Angus Mohr smiles

by Rodger Hara

Supergroups – like Crosby, Stills and Nash – began as a rock and roll phenomenon in the late 1960’s and continue in that genre today along with country, jazz and rap. Rarely is a supergroup found on the Celtic music scene – with the exception of the Masters of Tradition – and even more rarely is there one formed in Colorado – especially one with an Actors Equity/Screen Actors Guild card-carrying member.

What began as a vision in the mind of Angus Mohr front man, lead singer and bass guitarist Paul McDaniel – the creation of an acoustic album of Celtic music done in traditional style by professional, full-time musicians – has become a reality with the release of Tradition, Tartan and Tears, presented by Nice Niche Music, another of Paul’s visions. As he describes it, “The very short story is Nice Niche is an attempt to get quality musicians to participate in each other’s projects on an exchange of time, both their own and studio time to help make recording projects more affordable for both the musicians and the record label, and make good music.”

Recorded at the Mohr Fire studios in Lafayette with engineering by Angus Mohr’s master soundman Scott “Gusty” Christensen, the album is a mix of traditional and contemporary Irish, Scottish and English songs rendered in a classic style that honors the music, delivers it in a fresh package that respects the roots and brings a surprising new and revealing emotional depth to each song.

This Colorado supergroup is comprised of acoustic guitarist Gregg Hansen, mountain and hammered dulcimer builder/player Bonnie Carol, Fiddler for Peace Kailin Yong and cellist James Hoskins with vocals by Tamra Hayden and contributions on tin whistle and bagpipes from rising star Matthew McDaniel, who also did the color for Eddie Mize’ album cover artwork.

Tamra Hayden, of Scotch-Irish descent and a graduate of Littleton High School and the University of Northern Colorado, went from performing at the old Country Dinner Playhouse to the stage of the Denver Center Theatre Company to the bright lights of Broadway where she has performed for the past 17 years. There (and on tour), she has sung the role of Cosette in Les Miserables over 1,800 times in addition to playing the role of Christine in Phantom of the Opera among many others. Her approach is organic and grows out of the acting that requires her to inhabit a role. When she sings, she makes the lyrics come alive and invests them with the feelings of the story the words are telling. The warmth and richness of her voice combined with the remarkable playing of the others adds a depth and clarity to each song that helps the listener appreciate why they have endured so long – and with interpretations like this, will continue to live.

It is that combination of acting and singing talent that led Paul to approach her two years ago with a request to record an album of Celtic songs. Between then and now, Paul recruited the other talent from the Boulder area where each is entrenched in the music scene as a teacher, musician and performer and outstanding in their own right: Gregg is a member of County Boulder (formerly Peace, Love, Jigs and Reels), Bonnie was a member of the Mother Folkers and plays bodhran; Kailin, originally from Singapore has his own group, the Peace Project Trio and James plays with several bands including Sherefe, a Boulder band that plays the music of the Balkans and Middle East.

The playlist ranges from traditional songs like Scarborough Faire, Greensleeves, Black is the Colour and Wild Mountain Thyme to Foggy Dew – the rebel lament that came out of the 1916 Rising – to modern classics like Rare Ould Times, the 1970 Pete St. John paean to the changes in Dublin in the 60’s and Eric Bogle’s 1976 anti-war air, The Green Fields of France.

Tribute and honor are paid to Robert Burns in an unusual rendition of Auld Lang Syne that includes all the rarely-sung lyrics in an arrangement that should become the new standard for singing the song but probably won’t. Further honor is rendered to the Scots with the singing and playing of Loch Lomond in a largo arrangement that adds more emotional weight and depth to the song than is usually heard.

Bonus tracks include Shenandoah, because there is an echo of Irish sensibility in the music and an alternate take of Wild Mountain Thyme.

At the risk of being cliché, this album could easily become an instant classic.

In the liner notes, Paul says that “This collection is aptly named. We didn’t realize, when we started, how invested we would become in these songs. An amazing number of tears were shed during this project’s development. You will hear the emotion generated in the studio and feel it as you listen.”

You can hear it yourself – and should hear it for yourself and buy the CD – at the concert that will present the group and the magical music they have made along with the Highland Rock and Roll of Angus Mohr at the Rialto Theatre in Loveland at 7:30 PM on May 12th. Tickets are general admission and available online at http://rialtoloveland.ticketforce.com/ and are $12 in advance or $15 at the door.

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