Emmylou Harris / Martin Hayes Celtic Connections Festival, Dublin

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The Independent Culture
In pairing up the Master of Silence and the Queen of Doom as a fitting end to this year's Celtic Connections festival, someone was taking a risk. But it was, however incongruous, an inspired one. Put it like this: if Hendrix had lived to play country he'd want to be in the Emmylou Harris band; if Bach had lived to rewrite the rulebook of Irish traditional music, he'd have Martin Hayes to contend with. It's as simple as that.

Beautifully accompanied by Chicago-born guitarist Dennis Cahill, Hayes struck a mischievous and engaging image on the stage. Swaying like a puppet with Marc Bolan haircut and John Lennon spectacles, his stripped- to-the-bone take on an oft-caricatured and over-familiar corner of the world's music defied superlatives. The effect, ethereal and expansive, was reminiscent of the Pentangle taking their low-volume fusions into the Albert Hall, and mainstream acceptance, in the late Sixties.

While Hayes's music commanded attention, Emmylou Harris needed only her very presence on the stage. A slight, statuesque figure, she has found the path to a graceful yet still vital maturity in rock 'n' roll that so many others, in cabaret, therapy or self-parody can only dream about. Still championing her last album Wrecking Ball, the shadowy desolation of the vast, bare black stage itself - with a little village of musicians, drums and monitors huddled together at its centre - seemed to mirror the album's desperate emotions.

Given the album's thumbs-down reception by country buffs it was notable that, in a live context with this band, the new material seemed in no way discontinuous from the old. Harris' abiding gift was to make each song, each lyric speak clearly and resonantly amid such a cauldron of sound. It's why she's still around. Colin Harper