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Transatlantic Sessions translates well on this side

Orpheum Theatre, Boston, May 3, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Start with one super backing band anchored by probably the best Dobro ace in the world, Jerry Douglas and Scottish fiddle player supreme Ally Bain, not to mention eight more on everything from pipes to piano to drums. Add Scottish, Irish and American artists in the country and Americana realm with names like Carpenter and Cash.

The end result was a mash-up of Celtic and American roots sounds in a sterling, invigorating and immensely satisfying night of music.

Transatlantic Sessions is a TV show that incorporates similar types of music and has toured on the other side of the Pond. This ultra-short tour of the U.S. started last week at MerleFest in North Carolina and fortunately made Boston one of only five stops.

The night, broken into 2 sets and a most healthy 170 minutes, started with the band roaring through an instrumental, enabling various band members to have a say. Bain was a tour de force on fiddle, often aided and abetted by fellow fiddle player John McCusker. Michael McGoldrick handled the pipes, with his lyrical playing. So did acoustic guitarists Russ Barenberg, who has lived in the area, and John Doyle.

Their playing was more like a resplendent movie soundtrack with the listener envisioning rolling hills and beautiful scenery, only the music paved the way, instead of vice versa.

Rosanne Cash was perhaps the best guest of the night. Cash is an American treasure with warm, vibrant vocals with a lot of range within a few bars. She also had a knack for telling stories that made the songs come further alive.

Her reading of "Long Black Veil" (she also recorded it for her 2009 album "The List") was exquisite with John Paul White helping out. Not far behind was her performance of "Girl From the North Country" and "When the Mast Calls the Roll."

White played some of his owner material along with a few hard-core country covers, including "Crazy Arms." White, who was one-half of The Civil Wars, said he was content to call it a day musically and spend time at home after The Civil Wars split, but the music kept coming out of him. Good thing he decided to pick it up again.

Not far behind Cash was local native Aiofe O'Donovan, who sounded about as good as she ever has. Her singing (one of her best songs, "Oh Mama") was stellar, clear, precise and simply well done. O'Donovan seems to be getting better with age.

Mary Chapin Carpenter's smoky alto was in good steady with a few songs ("The Things That We Are Made Of" and "I Am a Town"), though she didn't quite match up to the spark of Cash and O'Donovan. Carpenter and O'Donovan also lent their backing vocal skills on a few songs.

Douglas emceed the evening, introducing the guests and songs for the most part.

But he was no match for The Milk Carton Kids when it came to the banter. The duo is well known for their humorous interactions, and tonight was no different. On the other hand, if they were all fluff and no musical ability, then the jokes could only go so far. Fortunately, as usual, their musical chops were in evidence. That may never have been more true than on their enticing take of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here."

British Isles musicians also had a chanced to shine including Karen Matheson, a member of Scottish folk band Capercaillie (so were pianist Donald Shaw and Goldrick), and Declan O'Rourke, an Irish music filled with humor and British folk songs. One of his didn't quite work with the rest of the music, but nevertheless a taste of O'Rourke made one wish for more.

That may have been the only downside for those attending. If looking for a lot of stage time front and center for anyone, that wasn't going to happen. What they heard, instead, was a taste of a lot of very fine musicians.

Transatlantic Sessions translated exceedingly well on this side. Having a crack band and a bunch of top shelf guests quickly up to the task made for one great evening of music. It doesn't get much better than this.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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