SO POPULAR that it now packs the concert hall over two consecutive nights, Transatlantic Sessions is a Celtic Connections institution, and also a reviewers’ nightmare which risks becoming just a lengthy name-check. Following the dozen-strong house band’s signature opener of Waiting for the Federals, led in by the distinctive fiddle and dobro sound of musical directors Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas, the initial songs from two returning participants – Tim O’Brien’s Lay Down Your Weary Tune and singer-fiddler Sarah Watkins’s otherwise uplifting Take Up Your Spade – were marred by harsh and uneven amplification.
Transatlantic Sessions - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
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The sound seemed to settle in, however, by the time the only Scottish singer on the bill, Kathleen MacInnes, sang the first of her contributions, later including the lovely A’ Ghrian – “The Sun”, a song, we were told, from the cusp of paganism and Christianity, as well as the rumbustious satire of The Song of the Stone. If these were familiar voices, the first revelation of the night was John Smith who, despite his Devon provenance, revealed a gruffly soulful voice somewhere between Joe Cocker and John Martyn in material such as Freezing Winds of Change.
One of the show’s two Grammy-winning headline guests, Patty Griffin, a winsome-voiced yet authoritative performer, also seemed preoccupied with the chill, opening her first set with the lovely if melancholic Cold As It Gets and spinning out the homely old-time of Mom and Dad’s Waltz.
From the band there were the requisite jigs and reels from Bain, Phil Cunningham, Mike McGoldrick and company, and the second half opened with a glittering slide melody from Douglas, Danny Thompson’s bass rumbling warmly behind.
Old-time specialist Dirk Powell gave us his great song of emotional displacement, Waterbound, then O’Brien promptly enlisted him, along with Griffin and another star guest, Rodney Crowell, for a whooping work song which, apparently, had been hurriedly rehearsed “in the corridor”.
The cat in the hat, Crowell opened with the amiable benediction of Flyboy and the Kid, continued with a world-weary anthem of perverse affection, You Don’t Know How Much I Hate You and shamelessly courted the crowd while singing of being lost on the road in Glasgow Girl.
By the time he came out with Leaving Louisiana, with its “highway goes on forever” chorus and Powell’s Cajun accordion churning behind, both he, and indeed the whole band, were truly travelling.
Seen on 31.01.15