Nightingale is a Vermont-based trio comprising fiddler Becky Tracy, guitarist/vocalist Keith Murphy and accordionist Jeremiah McLane, and Three is, aptly, their third recording together – not including various combinations of them in other bands. (McLane, for example, is a co-founder of The Clayfoot Strutters with Vermont folk hero Pete Sutherland.) Each is a consummate musician known throughout the Northeast on the contra-dance and traditional music circuit. The passion they share for sounds from Qu$E9bec, Newfoundland, France, Ireland and other northern climes is palpable in their playing. Accordingly, fans will surely find their expectations exceeded on Three, while a newcomer is likely to be happily blown away.
You don’t need a pedigree in traditional music to recognize the gorgeous craftsmanship in Nightingale’s playing and arrangements, on both standards and originals. While the songs themselves often call for round-like, overlapping melody lines, these players weave around and through each other with a graceful precision that preserves the integrity of every single note. Murphy’s spirited percussion with feet or guitar will make contra dancers haul out their shoes for a spontaneous frolic in the living room; the more timid might simply collapse on the couch and bob their heads. Either way, listening to Three is an uplifting pleasure from start to finish.
The disc begins with the beautiful, mid-tempo “Hills” (lyrics by former Vermont poet laureate Arthur Guiterman, music by Sutherland); while Murphy sings in a resonant, slightly mournful tenor and keeps up a stepping rhythm, McLane’s accordion and Tracy’s fiddle dance around each other as if performing an intimate mating ritual.
The dance tunes here manage to sound joyful even when the melody is bittersweet and in a minor key, such as McLane’s instrumental romp iEric and the Angelsi and the Gilles Chabenat iMazurkai. Tempos are insistent, driving, and typically vary within the same tune; a Nightingale trademark is creating excitement by upping the pace and intensity. The closer, Murphy’s lovely piano instrumental iThe Waiting Gamei (piano played by McLane), is slow and elegiac. Yet the other players increase the number of notes, giving the tune a faster feel even as the piano remains steady. It’s a bit of sonic architecture that Nightingale uses to stunning effect.
Recorded at Soundesign Studio in Brattleboro, Three sounds superb. But Nightingale is even better live; they perform a benefit concert for the Champlain Valley Folk Festival this Saturday at the College Street Congregational Church in Burlington. Amen.
Pamela Polston 7 Days