Inspired by bliss, troubles
"Ireland is rich in literature that understands a soul's yearnings, and dancing that understands a happy heart."
-- Margaret Jackson
By GUY D'ASTOLFO
VINDICATOR ENTERTAINMENT WRITER
It has been said that the Irish have an abiding sense of tragedy, punctuated by bouts of joy.
Centuries of war, oppression and poverty have etched their mark on the Irish soul, it's true. But they've also unearthed a wellspring of creativity from the Irish heart.
Brady's Leap, an Irish band from Youngstown, draws its inspiration from the literature and poetry that flowed from the crushing hard times -- and eruptions of bliss.
Phil Brady formed the band several years ago with Steven Reese and William Greenway. All three are poets and faculty at Youngstown State University. In fact, the three professors make up YSU's creative writing department.
Brady, who is also the director of YSU's Poetry Center, sees a link between Youngstown and Ireland.
"Youngstown has the character of Ireland," he said. "The hard times in both places have caused bitterness and distress, but it has also led to wisdom."
Reese is the band's songwriter. With a passion for historical accuracy, he sets to music both original and traditional poetry.
"Daffyd's Lament" from the band's first album, "The Road to Killeshandra," is an example of Reese's treatment of an existing work. "It's a 13th-century Welsh poem that Steven set to a blues-jazz tune with a driving bass line," said Brady.
Another example is the title track of their new album, "Heart of the Stranger," which is based on a poem by Walt Whitman.
"Whitman was a nurse in the Civil War," said Brady. "In his memoirs, he tells of treating a soldier, a wounded young Irish boy."
"Walt Whitman came to sit by his bedside
Day after day as Thomas Haley died
Little he knew, poor death-stricken boy,
The heart of the stranger that hovered near."
The poetic-historic nature of the band's lyrics create academic opportunities for the professors. "We often travel to do poetry readings at other colleges, and then perform as a band afterward," Brady said.
Even the name Brady's Leap has its roots in history.
Captain Samuel Brady was a noted Indian fighter in Ohio and western Pennsylvania. In 1780, while being chased by a band of Indians, and with no choice other than capture and death, he leaped across the 22-foot-wide Cuyahoga River near Kent, narrowly escaping. The Brady's Leap rest area at mile 197 on the Ohio Turnpike commemorates his derring-do.
The band has also taken a leap, albeit a musical one. Brady has dubbed their lush sound "New Celtic," and describes it as original and sophisticated, a mixture of new influences -- including Scottish and folk -- and an old format.
"Not a lot of 'too-ra-loos,'" like in more well-known Irish music, he said.
On the new album, which is available at www.amazon.com and other music-store Web sites as well the band's site (www.bradysleap.com), Brady handles traditional Irish instruments such as the bodhran (a hand-held percussion instrument) and tin whistle; Reese handles guitar, violin and banjo; and Greenway plays guitar.
Kelly Bancroft, who joined in 2001, lends a clear, strong lead voice. Her arrival allowed the band to use complex vocal harmonies, Brady said. Bancroft is director of YSU's Students Motivated by the Arts program.
Jim Andrews (vocals, bass), a physics professor at YSU, and Istvan Homner (vocals, guitar, mandolin) came next to round out the lineup. All of the members contribute backing vocals.