Tara O’Grady’s New Orleans Love Song

During March 2014, Irish Jazz singer Tara O’Grady found herself, as one does, on an Irish Channel parade float, throwing cabbages and potatoes to crowds on Magazine Street while singing Danny Boy.

“I was completely unaware that there was an Irish community in New Orleans,” remembered O’Grady. “Watching all those New Orleanians catching Irish stew vegetables was my introduction to a tradition that I was completely oblivious to – but now am completely enthralled by.”

O’Grady was so enthralled that, on the way back home to New York City, she began writing songs for her fourth album – aptly named Irish Bayou – which mixes American jazz and blues with Celtic story-telling, and a playful sense of shared history..

In 2015,  O’Grady performed in New Orleans as part of the 2014 International Famine Commemoration.

“That was my father’s first visited to New Orleans,” said O’Grady. “He is first generation Irish, and the first live street performer he encountered in New Orleans was a fiddle-player performing traditional Irish tunes. So, in New Orleans, we found a home away from home.”

Born just a few blocks away from Louis Armstrong’s house in New York City, O’Grady grew up surrounded by Irish traditional music, but it was jazz and swing – including the music of New Orleans’ greats like Louis Armstrong and Louis Prima – that stole her heart.

“Louis Armstrong wrote about New Orleans’ Irish Channel in his memoirs,” said O’Grady. “It was a rough and tough town back in the day. During his childhood, he wrote he never entered the Irish Channel because the Irish who lived there were tough – which is saying something because Louis grew up in an area nicknamed “The Battlefield.”

“So, the Irish are part of the gumbo that makes New Orleans a unique American city,” said O’Grady. “In New Orleans, just like in New York, Boston and Philadelphia, Irish flags can be seen on front porches throughout the city.”

According to O’Grady, the intertwined history of New Orleans’ myriad musical traditions, and the common threads that tie its diverse cultures together, were the inspiration for Irish Bayou, her latest album.

“The history of the Irish in New Orleans, from the thousands who died digging the New Basin Canal (Dem Dry Bones) to New Orleanians like Kate Chopin, author of The Awakening (A Rude Awakening –Kate O’Flaherty’s Blues) all inspired ideas for songs about the Irish in New Orleans,” explained O’Grady.

“New Orleans has a multi-cultural atmosphere, so writing Irish Bayou came naturally, with no agenda,” said O’Grady. “And it draws from a number of multitude of genres – jazz, folk, blues, zydeco and rockabilly – all woven together by the theme of the Irish in New Orleans.”

“But,” she laughed. “It was a WWOZ Jazz and Heritage Station DJ after hearing one of my tracks, who told his audience to ‘get yourself a heaping helping of Tara O’Grady.’ And that became a song about muffalatas, beignets, and chocolate pecan pies – A Heaping Helping of My Love!”

More information on Tara O’Grady is available at Tara O’Grady

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Musical Cities

On Nov. 8, 2014, the New York – based Black 47 headlined the Irish Network- New Orleans (IN-NOLA) Famine Commemoration Gala  held at the Gallier Hall, 545 St. Charles Ave.

The following week, Black 47 disbanded, bringing exactly 25 years as one of Americas most politically vocal Irish bands to a close.

“There are two great cities in America,” said Larry Kirwan, founder and front-man of legendary progressive Celtic rock band, Black 47. “One is New York City; the other is New Orleans.”

While Kirwan hails from County Wexford, Black 47 doesn’t come from the “jigs and reels” tradition of Irish music.

“In Wexford, there is a tradition of what we call ‘long-form’ singing,” said Kirwan. “It tells the history of a people or a place. Well, we still have famine today – it is an ongoing thing. I first heard the term ‘Black 47’ from my grandfather. It was used to describe 1847, the worst year of the Irish Famine. The Irish famine was political, and so Black 47 was political for that reason.”

As a band, Black 47 is known for incorporating not just rock, but hip hop, reggae and even punk into its music.

“Using different rhythms is liberating,” said Kirwan. “When Black 47 formed back in 1989, we wanted to tell the story of how the Irish got to America, but we also wanted to tell the modern story of Irish immigration. We were using history to explain what was happening at the time, and what is still happening now. Why not use jazz timing, or hip hop? Why limit yourself to just jigs and reels?”

Celtic chanteuse torch singer, Tara O’Grady, also performed at the gala. A first generation Irish American, O’Grady was born less than a mile from Louis Armstrong’s home in New York City. Living in an Irish neighborhood in Queens, she grew up “surrounded by traditional Irish music.”

“While I loved the Irish songs,” remembered O’Grady. “I also loved swing and jazz. So I started taking Irish songs, and adding swing to them.”

According to O’Grady, singing used to be her “passion on the side,” but since 2011, she has been pursuing her music career full-time.

