Shannon and Matt Heaton were back at Cafe Lena in Saratoga Springs last night, Saturday, April 9, 2011, and were in fine form.
But before we get to their performances, Matt and Shannon blessed us with a new and wonderful opening act - Hannah Sanders and Liz Simmons. These two were unfamiliar to me, and probably to the vast majority in the audience, yet it was love at first chord. From Hannah's “limbo” to get through a tight spot in the microphone stands as they first stepped on stage, they were relaxed and engaging with their interpersonal stage banter and their real story intros.
They sang some traditional pieces, then turned to personally penned creations which each deserve to become well known traditional pieces; they were that good. One original composition by Hannah features a Sufi poem.
Their singing voices are an obvious strong point as they are clear, complex in undertone, and they use their voices' full dynamics. Their harmonies are rich and supportive – never distracting.
Yet, I noticed another strength. I feel men singers seem to be strong in their guitar work, as a rule. Maybe it's the whole raging guitar hero thing teenage boys go through. A higher percentage of female vocalists either play their guitars themselves in basic mode, or seek the accompaniment of a player of guitar or other instrument. While there is nothing wrong with these approaches, Liz and Hannah have strong guitar skills and the match of instruments well played with voices is special.
Turning to the Heaton's, their nearly seventh month old son Nigel has joined the act with his sparkling eyes. He's lucky to have such skillful musicians and singers as parents and he seemed happy about that.
Back on instruments for a moment, Matt's skill with guitar and bouzouki (safer to refer to it as a “banjo” in airport talk), and Shannon's expression on whistle and flute are tremendous. Occasionally, I've sometimes heard a bit of friction between traditional Irish instrument musicians and Irish singers, but when you see Shannon and Matt, you know the two sides of Irish music are a complete package.
I apologize to all for not taking complete notes, but some of the songs they performed were “The Bird in the Bush,” “The Heartland,” “Lily of the West,” “Where the Moorcocks Crow,” “Giant of the Road,” and “Botany Bay.” I'm sure the rest will pop into my mind in the next few days as the tunes I just named are circulating in my mind.
They were joined by Sam Zucchini of Saratoga environs playing the bodhrán. He masterfully added depth and Celtic authenticity.
Then not once, but twice, the masterful story teller Bairbre McCarthy treated us to a story. The first was about a tinker on the Cork peninsula who heard a voice in a dream telling him to go the Ha'penny Bridge over the Liffey in Dublin. The second was about how Cuchulainn (The Hound of Ulster) got his name. Her magic transported us with words while the musicians added a touch of atmosphere.
For the encore, all the musicians (and Nigel!) were on the stage at once. We will have the memories of that wonderful blend to hold us over until they return.
More about these fine artists is available at:
Matt and Shannon Heaton
Bairbre McCarthy's Books
More Irish Musicians in Shamrock Road blogs:
- Brían Ó hAirt (Brian Hart)
- Bernadette Nic Gabhann
- Aoife Clancy
- Matt and Shannon Heaton