“Irish Hot Tuna!” rejoiced a fan as cheers still echoed for the Seamus Egan Project Sunday at Music Haven.
“Celtic bebop” would also describe Egan’s beat-complex music. In his band Solas (which played Washington Park in a 1999 Second Wind show), Egan turned Celtic music inside out. Chief Chieftain Paddy Moloney once told me the appeal of Irish music is the melodies; with a new crew Sunday, Egan made music just as much about rhythm.
He started with a plaintive traditional flute air “Dark Slender Boy” (slang for a bottle of whiskey), then cued David Surette’s bouzouki, Corey DiMario’s bass and Yann Falquet’s guitar to blur through “The Charleston” and “The Contradiction” in five fast minutes.
A low-whistle zip later, Egan brought Colleen Raney on to lament “Another Man’s Wedding” in a voice clear and strong as Eddy Reader or Aoife Clancy. She returned later in breathtaking vocals of the immigrant tale “Tell God and the Devil,” the Youngbloods’ moody “Darkness, Darkness” and the traditional “Lay Me Down.”
Egan set “Tell” in family history: an ancestor left Ireland for Montana. Recorded voices told immigrant stories, starting the song so beautifully even a woman up front in a MAGA hat applauded Egan’s claim that we’re all immigrants.
Apart from Raney’s terrific vocals, Egan’s Project made sumptuous, agile string-band suites, mixing old airs, jigs and reels with such originals as “Welcome to Orwell” about his move from Philadelphia to Vermont and “Mr. and Mrs. Walsh.” He said the latter “family therapy” tune told of his sister’s wedding, unannounced to their mother. He said a minor key moment would describe their mother’s reaction; as deliciously jarring as promised.
Only Egan soloed, flat-picking banjo, finger- or flat-picking guitar and tootling a low whistle, all with lighter-than-air ease. The band wove tight behind, silvery bouzouki chords or single-note runs, treble guitar chiming and bass riffs that signaled turnarounds and beat shifts as clearly as Egan’s ceili-like whoops. This new-ish crew hasn’t yet reached the cohesion of Solas, but sounded fresh and vital.
Opener Kevin McKrell entertained in wry blarney, sang Ould Sod sentiment in “Dublin Town” and “Home in Donegal” and, most impressively, crooned lovesongs of John Prine-like insight and effortless musicality. Percussion leprechaun Brian Melick uproar’ed behind, Doug Moody’s violin soloed in the cracks (or, craic) while Arlin Greene’s understated bass hit the same spots as Melick’s cajon. Melick made mighty udu (clay drum) noises in “Lost in Your Eyes” and ran out front to rouse claps in “Traveling Man.” When the audience yelled acceptance for McKrell’s invitation to sing along, he urged, “Go ahead” without the band, impatiently tapping his watch. But he never waited to amuse and amaze.
The afternoon thunderstorm had cleared by show-time, but fans filling the seats and carrying chairs onto the hillside reported power outages. No such problem onstage.
Music Haven also presents an all-star jazz tribute to our late, great saxophone colossus Nick Brignola Wednesday, then Thornetta Davis sings the blues on Sunday.