Tara O’Grady’s magical fusion of jazz and folk

Tara O'Grady
Tara O’Grady

Take some magical melodies from the rich vein of Irish traditional folk music.

Add some scintillating but tasteful jazz arrangements from the heart of New York City.

Throw in the rich and sultry voice of brilliant young singer Tara O’Grady and the result is a stunning album called Black Irish.

Ok. You don’t often hear jazz and Irish folk music mentioned in the same sentence but that’s what we have here.

Classics – Danny Boy, Molly Malone, Tell Me Ma

All the songs are Irish standards – classics like Danny Boy, Molly Malone, I’ll Tell Me – but there’s nothing standard about the arrangements.

The songs are totally transformed into an irresistible mix of melodic jazz, blues and swing. It’s as if some city slickers from America decided to give their Irish country cousins an American makeover.

And you know what? It totally works. The country cousins scrub up well. In fact, they seem to relish their New World adventure.

The Holy Ground gets slower and more rewarding

Songs like I’ll Tell Me and Black Velvet band blend perfectly into rich harmonies of jazz. They also lend themselves perfectly to some melodic improvised solos from the top class musicians in the band. Slower numbers like Danny Boy and Peggy Gordon also work brilliantly.

My favourite perhaps is The Holy Ground which is transformed from the traditional boozy singalong tune to something much slower and sensitive, and ultimately much more rewarding.

Tara equally at home with jazz and Irish folk music

Tara O’Grady was born in New York to Irish parents and spent many holidays back in Donegal. It meant she grew up being equally at home with both jazz and Irish traditional music. That really shows on Black Irish where the fusion between the two is absolutely seamless.

The arrangements are lively, spirited and with lots of youthful exuberance … but there is also an obvious respect for these classic songs that have delighted people all over the world for hundreds of years.

The result is something truly special.

The full track listing is:

  • Black Velvet Band
  • Danny boy
  • The Water is Wide
  • I’ll Tell Me Ma
  • Nora
  • Wild rover
  • Peggy Gordon
  • Molly Malone
  • The Holy Ground

Give Black Irish a try. Even if you are the most fearsome traditionalist you’ll still enjoy this, and you may even feel like tipping your hat to a new generation who’ve found something new to say with these wonderful old songs.

Read more about Tara O’Grady and see a video of her performing I’ll Tell Me Ma.

By Patrick Kehoe

Pat Kehoe is a writer for Irish Music Daily. His favourite Irish music bands are the Dubliners and Planxty.