Twenty Years Twenty Rivers
"With wit, searing virtuosity, and warm humanity, Robin Flower and Libby McLaren's music is moving, fun, and dazzlingly imaginative." So says Indie-Music.com and it's all true. And Flower and McLaren have proven it again with another daring and creative recording, their 4th, Twenty Years · Twenty Rivers, just released on Oakland's Little Cat recording label. They will have a celebratory concert on Saturday May 9th, 8pm, at the West Coast's premier folk venue, Berkeley's Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse. They have performed here regularly for twenty years." For our previous CD, Steelhead in the Riffles, we wrote a CD's worth of modern Celtic- influenced instrumental music," said Flower, a whiz on mandolin, fiddle, and guitar who defies classification. But classification is what they needed to get airplay. So Flower came up with the term, "Celtic Americana" and with McLaren's accordion and piano playing, a new style was born. Steelhead received airplay all over the US, Canada, Australia, and Ireland. With Twenty Years · Twenty Rivers comes further development of their immediately recognizable style. McLaren adds her own jazz scat singing to the old Irish singing style called lilting to fashion a highly energetic improvisational hybrid. "The new CD is full of two, three, four part harmonies" states McLaren, who uses her voice like another instrument. "I sing tunes, using sounds common to both lilting and scat singing. It is so much fun!" And with the strength of their original lyrical songs,instrumental writing and compelling playing, Robin Flower and Libby McLaren promise to put on quite a show on May 9th. Danny Carnahan, from the popular band Wake the Dead, joins them along with Jan Martinelli on bass and Peter Maund on percussion, all three well-respected Bay Area musicians. Many of Robin and Libby's flock of students are fans. In addition to piano and accordion, Libby has many singing students. She directs The Linwood Community Chorus (everyone is welcome with no auditions) and two small performing ensembles which includes her newest choral group, Libby McLaren's Voices Eclectica. The Linwood Stringband, Robin's student group, is currently preparing for their annual house concert in the Glenview district. "We'll perform swing, blues, and Irish tunes and songs, with some members singing and playing solos. Everyone gets a chance to shine. The band is wonderfully loose yet strives for excellence. And we sure laugh a lot." Robin and Libby perform as the Fabulous Gold Rush Sisters and The Liberty Sisters, 2 children's shows they wrote and take into schools, museums, and libraries throughout Northern California. "We both love history and kids so these shows are perfect for us." Libby has been the director of Cazadero Family Camp and remains an integral part of the organization and teaching staff. Both Robin and Libby have been instructors at the California Coast Music Camp. Robin is currently on the Board of Directors of the Freight and Salvage as the venerable folk institution prepares to make the move to it's' new home in downtown Berkeley. "The new venue is almost a reality. It is on the way to becoming a music, music education, and community center right in the heart of the arts section of Berkeley. We can hardly wait!" And they do one more thing--playing for contra dances. "Talk about fun," laughs McLaren. "With experienced dancers, it becomes a a beautiful unfolding sight. With new dancers, it can turn into hilarious chaos." "No matter," Flower says. "The point is it creates community as everyone dances with everyone." With all that Robin Flower and Libby McLaren do, it is a miracle that they manage to get out of town to pursue catch-and-release fly fishing. "If I wasn't a musician, I'd be a fly fishing guide," Robin says as she gets the look of the wild in her eyes. "California has so many beautiful rivers and we are remarkably lucky to live here," Libby, whose father, Tom McLaren, was a Berkeley City councilman in the late '60s and early '70s, comes from a long lineage of Californians. Libby gives her talents to Bread and Roses, going to facilities, performing solo and bringing music to people who can't go out and hear music. With her her dad playing banjo, they occasionally played together for these shows, a great example of volunteerism being passed down from parent to child. Robin has lived in Oakland for the past 32 years, by way of Oregon and Southern California, originally coming from Cleveland, Ohio. " When I was 4 my brother, father and I came to California and I remember being so impressed that I eventually came here, taking a motorcycle trip across America." What's next for Robin Flower and Libby McLaren? More performances, more dances, more students, more choruses and bands, and definitely more community building. "Don't forget more fly fishing," they both laugh. Indie-Music.com-?'Robin Flower and Libby McLaren bring wit, searing virtuosity and warm humanity to Steelhead in the Riffles, their fourth collaboration. The CD offers 24 original tunes and 4 Irish songs arranged into 12 brilliantly constructed sets, covering a wide range of material. But the bottom line is that these women are having the time of their lives, and it shows. Roaring from delicate to powerhouse, their music is moving, fun, and dazzlingly imaginative. ?This is not a genre that I know well. Sometimes a lack of knowledge can be an impediment to full enjoyment, but that is definitely not the case with Steelhead. Plain and simple, it's a good time. Flower plays mandolin, guitar and fiddle, McLaren covers the piano, and accordion; both handle their axes with equal amounts of passion and agility. Flower's sizzling strings grab your attention right out of the gate but it is the second track, 'Billy Tave's Hornpipe,' that turned my head around. The intricate interplay between piano and bright mandolin is joyful perfection. Their years of playing together have gained them a musical intimacy that is extraordinary. As they anticipate each other's direction, their playing becomes a brilliant dance of unity and harmony, adding a unique and enriching element of excitement to each piece. ?A favorite track is 'Luna's Slip Jig,' opening with Flower's sweetly yearning fiddle, slowly joined by McLaren's rolling piano, the two dancing together with a delicate passion that is both exciting and moving. But the closing 'Mouth of Dillon Creek' is nothing short of perfection. This exquisite composition drives piano and fiddle to an exciting crescendo; drive is the operative word here, and I mean drive 'em hard. At song's end, you realize you've been holding your breath in wonder. ?Nope, not knowing much about Celtic Americana isn't going to hurt you on Steelhead in the Riffles. You don't need to know what a riffle is to know wildly imaginative music when you hear it.'