Atlantic Wave
at Paddy's Pub,
Milwaukee, WI
(28 July 2006)

Atlantic Wave,
(independent, 2006)

It was a warm summer night in Milwaukee on July 28 at Paddy's Pub on North Murray, where folks gathered in the beautiful, flower-draped bar and courtyard to hear the band Atlantic Wave launch its debut CD Craic'd, featuring music from Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton. In the band, fiddlers Ed Paloucek and Kaitlin Hahn are accompanied by Barry Houlehen on guitar/lead vocals and John Karr on bouzouki, bodhran and backing vocals.

Starting off with two traditional jigs, "Garret Barry's" and "Paddy O'Rafferty's," and then two knee-bouncing Donegal reels, this southeast Wisconsin band transported the crowd into high-gear enjoyment. And really, that is what defines the title of their new CD. "Craic" (pronounced krak) is an Irish word for fun, enjoyment or mischief, often in the context of drinking or music. Craic'd was recorded in downtown Milwaukee at the Engine Room, and offers all the energy of a live performance in its 15 studio tracks, including a few surprises you may not expect. Track 4, for instance, artfully pairs Dvorak's classical "Old World Symphony" theme with "Dusty Miller," a Donegal slip jig. The sweet marriage of fiddle skills here is impressive.

Following the "Garret Barry" set, the band galloped into a classic Scottish bothy ballad "To the Beggin' I Will Go." In this tune, Houlehen imagines all the good things he would have to eat if he were a beggar in the Old Country. He really pours on the Scot's dialect here, and it doesn't seem to affect the listener's enjoyment in the least, despite a lack of comprehension. However, I decided before the gig that this was the night I would attempt to get a clarification. And so when the band was between sets, I plied Barry with an $8 can of haggis (a Scottish delicacy of which I've heard he is a bit of a connoisseur), and he enlightened me on such phrases as these (written phonetically here; don't forget to roll the r's): "I'll gang to find some greasy kuke, and buy frae hare a hat, with twa-thray inches o' a rim a-glitterin' o'er with fat...." Say what, my good man?

I wish I had the space to repeat the entire song's American translation as told to me, because it was quite historical and funny actually, but suffice it to say that it made some degree of sense to me after all of his time and trouble deciphering it. (Bless him for that kindness.) And I must conclude that part of the craic of this CD might be when fans pester Barry to enter a sidebar in the band's website as to the mystery of said lyrics. I'll leave that up to you.

Another highlight of the evening also featured on the new CD was Kaitlin's rendition of Cape Breton's iconic strathspey "The Tullochgorum." This is where Kaitlin really proves her mettle as a fiddler, for this tune is an intricate and complicated solo executed in precision staccato dotted half notes, including lengthy variations of the Scottish traditional melody composed by fiddler J. Scott Skinner. A rousing and stunning display of mastery in a 23-year-old, who started in classical violin at age 6! We learn in the CD liner notes that she composes and arranges music of her own. "The Northwoods," track 6, is a fine example of this.

Just when you think you've got this band figured out, they pull a rabbit out of the hat, or in this case, a fish. I'm talking about that washboard percussion instrument used for Latin salsa accents. Atlantic Wave flowed way south of Ireland for a spicy tune called "Tic O Tico," and while the strings carried the snappy south-of-the-border melody, John handily juggled accent percussion on the fish, egg rattles and triangle.

One of my favorite sets of the evening was "King of the Fairies," which kicked off with a marching rhythm, snuck into a sauntering reel in the middle and then took off entirely with a blood-stirring, foot-stomping bonanza of a reel composed by James Kelly. If you've never heard it, you'll not get a clue from its title on the CD, named "Touching Cloth" by fiddler Johnny Cunningham. I don't know what Johnny had in mind, but to me it sounded more like "Intruder in the Hen House" the way the fiddles are honking and clucking, and then the chase is on. At Paddy's, the reel exploded with a flurry and everyone in the pub was involved in the raucous fiddle-"feather" uprising. People were on their feet dancing with sloshing drinks, hollering, clapping and slapping their knees. There we had it, the glorious moment of reckless abandon! The froth on top of the pint!

To sum it up, this band has a powerful, traditional sound showcasing some of the best musical craftsmanship and synergy that I've yet experienced from an American group of Irish music players. Their tight groove and that element of fun that is evident in live performances really comes through on the CD, especially in the unexpected breaks, those sudden musical pauses inserted into a song to enhance excitement and effect. Atlantic Wave is solid and synchronized; they come back right on the mark every time. Even listening in the car or at home, I find myself whooping and punching the air in the middle of a blast of tunes.

Another thing I appreciate about Atlantic Wave is that its members will go to great lengths to learn from master musicians in the countries of traditional origin in order to infuse their sound with authenticity. For instance, percussionist/bouzouki player Karr visits Ireland annually to rub elbows in session with renowned players during the Ennis Trad Festival in November. Also, he and fiddler Hahn make a yearly pilgrimage to Nova Scotia to immerse themselves in the distinctive fiddling styles of Cape Breton during the Celtic Colours Festival in October. Similarly, singer/guitarist Houlehen's involvement with the Wisconsin Scottish has put wind in his creative sails for years. The band benefits from Ed Paloucek's 30 years of violin/fiddle experience owing to several virtuoso influences, including teachers Brendan Mulvahill and Maire O'Keefe.

It is important to mention that as committed as Atlantic Wave is to inspiring newcomer listeners, Ed and Kaitlin share a special personal mission of inspiring new generations of traditional fiddlers by teaching their craft and continuing to support the Irish Culture & Heritage Center here in Milwaukee and the Irish Fest Summer School programs.

We are fortunate in Wisconsin that opportunities for cultural entertainment and experience are many. So, as summer brings on the heat and you find yourself in the mood for the "diddley dee," I encourage you to check out the refreshing sound of Atlantic Wave, and get craic'd, if you will.

by Nita Moore
9 September 2006

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