Danu highlights Ireland's varied musical traditions in Joplin concert

Mar. 8—Benny McCarthy knew the recording was special, even before he heard it.

While he and other members of Danu toured in Germany a few years ago, they were given the chance to listen to a digitized recording of a fiddler playing "Banish Misfortune," recorded on a wax cylinder in the 1890s. The recording was part of the O'Neill Collection of Traditional Irish Music, McCarthy said, and had been discovered in the attic of a Wisconsin home.

"The fiddle player, who was in his 70s and from Pallasgreen in County Limerick, was playing in 1890 a tune we all play," McCarthy said. "That fiddle player had to be born about 200 years ago, and it gave us all a great heart to listen to this recording. We play the tune the very same way now."

Want to go?

Danu will perform at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Harry M. Cornell Arts and Entertainment Complex, located at 212 W. Seventh St. Tickets range from $25 to $35.

Details: 417-501-5550.

That recording gets to the heart of the music played by Danu, a traditional Irish band that will perform a collection of Hibernian music Thursday. Presented by Connect2Culture, the concert will feature a number of songs rooted in Irish folk music and history from across the entire country.

Meeting in County Waterford in 1994, McCarthy and other founding members started the band in 1995 for a festival held in Lorient, France. While the lineup has changed, the band's repertoire has covered everything from the energetic dances to the mournful airs of the Emerald Isle.

That musical tradition is quite rich and varied; it is arguably one of the roots in today's American roots and bluegrass music. McCarthy said every county in Ireland has musical identities that can be heard across the genre, and they aim to take concertgoers on a musical tour.

"Within the 32 counties, everyone has a slightly different accent, a different style," McCarthy said. "If you went to Donegal, you'd hear fiddle music being played very fast. ... We enjoy trying to give people the different flavors of the counties."

In addition to touring across North America and Europe, the band has released eight full-length albums, has been a featured performer on NPR and other networks and has earned critical acclaim from The New York Times, The Washington Post and others.

McCarthy said that although band members don't jump up and down on the stage, their music does. Part storytellers, part musicians, part historians, Danu treats every performance hall like a rousing gig at a public house.

"We're more or less bringing a good pub session to a concert stage, even though you're in a comfortable seat in a million-dollar venue, without a pint," McCarthy said. "We like to talk and have a bit of fun. If we play a tune, we'll share how we got it. We have all the stories for every piece, and we try to keep it as intimate as possible."

Another hallmark of Irish music is how its musicians hide their skill in plain sight. A particularly difficult passage that might be considered a solo in other genres is simply a verse that gets repeated several times while part of a slide or jig.

Each concert is greatly aided by the skill of its members, McCarthy said. Each show is filled with moments featuring players playing complicated lines reliably, time after time, while still finding interesting moments to improv or ad-lib — adding their voice to a form of music that has crossed centuries.

"You never know what little beautiful flurry could happen," he said. "I'm sitting beside the best musicians in Ireland."