Tradfest: Liz Carroll & Jimmy Keane
Irish Music Magazine
Live Review by Mark Lysaght
City Hall, Dublin, January 25, 2019
Dublin’s TradFest has evolved over the years to become a major
event in the city’s calendar, and one of the highlights this year
was the visit of Chicago-based duo Liz Carroll and Jimmy
Keane for a once-off performance at the City Hall. The pair have known
each other for many years, and played together at countless gatherings
and concerts as they developed parallel careers. Liz released a new CD
in February called Half Day Road with Jake Charron and also has a
band called Trian with Billy Comiskey and Daithí Sproule; over the
years she has played with just about everyone! Jimmy has a long-
standing partnership with singer/accompanist Pat Broaders as well as
playing with Larry Nugent and Pauline Conneely in recent times. He
also performs regularly with Dennis Cahill, Paddy Homan and Dave
Chatting with Liz and Jimmy before the gig, it was obvious how
pleased they were to be performing at TradFest; it was a short visit, as
they were on a plane home to Chicago the day after the gig, but they
were availing of the opportunity to catch up with as many of their Irish
musical friends as possible. The stage at City Hall is suitably decorated with the
Tricolour on the left side, with the US Stars & Stripes on the right.
As the venue began to fill up, it was remarkable how many fellow-musicians
had come out to see them, and an air or expectancy build.
Liz and Jimmy arrived on stage to a tumultuous welcome, and
launched into a long set of tunes starting with a slow piece called
Hanley’s House of Happiness, composed by Liz, and gradually
developing momentum through three jigs, finishing with Rush’s Jig. The
musicianship is stellar and Jimmy, playing a massive piano accordion,
provided subtle bass accompaniment throughout to add a beautiful
narrative to each piece. The crowd went wild, and this set the scene for
the rest of the evening.
The pair onstage were wonderfully relaxed, and each piece was
explained in detail, as many of the selections were self-composed. Liz
delivered a wonderful solo of her tunes The Bird and The Greek Petunia,
before it was Jimmy’s turn to shine – he took an extremely well-known
tune, The Boys Of Blue Hill and created an entirely new interpretation
he called Bluehill, before finishing with two reels (Allie’s and Bailey’s)
dedicated to his family dogs!
We were witnessing two wonderful musicians playing at the top of
their game, and another duet starting with The Queen of the Fairies
(a sort of sister-tune to The King of the Fairies) showed the wonderful
instinctive sense of dynamics built into their performance. Both players
are expert tune-writers, several Liz Carroll tunes have entered the
popular session repertoire over the years, and Jimmy Keane composes
pieces of the highest quality.
As the night progressed, we got a real insight into the realities of
growing up in Chicago from both musicians, born to Irish parents and
becoming immersed in a local traditional scene as youngsters,
developing their craft and learning to absorb and express various
influences in their early careers. To this day Chicago is a cornerstone of
the US traditional music scene, which has also nurtured a number of ex-
pats, notably Martin Hayes.
Jimmy was once described as “the saviour of the piano accordion”by
the late Mícheál Ó’Súilleabháin, and watching him play you can see
why, his effortless light touch allowing him to traverse the keyboard and
embellish the tunes expertly, in a way that seems to elude so many
players of the instrument, as well as tasteful use of the bass side to
provide accompaniment which is harmonically dynamic.
And what can you say about Liz Carroll? Technically superb, her deep immersion
in her art, ability to interpret the nuances of each tune so naturally, with
an endearingly impish sense of humour which completely won over a
most discerning audience at City Hall. Towards the end of the night, she
took a solo of three of her own tunes, The Chandelier, Anne Lacey’s and
Johnny D’s, which literally brought the house down.
On to the final selection, which included the Ten Acre Waltz by Liz
and a brace of Jimmy Keane reels (Bedpan and Charleston) to end on
a triumphant note. The set had extended way beyond the allotted time
but the crowd still bayed for more. So Liz and Jimmy returned to play
a lively encore, finishing appropriately enough with The Chicago Reel.