“Sharon Shannon defines casual brilliance. She plays accordion with carefree fluidity, virtuosic but not flashy. She performs traditional Irish music with a contemporary freshness and an ear to compatible ethnic influences…subtle and sublime music.” – The Boston Globe
“Sharon Shannon has the energy and stage presence of rockers and the unpretentious traditional roots of a pub musician…as exciting a live band as you’ll find coming out of post-Celtic-revival Ireland.” – Dirty Linen
“The fact that she’s risen to the cusp of pop stardom without betraying a single note of her traditional roots makes her success even more amazing.” – j poet
The career of accordionist/fiddler Sharon Shannon, which began with the internationally acclaimed Irish folk/rock group the Waterboys in 1988, has blazed a fearlessly eclectic path beginning in traditional music but emerging somewhere entirely new. While never losing sight of her roots in Irish folk music, she has undertaken a musical journey which includes collaborations with Bono and Adam Clayton, classical violinist Nigel Kennedy, reggae legend Denis Bovell, the Kodo drummers of Japan as well as Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Emmy-Lou Harris and Alison Krauss. Her cross-global collaborations have lead to successful concerts the world over, including performances in the UK, Europe, Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada, and Africa.
Having spent most of 2002 recording and touring with Sinead O’Connor, Shannon’s new album Libertango finds her rediscovering the role of the female voice in her music, while continuing to feature her remarkable touring band. Sinead O’Connor contributes two songs, one an ancient Irish religious chant, the other a beautiful version of Scottish folk song “Anachie Gordon.” The late Kirsty MacColl contributes a cover of Astor Piazolla’s “Libertango,” while the traditional “All the Ways You Wander” gets a stunning performance from current Sharon Shannon Band vocalist Pauline Scanlon. Libertango also features traditional Irish singer Roisin Elsafty, who comes from a Connemara/Egyptian family and sings an original song written by her mother Treasa and Donal Lunny in Gaelic and Arabic, “An Phailistin”(“Palestine”).
The diverse instrumental material on Libertango includes original material by Sharon, Irish and Scottish reels and jigs, the Latin flavoured “Whitestrand Sling,” and even a haunting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s instrumental hit “Albatross.” Shannon’s trademark accordion work continues to dazzle with its nimble precision, and is complimented by a wealth of musicians including longtime collaborator and legendary producer Donal Lunny, drummer and producer John Reynolds (Sinead O’Connor, The Indigo Girls), old Waterboys soul mates Steve Wickham (fiddle) and Trevor Hutchinson (double bass, now with Irish instrumental powerhouse Lunasa), and jazz saxophonist Richie Buckley (best known for his work with Van Morrison).
Taken as a whole, Libertango is a perfect encapsulation of Shannon’s gifts, simultaneously extolling her virtues in instrumental, vocal, traditional, and contemporary contexts. When considering the amazing range of her work, it should come as no surprise that Shannon hails from Clare, on the West coast of Ireland, an area historically steeped in music. She began playing music as a young child, and while still in her teens was asked by director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, The Field) to provide the music for his stage production of Behan’s The Hostage. She began her career as a recording artist in l989, when the Waterboys’ producer John Dunford gathered together a wide variety of musicians to accompany Waterboys frontman Mike Scott on the 1990 Room to Roam album. Sharon was asked to join the band by Mike Scott shortly after.
By l99l, Sharon had completed her self-titled debut album, which included performances from Stephen Cooney, Trevor Hutchinson, U2’s Adam Clayton, Mike Scott, and Hot House Flowers’ Liam O’Maonlai. The album, a stunning cocktail of Portuguese, Cajun, Swedish, Scottish and French-Canadian influences, rapidly secured a place in the history books by becoming the most successful Irish traditional music album ever released. Hailed as the “traditional album of the nineties” it was described by New Musical Express as a crossover record which “was creative, deft, and lovely.”
While the inclusion of two of Sharon’s tracks on the groundbreaking all-female Celtic compilation A Woman’s Heart (which sold a staggering 500,000 copies) helped to further increase her profile, it was The Late Late Show (Irish National Television) tribute to Sharon which included all the guests from her debut album that made Sharon Shannon a household name. Viewed by over one million people this show firmly established Sharon as one of Ireland’s leading musicians.
The release of her second album Out the Gap further stretched musical boundaries, reflecting the many influences she had absorbed while maintaining her own unique style. She expanded her musical versatility further by teaming up with veteran dub reggae artiste and producer Denis Bovell. Recorded almost exclusively in Brixton, London, Out the Gap featured a Jamaican rhythm section alongside a collection of Irish and English musician. The lead track, “The Mighty Sparrow” (in honor of the diminutive Caribbean singer) was a favorite with Irish radio.
In l996 Sharon was among a host of international musicians, which included Bono and Adam Clayton, Elvis Costello, Neill and Tim Finn, Mark Knopfler, Kate Bush, Liam O’Maonlai, Brian Kennedy, Christy Moore and Sinead O’Connor, to appear on the EMI album Common Ground. During that summer, she returned to the studio to record her third album, Every Little Thing, which featured a collaboration with the great vocalist/songwriter Kirsty MacColl. Released in February l997, a dance remix of a track called “The Bag of Cats” released as a single stayed in the Irish top 20 pop charts for six weeks.
Her fourth album, Spellbound, was released in September 1998. This useful and impressive compilation featured new material, live tracks and tracks taken from her previous albums. During the same year, Sharon was asked by classical violinist Nigel Kennedy to join a combo of musicians to perform his Jimi Hendrix Suite in some of the major European cities. On her own over the past few years, Sharon has toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe, also visiting Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong and Japan. Her increasing popularity in the U.K. has brought her music to an ever-growing audience. She has played for Irish President Mary Robinson, for Lech Walesa in Warsaw and for President Clinton in the White House. Sharon also accompanied President Mary McAleese on her Australian State visit.
In July 1999 she played with Donal Lunny’s brilliant Coolfin ensemble around Ireland as part of their warm up tour for a show with the Kodo Drummers from Japan, which took place in the RDS, Dublin. She has also guested on the band’s album Coolfin. Released in autumn of 2000, Sharon’s remarkable album, The Diamond Mountain Sessions continued her pursuit to fuse Irish music with a wide range of international influences. Her own accordion and fiddle playing was as full of virtuosity as ever, but this time she was accompanied by stirring vocal performances from the likes of Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, John Prine and Dessie O’Halloran.
The album went triple platinum in Ireland, and was critically acclaimed internationally. Sharon and her band the Woodchoppers toured for a year worldwide, and it was a recording of the band’s performance in Galway that gave Sharon her next album. Released in December 2001 on her own Daisy label, Live in Galway captured Sharon and the Woodchoppers in typically fiery form.
After joining Sinead O’Connor on tour for most of 2002 (to promote O’Connor’s traditional album Sean-Nos Nua, on which Sharon contributes accordion), Sharon formed a scaled-down version of the Woodchoppers comprised of guitarist Jim Murray, Mary Shannon on banjo and mandolin, and vocalist Pauline Scanlon. Together they form the core of Libertango, due out in the US on September 14 on Compass Records. While musician credits vary from track-to-track, the album is a consistent and invigorating distillation of Sharon Shannon’s amazing career.