Two Irish Duos at the Navigator

March 26, 2010

I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day a couple of days late by heading over to the Navigator Coffeehouse in East Falmouth, where The Lindsays and Stanley and Grimm, two fine Irish duos, were performing. They played an entertaining mix of Irish, American, and international music, and bantered with each other: Sean Brennan, who is of Irish descent, though from Tennessee, teased Ireland native Stephen Lindsay by saying that it is the Irish Americans who play more Irish music–back in Ireland the Irish session players may be more interested in American singer/songwriters.

No matter; it was all fun, and all four musicians (Susan and Stephen Lindsay of–obviously–The Lindsays, and Nikki Engstrom and Sean Brennan of Stanley & Grimm) are talented and engaging performers. The men played guitar and sang; Nikki played violin, and Susan won the prize, as Sean pointed out, for playing the most instruments: Irish flute, tin whistle, and alto and soprano sax. I particularly loved her on the alto sax, not an instrument you usually find in an Irish band.

Their finale captures the essence of the evening: The Lindsays start it off with Susan on the Irish flute, Stanley & Grimm take over, and then all four play together, this time with Susan on the alto sax.  The tunes are: Christmas in America/Jean’s/Catharsis.

The Lindsays started off the evening with a soft, gentle folk song, “So do I,” Steve playing guitar and singing, and Susan singing and playing tin whistle. That was followed by another vocal, with Susan on alto sax, in a very mellow mood.

They have a nice onstage presence, with Susan doing much of the talking and teasing. “The secret to our success as a married couple,” she said, “is that we can make fun of each other in public.”

Next they sang a song about the war in Bosnia, an impassioned “anti-atrocity” song with a strong, insistent beat, accented by Susan on the tambourine. Another “not-so-Irish” tune followed, “The Dancer,” a contra dance tune.

Fiddler Nikki Engstrom joined the Lindsays for a tune about “a woman who got a little too friendly with her husband’s boss. “Not all Irish tunes are sad or angry,” Susan said, “some are scandalous.” Susan played tin whistle on this one, and the combination of fiddle and flute was delightful, bubbly and energetic. Both women are very skilled players: controlled and free at the same time, their playing rich and full, despite the breakneck speed of most of the tunes.

There were more tunes from the Lindsays, then Stanley & Grimm took the stage  intermission. Sean drolly explained the origin’s of the duo’s name. Though, he said, people tend to think of Nikki as “Stanley” and himself as “Grimm,” the fact is that Nikki’s violin was made by F. O. Stanley (who, with his twin brother F. E. Stanley, invented the Stanley Steamer, the first steam-powered automobile) and her bow was made by a German bow maker named Grimm. Sean joked that his Martin guitar just didn’t matter.

But of course it did, the duo plays so well together that their recent album (their third), “Another Round” was named 2008 Album of the Year by Celtic Radio. Both very accomplished musicians and composers, they have been playing together throughout New England for the past five years.

They played a variety of tunes, throwing a bit of Pachelbel and “Over the Rainbow” into the mix of Irish tunes, including the sentimental favorite, “Danny Boy,” in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Susan joined Stanley & Grimm for a tune, and you can hear Susan and Nikki on each other’s albums.

Though Manny and Linda Dias have been running the Navigator Coffeehousefor over a year, this was the first time I had visited. The Navigator itself is run by the Portuguese American Association of Falmouth, Inc., and Manny donates coffeehouse profits to the association for community projects. It is a nice, large room, yet it provides an intimate musical experience, as none of the tables are too far from the stage.  The table seating also encourages friendly conversation before and after the show and during intermission. Coffee and tea is included in the $15 admission price, and you can buy desserts or visit the cash bar.

The next Navigator Coffeehouse is Saturday, April 10. Singer/songwriters John and Rachel Nicholas will perform–it’s the CD release party for their new CD, “Here You Are.”

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