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.
On last year's The Lonesome Touch, the pair finds it in disturbingly gorgeous inversions of mood. In Hayes's hands, a jig could be the saddest thing ever, and like Roddy Frame putting boo-hoo desperation into Van Halen's "Jump," he shows how a well-worn melody can be refurbished. In Tribeca, pieces such as "Out on the Ocean" hinted at the grandeur of Ravel while sporting mud-stained boots.
Throughout the night, the garrulous Hayes balanced the widespread melancholy with between-tune banter as droll as that of Richard Thompson or Peter Stampfel. Introducing a lament about the anguish of immigration, he cautioned the crowd not to be too forlorn. "Think of it as being about something pleasant, because we won't be singing the lyrics, just playing the tune." Jim Macnie
Loesser Is More
It was Emily Loesser's idea. For "Wall to Wall Frank Loesser" 12 hours of songs at Symphony Space last Saturday why not get the Titanic cast to do the Guys and Dolls showstopper "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat"? As the songwriter's daughter and a member of the Titanic company, Emily Loesser had little trouble engineering the stunt. So at dinnertime, there they were, the rousing crew led by loose-limbed Don Stephenson.
And that was only a few minutes in a day with so many peaks it had the exhilaration of scaling the Alps. Throughout the 11 a.m.to 11 p.m. marathon, a few important points were made explicit by first-rate performances. The first is that although Loesser isn't always included on the great Broadway composer-lyricist shortlist, he should be. As one of the creators of Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, he was a master at writing for character.
Sneezing and chirruping, Faith Prince sang "Adelaide's Lament" (also from Guys and Dolls) as if to prove that the mock discourse on psychosomatic symptoms affecting relationships is the best comedy number ever written. Loesser respected classical form, but intent on never repeating himself, he also experimented successfully with presentation. Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Victoria Clark demonstrated as much in their merry rendition of "Been a Long Day," the switch-off trio from How To Succeed.
Before Loesser came east (he worked in Hollywood until the late '40s), he earned his stripes writing fresh pop ditties that became big-band standouts. (Often he was serving as lyricist to Victor Schertzinger or Hoagy Carmichael.) Linda Lavin sang a sultry version of "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" that underlined Loesser's ease at tossing off a chart-topper. Ivy Austin trip-hammered "Murder, He Says," and proved some of Loesser's best work was written for Betty Hutton.
True, not everything he wrote was top-drawer (his last produced show, Pleasure and Palaces, was far from it), but Loesser's lesser remains greater than lessers' greater. David Finkle
Gregg Diamond, 19491999
Gregg Diamond, disco auteur, combined a West Village and East Village mentality in dance hits that displayed, at once, punk/glam outrage, the latest street jive, and flawless musicianship. Diamond died unexpectedly on March 14 of gastrointestinal bleeding. Trained at the Berklee School of Music, Diamond drummed onstage for everyone from James Brown to Jobriath. But it was his strong piano playing and a decision to knuckle down at songwriting that resulted in the 1976 worldwide smash "More, More, More" by the Andrea True Connection.
Augmenting his band Steve Love on guitar, Jim Gregory on bass, and his brother, engineer/coproducer Godfrey Diamond on drums with the finest New York session players, he used the leverage of his hit single to create a series of albums under the names Bionic Boogie and Starcruiser that introduced some of pop's greatest singers to the dance floor. Gwen Guthrie, Zachary Sanders, and Ullanda McCollough starred in the dizzying "Risky Changes," and a song that predicted the Chic vocal formula, "Dance Little Dreamer," on 1977's Bionic Boogie.
The following year, Hot Butterfly ratcheted up Diamond's game stunningly, delivering street-vérité lyrics and surrealistic sleaze through a truly celestial choir: Sanders, Luther Vandross, Cissy Houston, and David Lasley. In the Lasley-led Beach-Boys-go-to-church "Paradise," Sanders's raucous "Chains," and especially Luther's first true star turns on record, "Hot Butterfly" and "Cream (Always Rises to the Top)," the vocalists were an accomplished ensemble under the assured direction of an innovative young lion as if Diamond were setting out to make Pulp Fiction or Boogie Nights in the recording studio. His eye caught the crass and the beautiful, in lines like "Haddaya like your love?" and the one that many of us will treasure always, "Fly up in the sky, like a butterfly, baby." Brian Chin
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