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“Casey’s performance was honed, assured, and adventurous. It was more than courageous, it was stunning.” IRISH ECHO

Karan Casey (vocals), Caoimhín Vallely (piano), Kate Ellis (cello), Ross Martin (guitar)

Thurs Nov 19 Sellersville, PA Sellersville Theater (with Buílle)

Sat Nov 21 New York, NY Highline Ballroom (with Buílle)

Sun Nov 22 Cumberland, RI Blackstone River Th. (with Buílle)

Sat Nov 28 New York, NY Town Hall Prairie Home Companion

Sun Feb 7 Cambridge, MA Passim

Mon Feb 9 Philadelphia, PA World Café Live

Fri Feb 12 Newtown, CT Newtown Meeting

Sat Feb 13 Vineyard Haven, MA Katherine Cornell Theatre

Irish artists who want to stay in safe and successful territory do not release a full CD of slow, heart-wrenching ballads. And they certainly don’t break with folk tradition to include classical instruments like the grand piano and the cello. But Karan Casey has been making her own rules since she first came on the Celtic scene in the 1990s. And with the release of “Ships in the Forest” she has once again re-defined Irish music with a startlingly different and ambitious CD, a recording that shows why Casey remains a trailblazer today, some 20 years after bursting onto the Celtic music scene.

With a distinctly different vocal style, rooted as much in her love of jazz as her devotion to Irish tradition, Karan Casey quickly became the most influential and imitated Celtic singer of her generation. Even today, no one else can quite match that voice, as delicate as it is tough. And from the start, her choice of material was defiant as well: she tackled political themes far beyond Ireland’s own, and drew musical lines from her own country’s political struggles to the ones fought on American shores. A natural innovator, she seamlessly fused Irish folk tradiitions with American folk, blues, jazz and gospel.

Her newest CD, “Ships in the Forest” (her fifth solo effort and first for Compass Records) finds Karan Casey a mature artist, and ready to challenge the modern Irish trad scene itself.

“For a long time now I’ve felt that Irish music in being approached in an almost formulaic manner – the same instrumentation, and very often the same arrangements,” explains Casey. “I felt it was really important for me to stretch myself, to create a new template for these songs.” In the new CD she takes on tradition with both her choice of music and musicians.

Traditionally, Irish musicians feel compelled to follow slow, sad tunes with a set of upbeat jigs and reels. Casey, however, was determined to explore the depths without distraction. Even more surprising, she decided to place the songs in an equally non-traditonal instrumental setting. Bringing in piano and cello, Casey adds a classical stateliness to the traditional guitars, pipes and reeds. The songs get the breathing room they deserve, and the gorgeous melodies and serious themes (war, love, heartache) are allowed to echo without interruption.

“Ships in the Forest” is a serious record, yet still a delicate one, and it feels tailor-made for these serious times. While many of the songs are from Casey’s longtime mentor Frank Harte, she also re-invents Nina Simone’s “Black is the Colour” and Joni Mitchell’s “The Fiddle and the Drum.” Her shimmering version of the traditional song “Ae Fond Kiss” brings a mature air of resignation to the poetry of Robert Burns, while in “Dunlavin Green” she brings the anger of a real mother to the tragically timeless story of soldiers sent to die based on “false information.”

The musicians fit as if they have been doing it for a lifetime, and they have. Joining Casey on tour is her husband Niall Vallely on concertina with other members of his group Buílle: Caoimhin Vallely on piano, and Paul Meehan on guitar.

“This album took a long time germinating, in that I felt I was only able to sing these songs by being a more mature singer,” reflects Casey. “It takes a depth of experience to do justice to them, and I’ve had to wait quite some time before I felt ready.”

It is clear in every note of “Ships in the Forest” that, once again, Karan Casey is never more at home than in uncharted territory.