- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

“I’ve been playing the fiddle for twenty years. I should know how to play it at this stage,” Teada frontman Oisin MacDiarmada, who is 26, says with a laugh. The young Irish band brings its traditional sounds to Jammin’ Java in Vienna tonight.

Together since 2001, Teada already has garnered applause at home for its devotion to old-school music, winning Irish Music magazine’s 2003 award for best traditional newcomers. America, too, “has been a great support of our music,” Mr. MacDiarmada says from a Kansas City festival gig.

One would think a band like Teada would head for the hubs of the Irish diaspora in the United States: New York and Boston. Not necessarily.

“The most exciting places to play, as an Irish musician, are places where there aren’t strong Irish communities,” Mr. MacDiarmada says, noting the surprised enthusiasm the band can provoke in places unfamiliar with the Irish trad sound. He also is eager to expand the form’s fan base beyond the usual followers.

Mr. MacDiarmada (who pronounces his name Oh-sheen MacDermotta) grew up in Sligo in Ireland’s northwest, which has a “fiddle-and-flute-based” tradition. Although mainly a fiddler (a former All-Ireland champion), he sings on the band’s new CD, “Give Us a Penny and Let Us Be Gone” (Green Linnet). The words are in Gaelic, naturally, though the English liner notes explain the background of each song.

Most of the tracks here are multititled, with the tunes changing every minute or so. Typical is the jig series “King of the Pipes…,” which starts off with John Blake’s guitar and Paul Finn’s accordion, then becomes a duet with fiddle and Tristan Rosenstock’s bodhran (Irish frame drum). Sean McElwain jumps in with banjo before the final jig. It’s a fairly flawless series of transitions, and indicative of a tight group.

“It may sound like a restrictive thing to be sticking to traditional music, but it isn’t,” Mr. MacDiarmada says. Teada (“strings” in Irish) aims to play and preserve older songs but also plays tunes from modern Irish composers such as Charlie Lennon.

The only style missing from the live show is lilting, which is to Irish music what scat is to jazz. “Unfortunately, no one in the band has been brave enough,” Mr. MacDiarmada says, “but I’m still working on it.”

The album’s title comes from a poem costumed boys would chant on St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 26) as they went door to door, while the cover is a 1947 photo of grimy boys playing bodhran and flute.

“It captures a certain time in Ireland that’s no longer there anymore,” Mr. MacDiarmada explains.

• • •

“It’s certainly a more intimate experience: You’re right up close with my voice, that’s for sure,” Julia Fordham says, speaking of the Birchmere. The English diva brings her four octaves, subdued sound and new green card back there Tuesday in support of her new album, “That’s Life” (Vanguard).

“Really, the theme of this new record is part two of ‘Concrete Love,’ ” she says from her new home in Southern California, alluding to her previous album for Vanguard.

Like “Concrete Love,” “That’s Life” finds her in and (mostly) out of love amidst a smooth jazz/neo-soul mood set by keyboard legend and Beatle collaborator Billy Preston.

Also like its predecessor, “That’s Life” is more enjoyable for its vocal swayings and rainy-day-perfect atmosphere than for its lyrics. But some exuberant (“Jump,” “Walking on the Water”) and regretful (“Guilty”) songs are lyrically strong because Miss Fordham’s not tripping over metaphors as she is in “Jacob’s Ladder.”

Miss Fordham speaks of “changing eras,” her past collaboration with India.Arie her and “new flirtation with R&B” and playfully suggests that her upcoming songs are “jazzy yet torchy, torchy yet jazzy.”

She also mentions a live DVD coming out in December, which reunites her and Miss Arie in a duet of “Concrete Love.” She expects it to be “some sort of end-of-an-era thing for me.”

For now, it seems she’ll still be the chanteuse, as Tuesday it’s just her and guitarist Mark Goldenberg of Jackson Browne’s band. She calls the gig “stripped down, but not entirely acoustic.”

Miss Fordham’s early influences were folk/pop icons Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading, so it’s not surprising she thinks “a lot of the early popular songs that I feel obliged to do” — such as “Porcelain” — work well live. She says she’ll also play four or five acoustic-friendly songs from “That’s Life.”

The title track’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics sum up the new album well (“Welcome to my movie/I have cast myself as fabulous and lonely…make it more like ‘Pretty Woman’ meets ‘Misery’ “), though Miss Fordham cautions the songs are just “little Polaroid snapshots of each moment of my life.”

Asked why she’s always either despondent or ecstatic in her songs, she jovially replies: “Well, that’s my job, isn’t it? The artist must suffer and shine, and go forth and share.”

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