Fresh from his night at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards where he received a lifetime achievement accolade, Aly Bain along with fellow Transatlantic Sessions veteran Jerry Douglas led out a 17 strong company which was like a Who’s Who? of music.The Shetland fiddle player and Ohio dobro master were greeted by rapturous applause from a sold out Symphony Hall in Birmingham for the last of the sessions on this tour, before they brought a mix of Celtic folk, bluegrass, blues, country, Cajun and just about everything else they could throw in.
Singer/songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, who also made a big impression at the folk awards, bluesman Eric Bibbs, singer Aoife O’Donovan, guitar and mandolin player Russ Barenberg and Cajun maestro Dirk Powell provided some of the US contingent.
Among the UK team were of course Bain, pregnant singer Emily Smith, accordion ace Phil Cunningham, John McCusker player of the fiddle and just about anything else he can lay his hands on, and Michael McGoldrick, a flute and wind master of whom it would be easier to list the musicians he hasn’t played with.
After the opening bluegrass number from the full band, Teddy Thompson, a native Englishman who has adopted New York as his home came to the fore with two songs Delilah, a full country ballad with Chapin Carpenter adding backing vocals followed by one he wrote with his mom, Dear Mary, which had more of a Celtic feel to it and was accented beautifully by McGoldrick’s ethereal flute playing and the sound of McCusker’s almost spiritual fiddle.Taking over the mic next was Emily Smith singing a Robbie Burns composition then switching to a sea shanty-style for A Day Like Today from her Ten Years album, which played perfectly to her crisp clean tones.
She later teamed up with Chapin Carpenter and O’Donovan to form a trio where their voices blending seamlessly in wonderful harmonies to provide one of the highlights of the session.
Another high point saw Bain lead the full band in a trio of tunes from Shetland and the US. First with a catchy-titled lament, The Sailor Who Fell From The Masthead followed by Scaraway Lasses and finishing with Icy Mountain. Bain began gently with the lament on the fiddle but by the end of the trilogy the whole band had built a fantastic and intricate wall of sound.
So as not to offend anyone by leaving them out the full band also comprised Cajun maestro, Dirk Powell on banjo and accordion, Bruce Molsky on fiddle, Phil Cunningham on accordion and witty quips, Danny Thompson on double bass, Russ Barenberg on mandolin and guitar, John Doyle on steel guitar, James Mackintosh on drums and percussion and Donald Shaw on squeezebox and keyboards.
This session may have been the last of the tour but to give all folkies something to look forward to, the gatherings, which have been going on for more than 25 years, will be started again next month in “secret locations” to be shown on TV later in the year.
Review by: Danny Farragher
More images from the night
Photo Credit: Ian Harvey