Talk about a timely album! This month’s artist of the month is Eileen Ivers, an artist whose praises I have sung for decades. If you start talking about the great Celtic American fiddlers, it’s Liz Carroll, Winnie Horan, and Eileen Ivers and there’s no sense in trying to rank them! Not that Ivers needs my praise. After all, she made a huge mark in Riverdance, has won numerous other awards, has performed for heads of state, and possesses a Grammy Award. Plus, she has a blue fiddle!
Think of Scatter the Light as a St. Patrick’s Day treat. More than that, though, think of it as the kind of message we need in our time of Covid-19. The music on Ivers’ new release is encapsulated in its title. It’s about connecting to family, faith, memory, living in the moment, and overcoming obstacles. Above all, it’s about gratitude. In her mind, Ivers’ previous projects–Beyond the Bog Road and Symphony–were “cerebral,” and she wanted Scatter the Light to resonate with our emotional side. She and her band–Buddy Connolly (accordion, whistles, keys), Matt Mancuso (guitar, trumpet, vocals), Lindsey Horner (bass, baritone sax) and David Barckow (percussion, guitar, vocals)–wend their way through material that is packed with surprises.
Ivers is a virtuoso fiddler, but she’s not afraid to mix things up. “Road Trip” might be the closest she gets to any sort of classic Celtic set on this record and even it is marked by jazzy bass and guitar cadences that segue into a hard-driving train-like tempos. By the time Ivers is done, it’s time to water down the engine coupling rods. The track after it, though, is called “Wah-Wah One Violin”* and is as promised–one electric fiddle and lots of loops, improvisations, and funk. “Zero G (and I feel fine)” is also space age–literally; it was inspired by the late John Glenn and his initial orbit of earth. It’s playful and airy.
But let’s go on to the tunes and songs with a message. Guest Michelle DeAngelis provides sensitive piano for “Shine” and Mancuso sings a song of hope–written by Ivers and her husband Brian Mulligan–whose chorus is both declarative and an implied exhortation: I won’t lose time/Gonna make it mine/As time flies it leaves my shadow behind/So I’m gonna shine…. It is a catchy song with big swelling instrumentation and vocals glued by small but amazing links from Ivers. “Chase the Blues Away” is a quirky little tune Ivers describes as “Soweto with an Irish groove” that captures a dreary day dissolved by sunshine. Ivers provides rapid-fire syncopated spoken word on “You Are Strong,” an ode to a friend’s survival from sexual assault. Louise Barry is the voice in the background. Appropriately, it is preceded by the anthemic “Hold My Hand,” with guest singer Caitlin Maloney providing sweet lead vocals.
Ivers has previously explored the connections between Appalachian and Irish music. She goes down this road again on two traditional songs: “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “Children Go,” the latter of which is a zipper song that some ethnomusicologists think is the root of “Twelve Days of Christmas.” There’s nothing Yule recognize about this gritty, soulful version. (Sorry about the pun!) Although it’s actually Track 3, I wish Ivers had finished off the CD with “Gratitude,” a delicate little tune that evokes calm, and whose small behind-the-mix notes are unexpected blessings. I guess by now you’ve figured out that this isn’t your grandmother’s St. Patrick’s Day music. It’s better than that; it’s scattered light. In these times, we need to collect bright rays.