O'Connell bids Irish farewell to area fans
ALBANY What a sweet and silly “Slán go f'ill” Maura O’Connell gave on Sunday at The Egg. That’s Gaelic for “Goodbye for now,” and Sunday’s show marked the well-loved Irish singer’s goodbye to area fans after decades of well-sung, warm shows.
Flanked by guitarist John Mock and bassist Don Johnson, she bounced onto the smaller Swyer Theater stage in many-layered clothes, happy hair in a cloud over her round face.
As usual, she started with Paul Brady’s spunky “To Be What I Can Be,” slowed into “Don’t I Know,” holding a big note long at the end, then adjusted her clothes before her first true heartbreak song, adding a bit of a rasp to her otherwise silky voice.
Anger seethed in “Poetic Justice” but she went serene again with Declan O’Rourke’s “No Place to Hide,” enjoining her fans to remember his name and seek him out and promising another of his tunes later.
Shifting into full-on Irish mode, she took measured sad steps through “Down By the Salley Gardens” and “Shades of Gloria,” the latter celebrating her County Clare homeland.
O’Connell nodded to her fans’ expectations and affections with well-known numbers “Blue Train” and “Summerfly,” then waltzed through the newer “Love You in the Middle” and promoted singalongs in “Feet of a Dancer” and “Trouble in the Fields” before making good on her Declan O’Rourke promise with “Galileo.”
Dismissing Mock and Johnson, she sang Joan Armatrading’s “The Weakness in Me” for its full tormented confusion, all by herself, then summoned her sidemen back for a rousing “Western Highway” and “Blessing,” the familiar Irish prayer first solemnly and humbly, then assertively, like Gospel.
O’Connell seldom belted anything and instead played to the beauty of her voice. However, her humor bridged between even her most serious songs with irreverent glee. The effect was something like a tart cup of coffee, sweetened with honey.
She was fearless, as usual, joking and jibing, often at her own expense, though she reserved some barbs for Congress, stressing her credentials as a naturalized citizen, liberal and feminist. She may be all those things, but she is also that rarest kind of musician who can caress or push the notes while expressing a full range of emotions — then crack a rude joke — then go serious again.
Mock’s mostly finger-style accompaniment was fluent and facile but never obvious, and Johnson’s bass lines blended between the sweet croon of O’Connell’s phrasing and Mock’s fine filigrees.
After blessing the crowd with “Blessing,” O’Connell led the guys offstage then returned to admit the encore was part of the deal and sang a lament for the disappeared of Chile and other repressive regimes, then summoned the lads back for “Crazy Love,” dedicating it to old friend and Second Wind promoter Mona Golub who presented most of O’Connell’s shows here.
Before too long, give her a call, Mona; and ask her back.
Meanwhile, “Slán go f”ill” and thank you, Maura.