VARIOUS ARTISTS Transatlantic Sessions 3, Volume 1

VARIOUS ARTISTS Transatlantic Sessions 3, Volume 1
Whirlie Records WHIRLIECD12

The Transatlantic Sessions concept started off quite a few years back; I’m not sure of its exact provenance, but I do remember the involvement of Aly Bain and several of my favourite performers from folk, bluegrass and country appearing in a joyous coming-together of musicians and singers in a convivial location, in a series of six wonderful half-hour shows that were tucked away on BBC Scotland (and thus unviewable in England), then repeated on BBC2 in a wilfully erratic time-slot.  Not having even a VCR at the time, I only ever managed to get access to indifferent copies of some of the programmes via a relative, but what did survive has been treasured for many years, and I’ve always regretted the continued non-availability of those shows on CD or DVD for – unless it’s a case of rosy-tinted memory – there was a tremendous buzz, a real sense of atmosphere of joyful discovery about those early sessions.  Then, a few years later, came a Series 2, which again presented the cream of musicians and singers from Nashville, Ireland and Scotland, which actually got issued on CD by Iona in the end.  Series 2, despite some grand individual moments, never eclipsed what I saw of Series 1 for me, but I was still glad to have the music on record.  Then last autumn, as part of BBC Scotland’s commitment to Highland 2007 (a year-long celebration of Highland culture), along came Series 3, which brought more of the same in that it reaffirmed the earlier series’ staked claim to being “the greatest backporch shows ever”, with this time if anything an even greater diversity of talents. 
The “dream” Transatlantic House Band, led by the show’s musical directors Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas, included within its ranks many fine musicians who are renowned soloists in their own right with, alongside established names like Dónal Lunny, Sharon Shannon and Paul Brady, representatives of the vital crop of established younger performers like Michael McGoldrick, Jenna Reid and Catriona Mackay.  I miss folks like Emmylou and the McGarrigles who were so crucial to Series 1, but hey, we’ve still got Iris DeMent, and now those Celtic superstars Julie Fowlis and Karen Matheson, and Eddi Reader too.  Otherwise, what’s the best way to give you an idea of the sheer desirability of this release, which is but the first volume (and a well-stocked one at that – a full 80 minutes! bravo!) of the soundtrack to Series 3 (and volume 2 is to follow soon, we hear)?  To cherrypick some highlights, I guess… the two selections led by the amazing Bruce Molsky, Russ Barenberg’s Drummers Of England, Jerry D’s four minutes of virtuoso dobro magic, songs led by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, and Cara Dillon duetting with Sam Lakeman on The Streets Of Derry, and a predictably gorgeous Three-Step led by Phil Cunningham.  An embarrassment of riches.  Although I haven’t seen the TV programmes, on just hearing the music here Transatlantic Sessions 3 surpasses TS2 for me, in that it recaptures some of the excitement I first experienced with TS1, while retaining the comforting familiarity of rekindling old friendships and the frisson and congeniality of the craic.  Whirlie have also issued a double-DVD of the entire TS3 series, but sadly this wasn’t sent for review.

David Kidman
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This album was reviewed in Issue 78 of The Living Tradition magazine.