A mix of Bluegrass and Irish music could possibly evoke an image of an overall wearing, straw sucking hillbilly who’s twanging his banjo, while a lead singer drowns the sorrows of the audience in an oxymoronic version of “Danny Boy.” “Then they come hear us,” says Connecticut Bluegrass/Celtic musician Lisa Furman. And there’s little she and her band can do to keep people in their seats once they get their first listen.
“It makes them want to dance,” she says of a synergy that evolved from an interest in the manner in which Irish and Scottish songs settled in Bluegrass country. The Celtic versions of Murder ballads usually take sides with the wife who’s committed the crime of passion. Conversely, Appalachian communities spun the woman in the same songs as culprit and hauled her off to jail out of religious conviction.
As for the actual music, she puts her own spin on the sound. “We make a kind of contemporary arrangement,” she says of jazzing and swinging the songs up with her band mates Chris Teskey and Dick Neal.
Either way, this seemed a lot more interesting than where she was coming from as a Contra band singer. Similar to square dancing and going back as a community building instrument, she says, “I wasn’t so intrigued by some of the lyrics so that’s how I broke off on my own.”
A two time breast cancer survivor, it eventually gave her a platform to voice her life experience – thus allowing her pain to turn into music’s gain, but she knows that sentiment is nothing new. “It’s an interesting thing that we do as humans. When we are sad, we sing and it makes us feel better,” she says.
That’s not to mention how music for the maker serves as a necessary distraction in times of duress. “It really requires all of your attention and focus so if you’re going through something crappy at the time, it really takes your mind of it,” says Ms. Furman.
It sure beats drinking, she says, but even if she is reasonably confident that the pain artists express later translates to joy, she and her band stick to a simple formula just in case it tends not to be true. “We always make sure that we start with a real up song and close with a real up song,” she says.
In between, they mellow with the melancholy and it all seems to work out the way it should anyway. “People often tell us when they leave a show that they just feel great,” she says, but it doesn’t only come from musical enrichment, she adds.
Like her, fans seem to enjoy learning about the music, as she and Mr. Teskey do a lot talking between songs about the origins of each. “I think it brings music entertainment to a new level,” she says.
Given the following she’s acquired, the formula certainly has legs – and quite possibly wings. After the release of her first CD in 2006, she discovered that “Lucky Girl” was showing up on play lists in Russia, where there actually is an interest in American Bluegrass. So go figure,” she says, “I’m a sensation in Russia.”
That follows nicely in line with her hopes of expanding musical horizons and keeping us in touch with the past. “I feel like we’re the troubadours for traditional music, getting people interested in a style that’s been around for hundreds of years,” she concludes.
Rich Monetti interview of Lisa Furman