THERE’S no shortage of themed tribute shows across Celtic Connections this year – to the music of Laura Nyro, Tom Petty and Michael Marra among others. Despite tackling one of the biggest subjects – the works of Canada’s greatest songwriters – there was a winning humility to Northern Star, a show first performed at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival last summer.
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****
A cast of gifted Scottish singers, including Karine Polwart, Emma Pollock, Rab Noakes, James Grant and former Average White Band frontman Hamish Stuart, reconvened under the curation of ace guitar-for-hire Stuart Nisbet and his wonderful band who supplied warm, luxurious country-soul textures as well as sublime backing vocals.
Across the evening, there were nods to cult Canuck artists from Bruce Cockburn to Ron Sexsmith, Gordon Lightfoot to Arcade Fire, a beautiful Polwart/Pollock duet on Kate McGarrigle’s Talk To Me Of Mendocino and the cleansing rock’n’roll of Paul Anka’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.
But inevitably much of the programme centred on the holy trinity of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young, with Noakes leading the sultry waltz of Dance Me to the End of Love, and Stuart delivering a lovely mellow jazz version of The Circle Game and a sumptuous Only Love Can Break Your Heart.
There was welcome tonal diversity from Nova Scotian soul force Cyndi Cain, who brought the stormy sonic weather of Young’s Ohio and beseeching smooch of The Vancouvers’ Does Your Mama Know About Me? before an affectionate massed finale of The Band’s The Weight and Cohen’s Hallelujah.