Heading to Maui a few days after St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, the Irish band Danu is acclaimed for its commitment to preserving traditional music.
“It’s amazing to be playing music that was handed down through hundreds of years but seems to be as fresh as the day it was composed,” says Danu co-founder Benny McCarthy. “Traditional Irish music is very accessible for the listener and to dance to, so it is always enjoyable to play. I like the true social connection it has with everybody.”
The six-member group includes McCarthy on button accordion, vocalist/flutist Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh, guitarist Donal Clancy, fiddle player Oisin McAuley, bodhran drummer Martin O’Neill and Irish bouzouki player Eamon Doorley.
And all have illustrious solo careers aside from playing with Danu.
“They are all highly regarded individually,” McCarthy says. “We all really enjoy meeting up to tour and combining the talents is really something special and we don’t take it for granted.”
The driving force of the band, McCarthy won the All Ireland Oireachtas (championship) in 1994 on both button accordion and melodeon. He is also a key member of several other bands, including Raw Bar Collective, The Tin Sandwich Band and Rattle The Boards.
“I began learning the accordion at the age of 13 years from the great maestro accordion player Bobby Gardiner,” he explains. The instrument really impressed me from the start. I began taking them apart and looking inside to see how they work, and nowadays I rebuild and repair old accordions in my spare time. I talk constantly with some of the worlds’ great builders of accordion and have had special models built to my spec.”
Founded by high school friends McCarthy and guitarist Donal Clancy, the son of Liam Clancy of the influential Clancy Brothers, Danu was named after an Irish mother goddess.
“We were actually given this name by a friend in 1995,” McCarthy notes. “It’s the name of a Celtic goddess, the queen goddess. We were actually an all-male group until Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh joined us in 2003. Ireland is one of the big Celtic regions, and our music and language is of Celtic origin, so why not use a Celtic name?”
After releasing their debut recording in 1997, the band has routinely drawn laudatory reviews for its albums. Irish Music praised their album, “All Things Considered,” for “the astonishing versatility and exuberance of the band’s members. The musicianship remains of the highest order.”
In 2004, Danu released “Up in the Air,” featuring solo performances by its members. “All the band members get a chance to strut their stuff, and the results are effortless wonders of instrumental and vocal prowess,” raved an AllMusic review. “The two beautiful tracks from singer Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh are definite highlights. Danu are staunch purveyors of Celtic music played in an organic – yet still contemporary enough to win over the younger crowd – fashion.”
Reviewing their most recent studio album, “When all is Said and Done,” Hot Press praised: “Danu are one of the few trad acts currently on the go who bring a sense of vibrant edginess to their impeccable credentials. While they always show due loyalty to their heritage they can also invigorate old tunes with new zest, and while treating the tradition with total respect they can also have themselves (and us) a bundle of fun.”
Along with traditional Irish jigs and reels, Danu occasionally includes English folk songs in its repertoire. On “The Road Less Traveled,” they featured the Sandy Denny/Richard Thompson composition “Farewell, Farewell,” sung beautifully by Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh.
“We are big fans of all folk music, and bands out of England like Fairport Convention have given us some great songs and tunes to work with,” McCarthy says. “I was a big fan of their album ‘Liege and Lief,’ and thought this song would work well for Muireann when she joined us in 2003.”
Feeling proud that they are helping preserve Irish culture through their music, McCarthy concludes: “It’s a great honor, and as a friend of mine always maintains, we don’t own this music. We simply carry it through life, and pass it on to younger people and make lots of people happy along the way. We are hitting nearly 20 years as a band in 2015, with lots of shows and lots of experience.”
Mulligan’s on The Blue will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Monday with music, dancing and food. The music lineup features the Polka Paddy’s Irish dance band at noon, Crunch Pups at 2 p.m.; Celtic Tigers at 4 p.m. and Willie K from 8 p.m. to closing. The day also includes a contest for “Best Hat” and “Best Leprechaun Outfit.”
Jazz/R&B vocal icon Al Jarreau will perform in the Castle Theater on May 30. Since his debut recording in 1975, Jarreau has won seven Grammy awards. He is the only vocalist in history to net a Grammy in three different categories – jazz, pop and R&B. Tickets go on sale to MACC members at 10 a.m. Saturday, and to the general public on March 22.
Also coming to the MACC, will be Sarah Lee Guthrie, the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, and Johnny Irion, the grand-nephew of author John Steinbeck, who perform as a duo. They play the McCoy Studio Theater on March 28.
With John Cruz gearing up to release a new album, the popular entertainer will perform a dinner show at Stella Blues Cafe on Friday (and March 29). Cruz has been working with recording engineer/drummer Nir Z, who is best known as the former drummer for Genesis (after Phil Collins). Nir has also recorded with artists like John Mayer, Jason Mraz and Joss Stone. On March 21, Paula Fuga returns to Stellas for a dinner show joined by Mike Love and Sam Ites.
With Bob Dylan’s concert at the MACC drawing closer, it’s a good time to explore some Dylanology trivia with a top 10 fun facts list.
1. Before he renamed himself Bob Dylan, Robert Allen Zimmerman briefly adopted the name Elston Gunn.
2. Dylan’s first professional recording was as a harmonica player at a Harry Belafonte session in 1960. He was paid $50.
3. In 10th grade, Dylan and his backing band were rejected from a high school talent show because the student council judged his performance at the audition too shocking.
4. He received a D-plus in a music-appreciation class at the University of Minnesota.
5. In 1960, Tommy Smothers of the famous Smothers Brothers comedy duo tried to get a Denver club manager to kick Dylan off the bill, complaining that his voice was awful.
6. About to make his national TV debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963, Dylan refused to go on when a CBS TV censor informed the musician that he couldn’t play his song, “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues.” Dylan’s song satirized the ultraconservative political organization formed in 1958 to fight Communist threats in the U.S., Sullivan would later denounce the network’s decision. The song was included on advance copies of his album, “Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” but it was removed prior to the official release. It did not officially appear on an album until the Bootleg Series in 1991.
7. The “Freewheelin'” album had a major impact on The Beatles. “We just played it, just wore it out,” George Harrison once reported. “The content of the song lyrics and just the attitude, it was incredibly original and wonderful.”
8. Dylan and John Lennon once wrote and recorded a song together while Dylan was on tour in England. “I don’t remember what it was,” Dylan told an interviewer. “We played some stuff into a tape recorder, but I don’t know what happened to it. I don’t remember anything about the song.”
9. After the death of Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones in 1969, Jones was buried in a lavish silver and bronze metal casket flown in from America and paid for by Dylan.
10. Pseudonyms Dylan has used when appearing on other artists’ records include Tedham Porterhouse, Robert Milkwood Thomas, Roosevelt Gook and Blind Boy Grunt.