(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) – Dublin-born Susan McKeown, a folk-pop singer-songwriter and a gifted interpreter of traditional song, and Michael Brunnock, formerly of Ireland and now of New York City, perform in a St. Patrick’s Eve double-bill at MASS MoCA in North Adams on Friday, March 16, 2012, at 8. Doors open at 7 p.m. for food from Lickety Split and full bar.
One of the strongest, most expressive voices to have come out of Ireland belongs to Dublin native Susan McKeown, who performed to a sold-out crowd at MASS MoCA in 2007. Her powerful pipes create a primal sound that comes from an adventurous musical spirit.
The strong, richly colored contralto and the enlivening intelligence of her songs marked Susan as a distinctive talent upon the release of her debut album Bones. The Grammy Award-winning vocalist and BBC Folk Award nominee has gone on to record eleven more albums spanning the realms of world music and rock and has performed with Pete Seeger, Natalie Merchant, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Linda Thompson, Billy Bragg, yhe Klezmatics, Mariachi Real de Mexico, Ensemble Tartit, Flook, Lúnasa, Andy Irvine and Johnny Cunningham.
McKeown’s own music has been featured in documentary programs on PBS, BBC, RTE, and ABC (Australia) and she has frequently performed on NPR and PRI.
McKeown grew up in Dublin, where she was greatly influenced by her mother, an organist and composer. As a teenager she abandoned a promised opera career, choosing instead to sing folk and original songs on the streets of her native city. In 1990 with a Travel Bursary from The Arts Council and a Kaliber Arts Achievement Award she left for New York City to take up a scholarship to attend The American Musical & Dramatic Academy.
Settling in the East Village in 1990, McKeown started out as an actress but soon gained a reputation as a vocalist and songwriter. She has forged her own creative path in a personal journey of self-discovery, drawing influences from sources as far flung as the words of Chief Seattle, the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the epic Irish legend of The Táin.
Michael Brunnock possesses an extraordinary voice, and his songs mine the profound. So it’s not surprising that David Byrne cast him to sing the role of an Irish musician on the brink of success whose voice guides Sean Penn through an emotional journey of self-discovery in the forthcoming film, This Must Be the Place, featuring a score by Byrne with lyrics by Will Oldham (Bonnie Prince Billy).
Brunnock’s sense of himself and his roots is deeply evident on The Orchard (2012 Araglin Records), a collection of gorgeously crafted songs that embrace a breadth of vision. Featuring guest performances from Glen Hansard (Swell Season), Julia Stone, Ari Hest and Joe Sumner, the album is Brunnock’s third since Live in New York (2009) and So I Do (2007).
Brunnock’s exquisite rendering of “Down by the Araglin” pays homage to the grandfather (also named Michael Brunnock) whose singing of this and other local ballads captivated those gathered around the fire in the family’s kitchen. The younger Brunnock has learned his craft well, deftly weaving fine lyric with powerful melody in a song like “Man Overboard,” in which an emigrant’s material success is contrasted with the treasure left behind.
Brunnock established his solo career when he relocated to New York City a decade ago, having performed through the 1990s in Ireland with the bands Little Palace and The Van Winkles as well as with Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry. Since then he has toured extensively in the U.S., opening for the Frames and The Swell Season on recent sold out American tours, and has appeared on TV shows such as FOX 5’s Fearless Music.