Next year will see the release of her fourth album, “Irish Bayou,” which was inspired by a trip to New Orleans during March 2014. One track on the new album, titled ‘A Heaping Helping of Your Love,’ is a love song dedicated to the sheer deliciousness of Camellia Grill’s chocolate pecan pie.

“It was so good I just couldn’t forget it, and I wrote that song on the way home,” laughed O’Grady.

“But New Orleans also has a taste of Ireland,” she said. “It’s relaxed. You can have a proper chat with people, sit down over a meal and not feel rushed. Musically, I pick up on the influences of other places, especially if I already love the aesthetic. And I find New Orleans very inspiring. It is an extraordinary city; a combustion of creativity.”

Kirwan also has memories of New Orleans that keep him coming back for more. He described the first time the band played at Tipitina’s as “one of the greatest memories I have of Black 47.”

“In New Orleans, all the different ethnicities mix, and so does their music,” said Kirwan.

“I met African Americans after the Tipitina’s show called things like Murphy, and Byrne; they told me that they had Irish ancestry. They also could hear we had been influenced by Bob Marley, Dr. John and Louis Armstrong. That mix of cultures, both in New Orleans and in New York, is far more interesting to me than some strict orthodoxy of ‘Irishness.’”

“For me, Black 47’s music has always represented modern Irish immigrants,” said Adrian D’Arcy, president of IN-NOLA, and Dublin native.

“And Tara O’Grady just adds such New Orleans flair to Irish music. IN-NOLA’s mission is to promote New Orleans, and the New Orleans culture to the Irish American Community and Ireland, and to also promote Ireland, and Irish culture in the city of New Orleans. What better way to do that than through music?”

Further information about Tara O’Grady is available at Tara O’Grady

Further information about Black 47 is available at Black 47

Gerry O’Beirne’s New Direction

As a singer, songwriter, world-class guitarist, and producer, the Co. Clare native Gerry O’Beirne blends elements of traditional Irish music with contemporary original songs.

A well-known solo artist, O’Beirne has toured with such well-known folk luminaries as Patrick Street, Andy M. Stewart, Kevin Burke, the Waterboys, Midnight Well, and the Sharon Shannon Band.

However, no matter where he goes, said O’Beirne, he always looks forward to “working his way down south towards Louisiana.”

“If you could organize your life the way that you would like it, I would stay in New Orleans for a month,” laughed O’Beirne. “But it doesn’t often work out that way.”

During his long career, O’Beirne’s music has always incorporated dimensions of literature and art. 1874, a track from his 2010 collaboration with fiddler Rosie Shipley, Yesterday I Saw the Earth Beautiful, was inspired by the very first impressionist exhibition that took place in Paris in 1874.

His 2008 album, The Bog Bodies and Other Stories: Music for Guitar, features two haunting pieces inspired by the Irish “bog bodies,” the centuries-dead cadavers found naturally mummified in the peat bogs of Ireland and Eastern Europe.

“Bog bodies are people fashioned by the bog, and processes in the bog, so that they now almost look like works of art themselves,” said O’Beirne. “In my music, I tried to give a heightened sense of them as people, but also, in a funny way, that Mother Earth sort of took them back, and made them into works of art.”

In December 2015, O’Beirne performed  Trèo, a popular bar and art gallery in New Orleans.

In Irish Gaelic, trèo means direction. According to Trèo’s owners Pauline and Stephen Patterson, that meaning is apt when describing both the bar, and the bar’s location on Tulane Avenue. Both, said Pauline Patterson, are “following new directions.”

“Trèo is predominately a bar,” explained Pauline Patterson. “But its direction is the arts, whether that art is food, cocktails, the art of conversation, or music. Our December art events include artists who live outside the States, but have connections with New Orleans. Because Gerry O’Beirne’s music takes Irish music in a new direction, he really suits the theme of the December show.”

O’Beirne is currently working on a new album that highlights life in Dingle, Co. Kerry, by telling tales of famine towers, canny Irish horse trainers, and romantically eccentric locals.

“People often say you can’t speak about music,” said O’Beirne. “But I always think that one art form responds very easily to another. People are extraordinary creations. Cities can be extraordinary creations. And whether you live in New Orleans, New York, or Dingle, your obligations for living there are cultural ones.

Information about upcoming events is available at Trèo

Information about Gerry O’Beirne is available at Gerry O’Beirne

The Zydepunks – Bridging the Gap Between The Old and The New.

One of New Orleans’s most original folk bands, for many music lovers the Zydepunks probably need no introduction.

 

The Zydepunks are Juan Kuffner on vocals and accordion, Denise Bonis and Joseph McGinty on fiddle, Joseph Lilly on drums, and Scott Beelman on bass. Frequent collaborators and former members include guitarist Michael James, accordionists Vincent Schmidt and Eve Venema, and bassist Patrick Keenan.

