh Gillespie, Hayes treats his ever-expanding audience of musos and sentiment mongers to a modest brand of showmanship. "I was fortunate enough to have grown up almost without hearing rock-and-roll music, if you can imagine such a thing," he has said. And though his interplay with guitarist Dennis Cahill often effects the urgency of a precocious jam band, the purity of the fiddler's sound is paramount. Weaned by literal forefa-thers steeped in the lyrical County Clare approach, he's looking for the soul behind these dance tunes.

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