Alibi V.12 No.48 • Nov 27-Dec 3, 2003 

Music Article

Johnny Cunningham and Susan Mckeown
Johnny Cunningham and Susan Mckeown

Johnny Cunningham and Susan McKeown with Aidan Brennan

Sunday, Nov. 30; Outpost Perfornance Space (all ages, 7:30 p.m.): Prior to teaming up with renowned vocalist Susan McKeown, Celtic fiddler and master storyteller Johnny Cunningham helped found and establish legendary groups like Silly Wizard and Relativity, in the process spearheading the Celtic folk movement of the '70s.

Then, a decade ago, after a four-year stint with Windham Hill recording artists Nightnoise and subsequently completing the score for his award-winning stage adaptation of Peter Pan, "Peter & Wendy," Cunningham went in search of a singer for the production, eventually selecting McKeown, who has been called one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in Irish music. It was a pairing that Cunningham once described as "pure magic." Since then, the pair have toured both as a duo and as a trio with guitarist Aidan Brennan.

Cunningham and McKeown's Celtic holiday recording, 2000's A Winter Talisman (Sheila-na-Gig), features folk songs sung by McKeown in English and captivating Gaelic, and is infused throughout with Cunningham's wry wit, poetic verse and monumental fiddling. Some of tonight's repertoire can be expected to come from that record.

But while Cunningham and McKeown's recorded work is difficult not to fall in love with, not falling head-over-heals with their live presentations is altogether impossible. When Cunningham described their pairing as pure magic, he was no doubt referring in part to the rare dynamic he and his musical partner share, then share with their audiences. On stage is where it all comes together: the music, the stories, the folksy humor and the realization that what you're seeing is a spontaneous culmination of pure talent and pure magic that has never been performed the same way before, and never will be in the future. With that in mind, prepare for one of the most memorable musical experiences you're ever likely to have.