Celtic Crossing - Liner Notes

I was born and raised near New York City, a great distance in time and place from the villages and cities of Ireland. As a kid I listened to folk music, rock and roll, and classical music. I first heard traditional Irish music in 1982, and felt an immediate connection to it, as if I were hearing distant voices of my ancestors ... I fell in love with it.

This recording is a collection of some of my favorite traditional melodies, arranged in a way which creates a crossing of traditional music with my own musical influences. The steel-string guitar, as a solo or accompanying instrument, is the thread which ties these arrangements together. Although the guitar is relatively new to Irish music, its place in the tradition is secure.

By crossing many years and many miles to reach me, traditional Irish music has found its way into my life. I hope that my arrangements and interpretations reflect my deep love and respect for this powerful, evolving, yet enduring tradition. Thanks for listening.

Einini (which means "little birds") is a lullaby I learned from Irish language teacher Deirdre Ni Chaomhanaigh at Oideas Gael, a school in County Donegal. Einini's lyrics sing the drowsy child to sleep by naming the different birds. We learned the song to help us with our pronunciation of Irish. In this instrumental arrangement the flute plays the part of the singing of the little birds.

I learned The Ground Plan from Laurie Hart, a good friend and great fiddler from Ithaca, New York, and I thank her for giving me such a beautiful tune. We recorded the basic track in Ithaca and added the other instruments, including Barry Phillips' eerie cello sounds, in Santa Cruz. La Rotta is a medieval Italian melody that I first heard played by John Renbourn. A few years later I heard Shelley Phillips play it on the harp and was inspired to make my own arrangement.

Kevin Burke and I met for the first time in the recording studio. We had a fine time playing together and experimenting with different tunes. The medley The Rose in the Heather and Tom Billy's Jig is one of the results of our session. Kevin is known for his "Sligo" style of fiddling - smooth and sweet, especially on slow jigs like these.

I first heard Marble Halls sung by Enya, and later discovered that it is from the 19th century opera The Bohemian Girl by William Balfe. The melody is probably based on a traditional air, but the chromatic notes give it a decidedly Victorian flavor.

Return to Fingal appears in the "Marches and Miscellaneous" section of O'Neill's Music of Ireland, first published in 1903 by Captain Francis O'Neill, who was chief of the Chicago police department, and an avid collector of tunes. His anthology was reprinted in 1979, and is considered by many to be "the Bible" of traditional Irish dance music. I learned Return to Fingal from a recording by the great French guitarist Pierre Bensusan.

Lagan Love is one of the most hauntingly beautiful song airs I know. I first heard it sung by Van Morrison, and then in another version by Mary O'Hara, and couldn't help making my own instrumental version. The song was collected by Herbert Hughes in the early 1900s. Hughes traced the tune back to about 1870, to a sapper of the Royal Engineers who was working in Donegal. The words were added by Joseph Campbell, who wrote the lyrics for many songs, including The Gartan Mother's Lullaby. The Lark in the Morning, a four part jig, is a very popular seisiun tune. Todd Denman plays it here on what he calls his "pre-industrial revolution" pipes. The pipes are in B flat, a major third lower than modern uilleann pipes. The lower pitch gives them a dark and very rich sound.

Si bheag Si mhor is probably Carolan's most popular and most played melody. My arrangement is influenced by Pierre Bensusan, whose innovative arrangements of Irish music on the guitar were an early inspiration to me. His playing and friendship continue to be a great joy to me.

I first played the reel The Lads of Laois with Laurie Hart while I was living in Ithaca, NY. We recorded it as part of a medley on an album called Gravity Hill. For this recording the tune stands on its own, and features the fiddling of Kevin Burke and the piping of Todd Denman.

I composed most of Stor Mo Chroi in the hospital room late on the night of my son's birth. The title means "Treasure of My Heart" and it was the first music that he heard outside of the womb. His birth was the most miraculous event of my life, and I'm sure that he will inspire more compositions in the future.

Beidh Aonach Amarach translates as: "There's Going to be a Fair Tomorrow," and is a children's song I learned at Oideas Gael. This instrumental arrangement leaves the melody relatively intact, but stretches the rhythm and harmony. The jig time leads it quite naturally into The Connachtman's Rambles, a jig I learned from Todd.

Ay Linda Amiga (My Lovely Friend) is an old Spanish song whose melody originated in Madrid. I learned it many years ago from a good friend and great singer named Merry Dennehy. Although not an Irish melody, its quality is reminiscent of the saddest of Gaelic love songs.

Banish Misfortune was the first Irish jig that I ever heard. It was featured on an album of the same name by Malcolm Dalglish and Grey Larsen. I have accompanied the tune countless times since then, and have always wanted to make a solo arrangement. The Kesh Jig is another of those great ever-popular session tunes which I first heard on an album by the Bothy Band.

Sean Clarach MacDhomnaill composed the words and music to Mo Ghille Mear in the 18th century. It's from a genre called "Jacobite Songs," songs espousing the claim of the Stewarts (James and Charles) to the throne of the United Kingdom. Charles Stewart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, was an important figure in the rebellion against English colonization. The text is of a political nature, but can also be interpreted as a love song. For this instrumental version, I endeavor to express the love-song side of Mo Ghille Mear. This is my favorite verse:

There is no music or pleasure in the harps of music,
Poets and poetry are in gloom without a sound in their hearts,
All beings are grieving every day,
Since the lively lad went away from us.

(Translation by Jim McClosky)

The story is told that Carolan, the great Irish harper and bard, wrote his Farewell to Music on his death bed in the year 1733. Over 250 years later it still has tremendous power to stir emotions. This two-guitar arrangement blends the tonal qualities of the steel-string and nylon string guitars. Thanks to my matey Ben for his long time friendship and wonderful classical guitar playing.

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