Live Review – Transatlantic Sessions 2019 @ Celtic Connections

The iconic Transatlantic Sessions has a long history of connecting artists from both sides of the pond in an evening of collaboration and mutual appreciation for traditional music. Those who have taken part in the show in the past have included Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, Julie Fowlis, The Secret Sisters, Sarah Jaroz, Aoife O’Donovan, Eddi Reader and Alison Krauss. This year’s show saw guests Gretchen Peters, Cara Dillon, Molly Tuttle, Paul McKenna and Tim O’Brien grace the legendary stage.

The evening was, as usual, led and compered by Scottish musician Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas, dobro player for Union Station. Together they opened the show playing with the house band of Russ Barenberg, Phil Cunningham, John Doyle , Michael McGoldrick, John McCusker, Donald Shaw, Daniel Kimbro and James Mackintosh. The stage set was filled with lamps, sofas and fairy lights creating a comfortable, homely atmosphere for this special evening of friendship and folk music.

The show had a rolling guestlist of artists who played with the house band and first up was local newcomer Paul McKenna who sang engaging modern folk songs in his authentically Glaswegian accent. The other young rising star on stage was Molly Tuttle, who has been quietly making her name known on the bluegrass circuit with her impressive guitar playing skills. She admitted to having spent hours watching old sessions on YouTube in preparation (excuse me while I go do the exact same thing) and while her songs may have been unfamiliar to the audience they felt like a natural fit for this showcase. The uplifting Take This Journey was chosen to close the show and proved Tuttle is one to watch (her debut solo album is out in April).

In contrast Tim O’Brien is a veteran of Transatlantic Sessions and received a warm welcome from the audience. He dedicated a song to his late sister, telling a story that took the breath away on ‘Her Guardian Angel’. Afterwards he lightened the mood by playing a calypso instrumental inspired by that time Keith Richards fell out of a tree. Another returning cast member from previous years was Ireland’s Cara Dillon whose stunning interpretations of Irish folk songs were one of the highlights of the evening. Americana songwriter Gretchen Peters was delighted to be back in Glasgow, having played King Tuts back in the 90s, and joining the sessions for the first time. Her signature song On A Bus To St Cloud sounded hauntingly beautiful with the house band arrangement and Black Ribbons was also a powerful moment. She dedicated her song Witchita to co-writer Ben Glover, who had just triumphed at the U.K. Americana Awards the previous night, and this spirit of mutual appreciation and celebration was in keeping with the mood of the night.

What I found interesting about the show was how the players easily shifted roles, from back up singer and instrumentalists to lead – there was no one artist who stole the spotlight from another, they all shared the evening equally no matter how young, old or experienced they were. The houseband themselves were wonderful and you felt the audience would have been happy just to hear them alone play and tell stories all night long. There was a point where I started daydreaming about a similar ensemble made up of all women – that isn’t a criticism of these excellent musicians, just a wish that this setup could inspire others to recreate its magic.

Overall this was another triumphant outing for a show that celebrates tradition and has become an enduring and unmissable one in itself.

Transatlantic Sessions is on tour, find the dates here:

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