Irish music - simply put

'Irish Night' in Shepherdstown, W.Va,'There's something there for everyone."-Liz Carroll

'Irish Night' in Shepherdstown, W.Va,'There's something there for everyone."-Liz Carroll

October 24, 2002|by KATE COLEMAN

Although she was born and raised in Chicago, you can hear the lilt of Ireland - the rhythms, the inflection - when Liz Carroll talks.

That's not surprising since her parents came to America from the "Old Country" - her mother from County Limerick, her father from Tullamore in County Offaly.

And sure you can be hearin' the Irish lilt in the music Carroll plays on her fiddle.

She'll be joined by Zan McLeod on guitar and mandolin and Billy McComisky on accordion Saturday night at the Frank Center Theater at Shepherd College.


"Irish Night" begins at 8. Long before "Riverdance" thrust the genre into the spotlight, these three were playing Irish music.

There will be dancing to go with the music. World-champion-level Irish dancers Conor Beck and Jenny O'Connell will be steppin' on the Shepherdstown, W.Va., stage.

McLeod says he's known McComisky and Carroll for 20 years. The three sometimes play the same festivals, and McLeod played on Carroll's 2000 album, "Lost in the Loop."

"They are two of the best," he says.

McComisky, who's been called the best Irish accordion player in America and one of the best in the world, also is known for his dry stage humor. He has played for five different presidents at the White House.

Carroll played a bit of accordion and whistle as a young child. After her brother Tom Carroll, now her manager, stepped on her accordion, she started playing violin at age 9, taking lessons at the Catholic school she attended on Chicago's South Side.

Sister Francine was a good teacher, Carroll says, one of those people who inspires you but doesn't let you get away with anything.

Carroll played her fiddle for her Irish step-dancing class and her dad took her to meetings of the Irish Music Association where she learned a few things. A musician visiting from Ireland heard her play and told her she should compete in the All-Ireland Fiddle Championship.

Carroll's parents were happy for the chance to visit home, and, at the age of 16, Carroll took second place in the contest.

The kid from Chicago was 18 when she took the senior championship title in 1975.

Carroll says she's been composing music since she was a kid "doodling with the accordion."

The majority of the songs on her recordings are her own. The melodies are separate from any ideas, Carroll says. Songs' titles such as "The Potato On The Door" and "For the Love of Music" on "Lake Effect," her latest solo recording, come after the music is done, Carroll says.

McCleod, known for his talent as an arranger and producer, didn't grow up with Irish music. He started playing guitar at age 15 in part because he loved Beatles music. He's played rock 'n' roll, hard rock, acid rock and blues.

In 1979 he was playing bluegrass in Nashville, Tenn., and heard an Irish-American group, the Bothy Band.

Bothy Band alumna Triona Ni Dhomhnaill joined McLeod and others to form the group Touchstone, recording two award-winning albums.

McLeod, who lives in Potomac, Md., has won several WAMMIES, Washington Area Music Association awards, and he played on the Grammy Award-winning "Celtic Solstice" with Paul Winter and Friends. He played on the soundtracks of "The Brothers McMullen," Sam Shepard's "Far North" and "Titanic," and appeared on screen "for one minute" in Ang Lee's "Ride With the Devil," which featured Jewel.

McLeod has produced an instructional video on the Irish bouzouki, an instrument he describes as a big mandolin. When tuned differently, the bouzouki crosses over to play Irish music, McLeod explains.

McLeod has played Irish music festivals in Germany and Italy. "There is a universal thing" about Irish music, he says. Even Bob Dylan has admitted listening to the Clancy Brothers, he adds.

"At some point it all runs together. It's a crossover world."

Recently, McLeod has been playing Scottish music. He says he'd prefer to be called a "world music rather than Celtic music person."

What's the appeal of Irish music?

Carroll isn't quite sure, but thinks that most people like it - even if they're not Irish.

The structure is simple, the format easy. "You get it right away," she says. A melody played fast is happy and joyous. The same melody, played slowly, sounds melancholy.

Irish music is distinctive, Carroll says. "What the heck it is, I don't know," she says. But it holds up, she adds.

What's the difference between Irish-American music and music native to the "Emerald Isle?"

"Oh, it's better," Carroll laughs.

But seriously, she says Irish-American music is every bit as good. She grants that for years Irish-American musicians were trying so hard to fit in, worrying that their music wasn't Irish enough.

Irish musicians had more freedom to innovate, to do whatever they wanted to do, Carroll says. They still were Irish, she explains.

In recent years it's come full circle, she says. Irish-American musicians are "taking chances and doing cool stuff," she says.

"There's something there for everyone," she says. "It's great music."

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