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If it’s spring, it’s Celtic season

Fri., May 8, 2009, midnight

Top-selling Celtic Woman returns for Spokane show

The Celts have a lock on the world music genre. Seven of the Top 10 albums in 2008’s Billboard World Albums chart had the word “Celtic” somewhere in evidence.

Standing above them all at No. 1 was Celtic Woman, the five-person Irish phenomenon, with their album “A New Journey.”

Tonight, Chloe Agnew, Lisa Kelly, Mairead Nesbitt, Lynn Hilary and Alex Sharpe will bring their brand of lilting yet high-powered Celtic music to the Spokane Arena’s Star Theatre.

Millions are already aware of what Celtic Woman does. The group’s three TV specials have been staples of PBS stations for the past several years. It has sold 4 million CDs and done seven U.S. tours.

And springtime is apparently Celtic Woman season in Spokane. This will be the fourth spring in a row that the group has played here.

Yet maybe there are still people out there who don’t know exactly what to expect. So here’s the formula: one part Enya, one part “Riverdance,” one part Broadway, one part Clancy Brothers, one part Sarah Brightman and one part easy listening ballads.

Add it all up and you have a high-powered evening of crystal clear solos, beautifully blended harmonies, lilting Irish fiddle airs and thumping bodhrans.

The show’s state-of-the-art lights and costumes make it into a visual spectacle as well. And the elegantly gowned Celtic women are not exactly hard on the eyes.

The group began in 2004 when musical director David Downes and executive producer Dave Kavanagh gathered together some of the finest young Irish female singers. They made concert DVDs, including one filmed live at Slane Castle in Ireland, and became an instant PBS smash.

In a market crowded with Celtic acts, including Celtic Ladies and Celtic Thunder (more or less the male version of Celtic Woman), this group continues to lead the pack.

Its music may not satisfy Celtic music purists, but some of it hews closely to traditional styles.

Its orchestra consists of pipes and whistles as well as strings and keyboards. Fiddler Mairead Nesbitt plays Irish airs such as “The Butterfly,” as well as other old-time tunes such as “Shenandoah.”

Other songs are original, written by Downes and Irish novelist and lyricist Brendan Graham. One of their signature songs, “You Raise Me Up,” is a cover of a contemporary ballad, and has a “Wind Beneath My Wings” feel – despite a melody that is based on “Londonderry Air,” aka “Danny Boy” (a song they also perform).

Put it all together and you have a spectacle made for live performance – and for PBS.

No wonder The New York Times called Celtic Woman “a powerhouse” at pledge time.

Jim Kershner can be reached at (509) 459-5493 or by e-mail at jimk@spokesman.com.


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