Every musical instrument has its heroes. Hendrix was the master of psychedelic electric blues/rock guitar. Jaco Pastorious revolutionized the fretless bass. Miles Davis and John Coltrane owned the trumpet and saxophone, respectively. These titles may not be exclusive, but they are indisputable. In our modern era, the fiddle has its own superstar. Eileen Ivers rocks four strings and a bow like no one else, ever.
Fairytale of New York
Before I go much further in my praise of Ms Ivers I should come clean on one note. In the name of full disclosure, she is my cousin. Specifically, Eileen is my second cousin on my mother’s side, once removed. Each of us is a first generation American child of Irish immigrants. She grew up in the Bronx, and I in Upstate, NY. However, we’ve never actually met. So, If I have a bias you can blame only genetics and a love of great music.
The Grammy winning virtuoso has made a massive and lasting impression on popular music. She was a founding member of the legendary Celtic group “Cherish the Ladies.” She even played lead fiddle for Riverdance. Her solo albums have built bridges between traditional Irish folk music, Classical and Jazz. She has delved into Rock and Pop music, performing with everyone from Patti Smith to Sting. And on social media, Eileen regularly treats fans to home videos in which she experiments with all of the above, and more.
Scatter the Light
Ivers’ new album “Scatter the Light” continues her exploration of both style and substance. There is a theme running through the record. Although the songs bravely venture across a wide swath of musical genres, they are tied together by a singular mission. “Scatter the Light” celebrates life, its beauty and its challenges.
The record consists mostly of original compositions. They alternate between vocal and instrumental pieces, each is inspirational in its own way. However, this is not simply a feel-good album. It is an examination of life, and life is not always easy. As such, “Scatter the Light” is as complex and layered as it is uplifting.
Lyrically the songs revel in both the glory and impermanence of the human experience. For example, on the opening track “Shine,” vocalist Matthew Mancuso sings, “As time flies, it leaves my shadow behind. So I’m gonna shine.” It is a deeply human, and deeply Irish view of our time here on Earth. Life and death are the Yin and Yang of Irish philosophy. We cannot appreciate the former without somehow embracing the latter. It’s in our DNA.
Other vocal tracks range from the touching “Hold my Hand” to the traditional Gospel songs “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and “Children Go.” Each receives a new and funky Ivers arrangement. The final track on the record is a sort of Celtic Hip-Hop hybrid. The rapper tells a disturbing, yet ultimately inspiring, autobiographical recount of surviving a sexual assault. The song reminds me a bit of the beat-poetry Jazz of Gil Scott-Heron. It is powerful.
On the instrumental tracks, the virtuoso fiddler shines. Each composition is rooted in Ivers’ signature Celtic sound, but none are content to stay solely in that lane. “Chase the Blues Away” is a cool four-piece jam. The band morphs Irish music into Jazz in the same way Béla Fleck transforms Bluegrass. “Gratitude” is a more traditional instrumental ballad, while “Zero G” is an upbeat reel. Each is structured and composed, but Eileen’s playing is exciting and improvisational.
“Road Trip” is another highlight. In just 3:16, the tune captures the celebratory and exploratory spirit of the whole record. It has horns, improv, and a little funk. Ivers even throws in an off-time jig in the bridge for good measure.
Finally, on “Wah-Wah One Violin” the artist does not simply test the boundaries of her instrument, she destroys them. Although it sounds like a band jamming on a funky guitar groove, the song consists exclusively of multiple violin tracks. The beat, the bass, and groovy wah-wah chords are all played on the fiddle. The lead alternates between a structured melody and wild improvisation. The track is a ton of fun and uniquely Eileen Ivers.
“Scatter the Light” is joyous, experimental and emotionally complex. The album celebrates what it is to be human. Through music and words, Eileen Ivers and her band of expert musicians encourage the listener to embrace life, warts and all.