Eileen Ivers,
Beyond the Bog Road
(Compass, 2015)

The beautiful thing about Eileen Ivers playing is her virtuosity. You never know quite what's coming next but you can be sure of two things: it will be adventurous and, no matter how far afield from traditional Irish music she goes, what she plays will be ambitious and centered in roots music.

It will also be wonderful.

Beyond the Bog Road does not in any way violate the principles listed above. It is an examination of Americana music, wandering from traditional Celtic to Canadian Celtic to bluegrass, mountain music and Cajun tunes, not to mention a touch of jazz. It's quite a little meander and, for a lot of bands, the result would be an unsatisfying mishmash of styles -- but this is no ordinary band. These are musicians who specialize in innovation, but innovation for a purpose and innovation within the bounds of roots music. They hold it together.

Look at their backgrounds: Tommy McDonnell, percussionist, singer and blues harp master, was a member of the original Blues Brothers Band. Guitarist Greg Anderson not only played with Pete Seeger, he crossed the street and spent time with Itzhak Perlman. Bass player Lindsey Horner is a Juilliard graduate who studied both jazz and classical bass, while accordian player Buddy Connolly has played with bluegrass great Tim O'Brien and country legend Kathy Mattea.

And Eileen Ivers is no slouch herself. She is a nine-time fiddle champion and has won over 35 All-Ireland Competition medals for fiddle and banjo. She's equally at home with Celtic music, classical, world and jazz.

Clearly, these guys know their stuff.

But although the album displays virtuosity, it doesn't rely on it for unity. It has a theme; the album traces the Celtic experience in North America, starting with the Cajuns of New Orleans, moving through the Westward Expansion with the building of the railroad and on through the Canadian experience and on up to the jazz age where the blend of African-American and Irish dance invented tap and started new dance crazes, such as the Black Bottom, which is celebrated by a killer rendition of Louis Armstrong's song "The Irish Black Bottom."

Ivers' writing on this album is first-rate; her songs show the joy and the sadness of a displaced people, missing the life they left but determined to build a new and better one.

Beyond the Bog Road is not only a beautiful album, it is an important one.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

13 June 2015

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