Danu, March 21, 2004

Danu, The Playhouse, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada (March 21, 2004)

It was snowing. Danu had driven in from Charlottetown, a four-hour drive at the best of times, including a daunting bridge over the Northumberland Strait and long stretches of woods, much longer with the road slushy and the wind howling across the Tantramar Marshes. Donnchadh Gough had put his back out the night before playing poker, the two Advil and half-bottle of whisky hadn't kicked in yet and he couldn't jig. What did we dare expect from them tonight? After all, Danu had just won two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, one for best group and the other for best song (Tommy Sands' "Co. Down"). Would they be up to giving us the show we had braved the weather for?

Expectations and be-damned, what we got was wonderful. Donnchadh never did jig for us, but by the end of the show enough of his medication had taken hold that he played a passionate bodhran solo that seemed to go on forever, hair flying as fast as his hands.

Ah, the music! I've never seen a group who work out their melodies quite like Danu. In tune after tune, the tin whistle would start, or the fiddle, to be joined a few bars later, almost absently, by flute or pipes. The button accordion would come in a little later (and never have I seen one so stretched), or the bouzouki (the order varying with every piece), until by the end you couldn't remember who had started playing when, or imagine it sounding any other way. Nothing random about it, either - you could almost smell the concentration as each artist counted beats, waiting for just the right bar to come in on.

As for the singing, well, Patrick be my shield but Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh can sing! For such a slight girl she has an amazing alto that can soar a capella or stand up to anything the others can play, including Donnchadh's bodhran. She gave us only four songs, but I wish she'd sung more. She does a grand job on the flute and tin whistle, too.

Danu played several cuts off their latest CD, The Road Less Traveled, including "Co. Down", "Peg and Awl", "Beannacht ? R? na hAoine" and several of the instrumental sets. Another set of jigs, not on the CD, all had fanciful names, like "Hairy-Chested Toad" and "Hold the Mirror Still Till I Shave the Chicken's Upper Lip". I'm not sure if I hope they were putting us on or not. All things considered, it was a grand show, not nearly long enough.

Danu did invite us all to a post-show time in the James Joyce pub across the road from the Playhouse, but I had a 15-year-old in a school sweater with me who would never have gotten in, so I had to pass. Pity. Guess I'll have to wait till their next Canadian tour.

Danu has had several incarnations over the years. At the moment they are Muireann Nic Amlaoibh (vocals, flute, whistles), Benny McCarthy (button accordion and melodeon), Donnchadh Gough (bodhran and uilleann pipes), Oisan McAuley (fiddle and vocals), Tom Doorley (flute, whistles, vocals), his brother Hamonn Doorley (bouzouki) and D?nal Clancy (guitar).

[Faith J. Cormier]

Danu's Web site has pictures, tour dates, biographical information, audio samples and lots more. They have four CDs out: Danu, Think Before You Think (reviewed by Kim Bates here), All Things Considered and The Road Less Traveled. Greenman Review also has an interview with them by Kim Bates.