Christmas

Cherish the Ladies Christmas Show at Towne Crier Cafe

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Last night we finally got to scratch a 20-month itch, seeing Cherish the Ladies again in concert. They performed a Christmas show at Towne Crier Cafe, the place where we first saw them in April 2008, covered in detail in this post.

We love Cherish the Ladies (CTL), we love Towne Crier Cafe and we love Christmas music. A win/win/win, not just in theory, but executed perfectly last night, even though the Nor’easter tried to thwart CTL from making it (they were in Providence, RI the night before, and were nearly snowed in!).

Every member of CTL is a world-class musician. You should really look them up individually, their accomplishments are impressive. Together, they make magic. In addition to playing traditional Irish music (and last night, Christmas songs), they also write new songs that have the feel of traditional Irish music, but have just the right amount of originality to keep everything fresh.

The two women who started CTL, Joanie Madden and Mary Coogan will be celebrating 25 years of playing together on January 5th, 2010. Wow. Joanie is as entertaining a personality as you could ever want on stage (and off!).

They played mostly Christmas music last night, but that included an original or two, plus some non-traditional arrangements of some classics. All beautiful, played to a very appreciative crowd (which included a few of Joanie’s brothers, and her mother). In fact, her brother John sat in on four numbers and played the drums. One of the rarest of times that CTL has had a drum set on stage with them!

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Their current CD is called A Star in the East and they played many songs from it last night.

Sitting left to right on the stage:

Joanie Madden (OK, standing the entire time) plays all manner of flute, whistles, recorders, etc. She’s a genius on all of them. She sings a bit of harmony, very well. She’s the MC, keeping the action moving all night, making everyone laugh, and bringing an energy to the performance that doesn’t seem sustainable, yet she delivers that energy each and every time.

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Mary Coogan plays guitar, beautifully. She took a few solos, most notably What Child is This / Greensleeves. Absolutely gorgeous!

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Roisin Dillon on fiddle. She is absolutely incredible. One of the few fiddle players who sits the entire performance, and actually barely moves (you can see the bow move, of course, but otherwise, her play appears entirely effortless!). When Joanie and Roisin play harmony together (Joanie on the whistle or flute, and Roisin on fiddle, it’s truly heavenly).

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Mirella Murphy on accordion. Mirella is also an extraordinary musician. In addition to winning many accolades and competitions herself, 22 of her students have won gold medals on the accordion, and she’s but a kid herself! Like Roisin, her accordion playing appears entirely effortless.

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Kathleen Boyle (KT) sits behind the others playing piano, wonderfully. She played a song that she wrote that was fantastic. No good shot of her at the piano, because it’s buried in the back of the stage, and her back was to us the entire evening.

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Michelle Burke is the lead vocalist. Michelle has a gorgeous voice. She joined CTL just before we saw them 20 months ago. In fact that night was only her second performance with them. She was great that night, but last night she was obviously more comfortable and more integrated into the group and the set. Of course, singing traditional Christmas songs can bring out the best, and Michelle did a terrific job, including getting all of us to sing along a number of times.

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After the show we bought a copy of A Star in the East and got Joanie to sign it. A wonderful evening in every respect, including the always tasty (and spicy!) food at Towne Crier Cafe. Looking forward to our next visit there already. 🙂

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Jerry Douglas and John Oates at Highline Ballroom

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Jerry Douglas has a new Christmas CD out, Jerry Christmas. He’s touring actively in support of that CD. Special guest stars on this tour are John Oates (of Hall and Oates fame) and Maura O’Connell. Both John and Maura are up for a Grammy this year. Jerry has 12 Grammys already!

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We expected the majority of the show to be Christmas songs. They started off the show with the first two cuts from the Christmas CD, The First Noel and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I was completely entranced.

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The mood was quickly broken. Jerry introduced Maura O’Connell (an obvious crowd favorite). She sang two numbers that were lovely, but didn’t feel Christmasy to me. Maura has a saucy stage presence. While we both typically like artists who can connect directly with the audience, it broke the reverent mood created by the first two instrumental numbers.

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After the fourth song, Jerry introduced John Oates. His first number was Christmas Song (written by Mel Torme). John still has an excellent voice, and he surprised me throughout the show with his quality guitar playing. He is an incredibly self-effacing man, who fit right in with the amazing spirit always put out by the Jerry Douglas Band.

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Sprinkled throughout the set, John played a number of other songs, including She’s Gone (one of the many Hall and Oates hits). He also sang with Maura (and she harmonized on a few of his numbers). Still, most of his songs were not Christmas ones. While they were really good, they too didn’t strike us as fitting the overall flow and mood of the evening.

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When neither John nor Maura was singing, the Jerry Douglas Band played eight of the 12 songs from the new CD. Every one was special, as is the CD (which we own).

The first of a two-song encore was a Gaelic a capella number sung by Maura and Jerry. Gorgeous (he really has a very good voice). Jerry also sang harmony with Maura and John on a few numbers, all well done.

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Jerry also threw in Who’s Your Uncle, a high-energy Jerry Douglas tune that would typically highlight a normal Jerry Douglas Band show. They played Sir Aly B to close the encore. Both Who’s Your Uncle and Sir Aly B are on The Best Kept Secret CD.

Guthrie Trapp blew me away again on the guitar. The man is just incredible. His mandolin playing isn’t half bad either. Lois got him to sign a set list for us (really me) after the show. I was speechless, so she had to do the asking. 😉

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Chad Melton played the drums (like he did when we saw them at the Blue Note). Again, he was excellent. Very understated, but right there with the right beat and sound the entire set.

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Todd Parks was again wonderful on the bass all night, both upright and electric.

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Normally, Luke Bulla fulfills the fiddle playing for the Jerry Douglas Band. He wasn’t there last night (even though he’s on the Jerry Christmas CD), and there was no mention of why he wasn’t there. As good as he is, he wasn’t missed.

Taking his place were two fiddle players. It didn’t take two to fill his shoes, as both are great in their own right. But, especially with the Christmas music, having two fiddle players (perhaps I should say violin this one time), made it sound more like an orchestra playing with Jerry!

I am most embarrassed to say that I can’t remember the name of one of the fiddle players, even though Jerry said his name (once) last night. To make matters worse, I’ve seen him play before (with another band), and can’t for the life of me remember which one. Of course, no end of searching yielded the answer either… 🙁

He was excellent all night, in particular when he played duets with the other fiddle player, and he played mandolin on a few numbers as well. Here’s his photo, perhaps a kind reader can fill in the details for me:

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Alex Hargreaves played the fiddle and sang on one number. He looks like he’s 12. 😉 He’s an absolutely extraordinary musician and has played with some of the greatest musicians in the country, now including Jerry Douglas.

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We had a great time, and loved the show. That said, we each would have enjoyed a more typical Jerry Douglas show, or a Christmas-only show. Mixing and matching worked only in the sense that each song is played by consummate musicians who will make anything sound good, but the flow/magic was missing at times.