Even for artists making their Transatlantic Sessions debut, there’s a sense of being enfolded into a big family embrace, both among their fellow stars in the line-up, and by the annual sellout audiences – for each of whom the shows are a guaranteed festival highlight.
This feeling of kinship derives partly from the performances’ back-porch informality and spontaneity, heartily abetted by the project’s founding musical directors, dobro genius Jerry Douglas and Shetland fiddle icon Aly Bain, plus other house-band regulars. Centrally, though, it springs from their ongoing exploration, and cultivation, of the fruitfully intricate interrelationships between Celtic and North American music – a family tree that continues to spring fresh revelations. Just listen to Rhiannon Giddens’s electrifying rendition of Gaelic puirt-à-beul, or the beat-boxing accompaniment to her audacious reworking of ‘Black Is the Colour’, on her ecstatically-received first solo album, 2015’s Tomorrow Is My Turn. Giddens – currently on sabbatical from the Carolina Chocolate Drops – is of African-American, European-American, and Native American descent, a multiple lineage dazzlingly reflected in the far-reaching compass of her voice and material.
Our own Karen Matheson’s new fourth solo album Urram also sees the Capercaillie vocalist extending those Celtic Connections in unexpected directions, even while focusing close to home, with its all-Gaelic material featuring guest contributions from Indian and African musicians. The likewise sublime voice of Ireland’s Cara Dillon is a sumptuous ornament to any song session, while LA-based duo The Milk Carton Kids add their own exquisite twists to the golden thread of harmony/guitar duos running from the Everlys to The Civil Wars. Another US newcomer, award-winning singer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Newberry, is a veteran linchpin of North Carolina’s vibrant old-time scene, whose songs have been widely recorded by other artists. Douglas and Bain lead the customary super-league backing line-up, including Phil Cunningham, John Doyle, Danny Thompson, Michael McGoldrick, Russ Barenberg, John McCusker, Donald Shaw and James Mackintosh.
*Ticket holders gain free entry to Late Night Festival Club (space at this event is limited, and admission will be on a first come, first served basis)