Celtic Connections review: Transatlantic Sessions, Glasgow

Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain
Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain
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Always one of the most popular dates in the Celtic Connections calendar, Transatlantic Sessions aims for and achieves the comfort and intimacy of an evening spent with a group of old friends – quite a feat on such a large and heavily populated stage.

Transatlantic Sessions - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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That sense of ease and contentment is both its strength and weakness as a show. The bantering rapport between mainstays Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain on the Scots side and unofficial master of ceremonies Jerry Douglas, leading the US contingent, is such that even first-time visitor Shawn Colvin could slip seamlessly into the pack. And how much more snug were returnees such as Julie Fowlis, delivering a pretty Gaelic version of The Beatles’ Blackbird, and Kris Drever, singing Isle Of France, a ballad in which “nothing very bad happens at any point”.

American friends Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott led on George Jones’ rueful Just One More, there was a front porch feel to Shady Grove, as rendered by fiddler Bruce Molsky and Sarah Jarosz on banjo, and Goodnight, Irene was performed in tribute to the late Pete Seeger, though not in its natural closing time slot. Such is the casual way these deft players roll.

The massed ensemble really showed their mettle when the pace pepped up, while a sweetly mournful new air written by Cunningham was the treat of the second half. But the gentle business-as-usual approach meant that this was not the place for surprises.

Seen on 31.01.14