Ticket Awards 2013 - Irish acts of year and best Trad, Roots, Jazz, Classical
It’s been one of the best years ever for Irish music, with quality and quirk to the fore. Plus, Siobhán Long, Michael Dervan, Joe Breen and Cormac Larkin pick their best albums of the year
This year has been one of the best years ever for Irish music, and the calibre of the acts in The Ticket Awards reflect that. God knows how many albums have been released in 2013 by home-based musicians (I’d guess more than 300 documented ones), so to make it onto the list is no small achievement.
What’s gratifying about the acts here, however, is that they are all that little different, a little bit against the grain. Heathers may be the most commercially attuned (that is, geared towards radio play and chart placings) but dismiss the smart sibling act at your peril.
Curiously, there is O Emperor, a band that have reconfigured their sound and come up trumps as a result. We have it on good authority that they are ascloseasthis to signing to a strategically-good-fit record label, andso we’re certain next year will be the year they lose their status as one of Ireland’s best-kept secrets.
Both Villagers and Little Green Cars have enjoyed impressive success this year – the former with their second album, Awayland, which, deservedly, was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize and the latter via their debut album, Absolute Zero, which is really as good as anything else you’ll hear in 2013.
Every year has to have a surprise, though – a musician or singer or songwriter or band or song that spins a curveball around your head. Well then, thank you God for Lisa O’Neill, who has kept such a low profile (did anyone know about her 2009 debut Lisa O’Neill Has an Album?) that this year’s Same Cloth or Not seemed like a bolt (ahem) from the blue.
And therein lies the essence of this year’s Ticket Irish Acts of the Year: they’re ever so slightly the same, yet also very different, from the norm. Idiosyncrasy, individuality – whatever you want to call it – has rarely been so pronounced or so vividly portrayed.
The musical sands shifted in 2013, writes Siobhán Long
It’s been a humdinger of a year in traditional music: coalitions of every hue and shape have stretched and bent the rules in compelling ways. From the organic textures of Emer Mayock, Mick O’Brien and Aoife Ní Bhriain’s Tunes from the Goodman Manuscripts to the straight-as-a-dye lyrical backbone of Chris Wood’s None The Wiser, traditional and folk music have shifted with the sands beneath their feet every bit as much as their listeners have had to do to adapt to these recessionary times.
The West Ocean String Quartet’s Indigo Sky straddled past and present with enviable agility, and Liz Carroll unveiled a remarkable collection of original tunes on her first solo album in 11 years, On The Offbeat, while bare-boned fiddle duo Toner Quinn and Malachy Bourke brought it all back home (or at least back to church) with their luminous Live At The Steeple Sessions. Rich pickings in lean times.
Michael Dervan picks five of the year’s masterful recordings
Malcolm Proud’s Bach Partitas project has been splendidly caught on disc by Maya Recordings, the richness of the playing well represented in a fine recording. The first volume of Christian Blackshaw’s survey of Mozart’s piano sonatas bodes well for a series captured live at London’s Wigmore Hall. There’s something utterly captivating about the graceful unpredictability of his playing.
Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado’s recording with the Freiburger Barockorchester of Schubert’s Third and Fourth Symphonies persuasively presents teenage Schubert with a brio and energy that might take you by surprise.
Jaap van Zweden presents Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony with a sure balance between quirky, rustic humour and deep feeling. And Louth Contemporary Music Society’s latest recording is of Alexander Raskatov’s Monk’s Music, a daring revisiting of the shape of Haydn’s Seven Last Words - words interleaved with seven successive slow movements. It’s so good, I suspect even Haydn would have taken his hat off.
Joe Breen remembers a good year for remembrance
Watching Patty Griffin reach deep down into herself at the Sugar Club in November was an experience on a par with her truly moving and imaginative album dedicated to her late father. In a year of many highlights, her show and her album stood out. Unintentionally, four of the five best also are linked to the last goodbye. Jason Molina died in March from alcohol-related illness before the 10th anniversary rerelease of his country-rock epic Magnolia Electric Co, an album so good he renamed his band after it.
Jason Isbell’s Southeastern is packed with great songs of reflection and regret, including Elephants, which addresses the issue of cancer with riveting candour. The McGarrigle family and friends revisited Kate McGarrigle’s songs for what was an emotionally charged tribute to the late Canadian singer-songwriter while Foreverly, in the shape of unlikely duo Billie Joe and Norah, paid handsome homage to Phil and Don Everly. They are happily still alive. Long may they remain so.
Despite a youth assault, in jazz, older heads won the day, writes Cormac Larkin
Though the word “jazz” continued to take a beating from the younger generation in 2013, older heads generally proved there’s life in the old word yet. Mid-career US saxophonist Chris Potter debuted as a leader for ECM with Sirens, a masterful acoustic recording that confirmed him as king of the tenor players. Hot on his heels is young Norwegian tenorist Marius Nesset whose Birds was replete with sounds of surprise.
The New York scene saw a raft of talented young pianists emerge with debut solo recordings, foremost among them Bobby Avey’s darkly numinous Be Not So Long to Speak. Closer to home, English folk legend June Tabor, with saxophonist Iain Ballamy and pianist Huw Warren, continued their excavation of the jazz-folk interface with the achingly beautiful Quercus, while on the home front, guitarist Nigel Mooney proved the ongoing vitality of the blues with his hugely entertaining The Bohemian Mooney.