This string band's musical theater piece In the Deep Heart's Core: A Mystic Cabaret, a setting of Yeats poems that was one of last season's surprise hits, displayed composer-guitarist Joseph Daniel Sobol's gift for blending Irish folk idioms with art-song nuances and unusual literary influences. It also showcased some dynamic soloists, including fiddler Andrew Bird and singers Kathy Cowan and Tom Orf. Now the group is back with a charming Classic Digital CD, A Kiltartan Road Christmas: Joy in the Morning, that shares the Yeats show's strengths while highlighting the tight, confident teamwork of the whole ensemble. With Cowan and Orf's vibrant vocals fronting the beautifully textured playing of Bird, Sobol, pianist Beth Falcone, and bassist Al Ehrich, the new record is at once familiar and fresh. Traditional music (including an Appalachian-flavored "Joy to the World," a medieval "Ave Maria," and several African-American selections) are juxtaposed with Sobol originals like "Carol of the Fieldmice," set to a text from The Wind in the Willows, and "Last Night as I Lay Sleeping," based on Robert Bly's translation of an Antonio Machado poem. Kiltartan Road's concerts this weekend won't boast the record's illustrious sidemen (among them Howard Levy and Brendan McKinney), but it will feature guest percussionist Jeff Stitely and Irish step dancing by Pauline Conneely and Kati Maloney. In any case, no recording can capture the charismatic Cowan's radiant live presence or the visceral excitement of Bird's lightning violin solos. Saturday, 8 PM, arts center, College of DuPage, 22nd and Lambert, Glen Ellyn; 708-393-1247. Sunday, 3 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 525-7793.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tamar T. Berk.