Keeping us warm in January: Celtic Connections preview
It's January, which means it's a particularly good month for Americana and roots music, and that’s thanks to Glasgow’s two-week-long midwinter Celtic Connections festival. Artists who come to the UK for the festival often fit in a few more gigs around the country while they're here. Backroads will be at Celtic Connections later in the month, but in the meantime, here’s a look at some of the acts appearing there.
→On January 19, Linda Thompson hosts a tribute show to leading roots label Rounder Records, marking four decades of music. The show at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall features high-class bluegrass from Blue Highway and Alecia Nugent, Canadian rocker Sarah Harmer and country legend James Hand. Rounder was founded in 1970 by college friends Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton-Levy and Bill Nowlin. It oversaw the career of a young Nanci Griffith and has been the home of Alison Krauss since she first emerged aged 14. Other artists on the label include Joe Ely, Béla Fleck and Madeleine Peyroux.
→Possibly the best evening of the entire festival is January 21, when four exciting artists take to the stage together at the O2 ABC Glasgow. Native Texans Sam Baker and Kimmie Rhodes are joined by adoptive sons of the state Tom Russell and Slaid Cleaves for Texas Songwriters in the Round. The only problem for spectators may be that they will leave wishing they’d heard more of all the performers.
Baker – lauded by producer Gurf Morlix as “a great songwriter and a very special person” – has now released three extraordinary albums – the most recent, Cotton, in mid-2009 – reflecting his observations of humanity and his personal struggle to come to terms with a terrorist bomb that nearly killed him in 1986. Rhodes , like Nanci Griffith a native of the east Texas city of Lubbock and a favourite of Willie Nelson, has been making music in Austin since 1979, and has the duets to prove that everyone wants to sing with her. She is promoting her new album, Walls Fall Down.
Russell is one of the legends of Americana, with 25 albums behind him, the most recent of which, Blood and Candle Smoke, continues an unbroken string of releases featuring well-read, intelligent lyrics, deeply observed themes and a voice reminiscent of no one so much as Johnny Cash. Slaid Cleaves (read interview here) sings dark songs of life and death, desperation and redemption, with strong melodies and an entertaining live act. Cleaves only produces occasional studio albums, but last year he did release one, Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away.
Russell also has a show of his own, in company with Appalachian singer-songwriter Malcolm Holcombe, whose songs are rough diamonds, at the Tron Theatre on January 20. Holcombe is also appearing on January 22 with English guitarist Johnny Dickinson at the Classic Grand.
→The popular Transatlantic Sessions, seeking the shared roots of Celtic and Americana music, is one of the highlights of the final weekend, at the Royal Concert Hall on January 29 and 31. This year’s lineup includes a series of top fiddlers and vocalists, including Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins; Dan Tyminski, the voice of George Clooney in “O Brother Where Art Thou?”; and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott; the well-travelled Tim O’Brien, appearing with his sister Mollie. The Celtic side of the night includes Scottish singers Eddi Reader and Karen Matheson, and Cara Dillon from Ireland. Musical direction comes from dobro king Jerry Douglas and Scottish fiddle virtuoso Aly Bain.
→In the day between the two Transatlantic Sessions, January 30, many of the same artists will be out for veteran bass player Danny Thompson and Friends at the Old Fruitmarket. The show will include a tribute to John Martyn, with whom Thompson toured and recorded for more than 20 years.
→Old-time music is in the spotlight at the Strathclyde Suite on January 27, headlined by New York band The Wiyos, just back from touring with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp. The quartet, named after a 19th-century street gang, started out as a trio on the lower east side of Manhattan in 1992 and have been travelling the world ever since. Their new album, Broken Land Bell, is reviewed here. Performing with them are Pokey LaFarge and the South City Three, promoting their new album Riverboat Soul.
Also appearing in Glasgow: Austin-based western swing trio Hot Club of Cowtown are at the O2 ABC Glasgow on January 16, supported by the Red Stick Ramblers’ Cajun, country and swing from their native Louisiana. Irish duo The Lost Brothers recall the Everlys – but with their own songs and a great deal of charisma – as the opening act for The Swell Season at the City Halls on January 18. Holly Williams, granddaughter of Hank, appears at Òran Mór on January 22 in company with Scottish banjo duo Blueflint. Boo Hewerdine and Kim Richey perform together at the Tron Theatre on January 23. Tom Paxton, fresh from receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, is at the same venue on January 27. Tim and Mollie O’Brien are at St. Andrews on the Square, also on January 27. High-flying East Nashville star Diana Jones and Oregon singer-songwriter Rachel Harrington join Scottish folk roots stalwarts Annie Grace, Corrina Hewat and Karine Polwart for an evening of female harmonies at the City Halls on January 30. Canadian duo Madison Violet bring their lively but sometimes heartbreaking songs to the City Halls Recital Room on January 31.