Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Kevin Burke / Cal Scott

Back when I was 17, I got an Arlo Guthrie album called The Last Of The Brooklyn Cowboys. The record -- yes, that's how long ago it was -- opened with a fiddle prologue called "Farrell O'Gara," which a single fiddle player performed by layering several takes on top of each other. It was strikingly lovely even to 17-year old ears more accustomed to Black Sabbath, so I took note of the fiddle player's name. The album notes identified him as "Kevin Burke of County Sligo." There being a dearth of opportunity in South Texas to explore Irish fiddle music, I filed the name away and continued to enjoy "Farrell O'Gara." I even learned to play a pretty mean air fiddle, if I do say so myself!

When I started coming to Ireland back in the early '90's, I discovered that Kevin Burke was a giant among men as far as fiddle players go. Besides his own recordings, he was a member of the formidable trad groups Patrick Street and Celtic Fiddle Festival. Recently, Burke teamed with the American guitarist Cal Scott to record a fine CD called "Across The Black River". T. and I liked the music so much that we chose "Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz" for the bride's entrance at our wedding last December.

So we were excited to learn that Burke and Scott were performing last night in Linenhall, a combination tourist office, community center, and performance hall in nearby Castlebar. While Linenhall is an old Georgian building, it's been remodeled on the inside. The performance hall is the second very nice space we've been to in County Mayo; like the one in Belmullet, it's amphitheater in style but seats about 100-120. They paid attention to the acoustics, so the sound is excellent. We're not in sync with the Irish habit of buying tickets the night of the show, so we picked ours up a few weeks ago, putting us front and center with our feet on the stage. A couple of weeks ago, I emailed a request for "Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz."

The performance was outstanding. Burke's tone and dexterity are astonishing; for richness, fullness, and agility, it reminded me of nothing so much as Willie Nelson's voice. Scott -- who also composes film and TV soundtracks -- made for a fine accompanist. He even sang two of his own songs, narratives about a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition and a charming imagined history of his antique mandolin. Burke and Scott are adventurous, so while they performed plenty of trad jigs, reels, waltzes, and polkas, they added their own compositions and showed no fear of other genres. In fact, two of the night's highlights were renditions of Bill Monroe's "Evening Prayer" and a Yiddish lullabye called "Itzikel" ("short for 'Isaac,' only it's longer," Burke explained). Oh yes: They played "Lighthouse Keeper's Waltz." And dedicated it to us.

Here they are:

We're off to Donegal for a couple of days! I have some posts scheduled and we'll have pictures when we get back. In the meantime, T. has more great pix of Carrowholly jellyfish here.


Nita Lou Bryant said...

6:15 on a Saturday morning in Austin, Texas: I come across this posting and am transported by music so lovely it brings tears to my eyes.

The worldwide count of Kevin Burke fans just increased by one.

Thank you,


P.S. I also enjoyed conjuring up a visual image of the blog's author playing air violin, circa age seventeen. (Shoulder-length hair, wire rim glasses, black high-top sneakers?)

K. said...

That air violinst was also much much much MUCH thinner.