?Kevan Breitinger Irish Music Magazine-?'What happens when two musical crafts people with a long-standing interest in fishing and Irish music take a vacation in Ireland? Robin Flower and Libby McLaren made a trip a couple of years ago. They don't say how good the flyfishing was but they certainly caught the best of the music and filtered it through a deep musical sensibility to produce this little gem of an album. ?Flower and McLaren are mainstays of the vibrant Northern California roots music scene. They play a multitude of instruments but this recording has a focus on fiddle, accordion, piano and mandolin with twelve rich and varied selections. On Cedar Waxwings at the Winter Window/Tom McLaren's Reel, the interplay of piano and fiddle is particularly delightful. It's a piece that could have been ripped right out of Michael O'Suilleabhain's composition book. It builds to a crescendo crowned by some scat singing from McLaren on the reel dedicated to her father. ?Molly's Step Dance/Jig for Judith/Rosemary's Real Jig and Mellie's Mandolin are tunes that march along nicely. Skip and Buzz's Wild Goose Chase is another sweetly conceived melody that trips along on a pairing of piano and mandolin. Andrei's First Waltz in America swings in a sweet country and Western Isles style. Another excellent medley, book-ended by two trad favorites, starts our gently with Over the Moor to Maggie, flies through Gleeson's Pub, and ends up sauntering through Morning Dew. Bill Bender's/The Bank of Ireland/Piper's Despair is a set driven along by a percussive guitar backing with consummate accordion work by McLaren. The album closes with The Mouth of Dillon Creek, a marvelous extended piece that wouldn't be out of place on a Kila record. It features a shape-shifting tempo with a fiddle, piano, and bass merging into a powerful pattern. ?This album can be paired beautifully with a record such as A Fool's Dream by Pat Crowley and Johnny McCarty. Each shares a solid, Irish traditional-based musicality and pairs a collection of new compositions with a few old ones thrown in as reminders of the source of the continuing inspiration.'?Tom Clancy Sing Out!- 'Robin Flower, a whiz on guitar, fiddle, and mandolin joins forces with pianist and accordion player, Libby McLaren for a gorgeous collection of original tunes. Inspired by a trip to Ireland where they sampled the musical wares abundantly, Flower and McLaren put together a dozen sets of jigs, reels, and a waltz or two. Brilliant!' MD Rambles.NET- 'This CD is so close to the traditional music style in Cape Breton that I fell in love with it at first listen. Even so, it's California sparkle makes it unique in the world of Celtic Music. These two ladies shamelessly indulged in a musical trip to Ireland before making this CD, and that might explain how some of the music is reminiscent of Cape Breton; if we take the musical tree back far enough there's sure to be Irish in the Scottish Blend, or visa versa. I was completely taken in by the traditional sound of their music partnered with a few modern twists. A light but masterful touch brings the best from their instruments. The music flies, lifts, and flows, with no slips or breaks. I think it's time Flower and McLaren made a trip to Cape Breton. Id like to hear them in person and if the Celtic Colors Festival folks are reading this, hint, hint. I'd like to check the family tree of these ladies, since I think a lot of Cape Bretoners went west to California years ago, and I like to think they might just belong to us. But even if they don't, they are inspiring folk musicians and this CD has a special place in my collection.' Virginia MacIsaac Green Man Review- 'Robin Flower and Libby McLaren pull off the rare feat of playing rock-solid traditional music and making it sound brand new while stretching in delightfully unexpected directions. The material on the album is a delight of instrumental pieces that are entertaining and easy on the ear. The blend of instruments, the changeovers and the arrangements are very neat and sharp. The musicianship is superb; I couldn't fault it, neither will you, just enjoy the album.' Pete Seeger- 'It was a real pleasure to hear you sing. You have such extraordinary control...you keep singing!' Ronnie Gilbert- 'It is a musical marriage made in heaven, Flower and McLaren's. To be in the presence of their joyous musicianship, so full of passion for life, is to travel in the realm of pure delight.' Dirty Linen- 'Robin Flower and Libby McLaren are breaking ground with their novel fusion of Celtic and progressive folk music.' Roz and Howard Larman,FolkScene (syndicated)- 'We love Steelhead in the Riffles, and have been playing it on all our programs.' Bruce Cameron, 2MCE-FM, Bathhurst, New South Wales- 'With an obvious leaning towards Celtic, Steelhead in the Riffles is an impressive CD.' Paul Stamler, KDHK Radio, St. Louis MO- 'Very fine playing on this CD!' Rick Pietrzak, WPRK, Winter Park, Florida- 'It was my pleasure to spin Steelhead in the Riffles. It is a great CD with wonderful musicianship.' John McLaughlin, WMUC, College Park, Maryland- 'What a great pair this duo is!' The Reviewer, New Zealand National Folk Festival- 'Brilliant instrumental sets and tight harmonies.' Danny Carnahan, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Mandolin Magazine- 'Libby is one of the most accomplished piano players in folk music today, and Robin plays anything with strings with punch and panache. The textures are always shifting and their sheer joy just leaps off the stage. Upbeat and poignant, Robin and Libby's music is always straight from the heart by way of twenty incredibly nimble fingers and two lovely voices.' San Francisco Chronicle- '..ever delightful...'