As impossible to pigeon-hole as New Orleans itself, the Zydepunks take their inspiration from a wide diversity of musical genres, including Cajun, Punk, Irish and Zydeco. For more than 10 years they have made it their on-going mission to challenge established musical boundaries with their iconoclastic take on world music.

Founding member Juan Kuffner moved to New Orleans in 1998. Channeling his fascination with Cajun and Zydeco music, in 2003, the Zydepunks were born.

“Originally we were just going to be a Cajun and Zydeco band,” said Kuffner. “But we just kept on adding other types of music. We never wanted to limit our music. Irish music has always been a part of what we do, as has Cajun, Yiddish, Eastern European, and Punk. Music always influences other types of music. So where is our exact dividing line? I don’t even know. ”

According to Kuffner, while world music, including Irish and Cajun, has enjoyed a renaissance in the last few years, one of the things Irish and Cajun music have in common is that, as genres, they were often “looked down on” by what he described as the “urban middle class.”

“Right or wrong, that is what people did,” said Kuffner. “And when I first moved here, I felt that even in New Orleans. But just as the attitude to Cajun music has shifted a lot over the years because of bands like Beau Soleil, and the Lost Bayou Ramblers, so has the attitude towards Irish music. The question of what is Irish music is fascinating. For a lot of people, Irish music is a kind of popularized Dublin pub song tradition, and that is questionable. Irish music isn’t just one particular form – it’s a lot more subtle than that.”

According to Kuffner, his “formative experience” with world music came while music shopping in a Virginia record store, where he grew up.

“I remember suddenly just being overwhelmed by this feeling that I was being pushed into buying “trendy” music for no other reason than this idea that music should always be “new” and “young,”” said Kuffner.

“And I just got really angry. People grab onto modernity in a way that I just don’t get. I love old music. To me it is important and valid to listen to old music, to world music, to jazz and blues, to Cajun music. People should look through all these treasures and respect them, and it has always been our mission to bridge that gap between the old and the new. And let people know that all world music is our heritage.”

More information is available at The Zydepunks

Shaking the Shack with the Legendary Shack Shakers

 

The Legendary Shaker Shakers plan to shake up New Orleans as they take their latest American gothic songs out on the dark roads from Kentucky to California, and back again.

Described by Rolling Stone Magazine as “akin to witnessing a gospel revival or even a snake-handling ceremony,” the Shack Shakers are a musically fearless Deep South mix of punk, rockabilly, country, bluegrass, and gospel.
Bandleader J.D. Wilkes hails from Kentucky, but it was Louisiana’s music, in its many forms, that set him on the road to fronting one of the most original Southern Gothic bands to ever slither and stride out of the bayou, and onto the world stage.

“I lived in Louisiana for six years when I was a kid,” said Wilkes. “Cajun and Zydeco music was what got me into this in the first place. As a little kid, they got into my system. It was uncontrollable, and it all goes back to Louisiana.”

As a child, Wilkes remembers being fascinated by the music of an elderly musician who would play for tourists on the steps of St. Francisville’s old plantations.

“Scott Dunbar had to have been born in the 1800s,” said Wilkes. “So he was this throwback – this real primitive old-school bluesman – kind of on display in this weird exploitative kind of way. But I was glad that I got to see that – because there was power there.”

This musical fascination with the past, and how it relates to the present, fuels Wilkes’ songwriting and permeates the band’s music. While the Legendary Shack Shakers are often described as Southern Gothic, the actual gothic aspects are found in the lyrics of the songs as well as the music, said Wilkes, born as they both are out of the harsh realities of South’s agrarian past, and the shadowy world of Americana folklore.

“The gothic aesthetic is finding beauty in the grotesque,” said Wilkes. “So, lyrically, we are Southern Gothic because I do find beauty in the harsher realities, in the grittier aspect of the South. We are a melting pot, so there is this love-hate, push-pull relationship between the races and the classes. But something fascinating comes out of that. There is beauty that comes out of those grotesque dynamics. There is great art, great music, and great cuisine – more so here than anywhere else in the country – because we are in the thick of it.”

If the Shack Shakers’ latest album, The Southern Surreal, is rooted in old and new Americana folklore, the band’s live performance channels transcendental states more commonly found in religious revivals, pagan ceremonies, and raves.

It is this state of transcendence that fascinates Wilkes, in both a musical and a philosophical sense.

“What you hear in the old musicians from east Kentucky and north Mississippi, Deep South Mississippi, and the Louisiana area – the bluesmen – was trance-inducing,” said Wilkes. “The music was primal – it wasn’t sanitized like it is today. It would transport them and lift them up out of their poverty to a place where they could just exist on a higher plane. We try to conjure that kind of mysticism.”

More information is available at The Legendary Shack Shakers