on 31 December 2015
I am sorry to be a slightly dissenting voice, when all other reviewers have unanimously awarded this dvd the maximum 5 stars so far. It is mainly in comparison with some of the other series that l have awarded Series 2 of Transatlantic sessions only 4 stars.
Personally I find the overall quality, and the number of stand out performances, to be better in the Transatlantic Series 1, 3 and 4 (despite series 1 admittedly suffering from video and sound quality on the whole inferior to the later series)
I think it is probably stellar performances from the likes of Darrell Scott, Emmylou Harris, Mary Black, The McGarrigles, Guy Clark, Dougie McLean, Davey Spillane, Tim O'Brien, Cara Dillon, Paul Brady, Julie Fowlis, Joan Osborne, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Allison Moorer, Roseanne Cash, Karan Casey, John Martyn etc in 1, 3 and 4 which lift those series slightly above series 2, 5 and 6 in overall quality.
I know some featured artistes performed in both sets of series, but for me the songs and the level of performance are superior in series 1, 3 & 4.
For instance, John Martyn seems to be in a more collaborative mood in Series 1. Here in Series 2 he is performing almost as a soloist with his exaggerated slurred vocals, and with the accompanying musicians seemingly having to play an arrangement around him. The exception to this is the duet of 'Solid Air' with his old time collaborator Danny Thompson on bass with whom he appears to have an intuitive empathetic connection.
Many of my favourite parts of Series 2 are actually the mainly instrumental numbers featuring the house band, and those musicians who have since become series regulars. It has to be said that Michael Doucet with his cajun style fiddle, and Sharon Shannon on accordion often add some welcome enthusiasm, and the house band generally seem to be having a good time.
Paul Brady l prefer doing traditional tunes to his own mainly 'rockabilly' style compositions. I loved his 'Lakes of Pontchartrain' and 'Streets of Derry' duet with Cara Dillon in Series 3. Here in 2, he does add reasonable vocal accompaniments to Karen Matheson, and to Roseanne Cash when performing one of her father's songs. Roseanne herself doesnt quite reach the heights of the gorgeous 'Secret Life of Roses' from Season 4. Paul Brady however in this series 2 does also provide a tour de force (solo) highlight in the form of the roustabout 'Arthur McBride', a traditional recruiting sergeant song. Delivered quite seriously with superb accompaniment on guitar, Paul breaks into laughter at the end of the song perhaps to break the tension? when his fellow musicians start to applaud him.
' Arthur McBride' does admittedly have some violent anti-military overtones, probably connected to the army's recruitment practises and the political situation at the time the song was written.
I was also impressed with Sharon White's easy delivery of melodic country songs, and Radney Fosters well delivered songs on which he commendably uses different female backing vocalists each time.
As a featured artist l was less impressed with Ricky Skaggs rather bland performances, other than on 'Talk About Suffering' which is very good. I did not either particularly enjoy Nanci Griffiths versions of the songs she plays here, mainly because her enunciation and phrasing don't seem to suit the songs very well. Nancy did sound much better to my ears as a backing vocalist on 'Trouble In The Fields' an excellent duet version with Maura O'Connell. Maura has a fine powerful voice, but l found her habit of looking into camera a bit irritating and contrary to the ethos of Transatlantic Sessions which is all about the music rather than performing to camera.
Similarly with Eddie Reader, nice vocals on her version of 'Hummingbird' aside, she is apt to gyrate rather oddly whilst performing her songs in this series. She seems to have quelled her performance eccentricities a bit by series 3, l am glad to say.
Jerry Douglas, as a new addition to the houseband musicians overseeing the musical arrangements with Aly Bain, does add a lot of virtuoso dobro and lapsteel performances throughout. On his 'Paedar O'Donnell' medley and also on 'Passing The Bar' Jerry plays superbly impressive dobro/ lap steel.Aly is as usual solidly reliable on fiddle.
Ronan Browne and lain MacDonald produce enjoyable performances on pipes and the same can be said for Breda Smyth on the whistle.
This series was shot in a hotel set between The Cairngorms and the Aberdeen coast, so there are many superb scenic clips of mountains, hilly countryside, inland waterways and coastal areas interspersed throughout the programmes. As ever the beautiful Scottish countryside is a star of the series.
There is also one magical photographic sequence taken from the air of porpoises/dolphins? surfacing from the sea below. Crashing waves and babbling streams are other impressive visual additions to the music on offer.
There is probably enough quality music on offer here to make it worthwhile purchasing this dvd for anyone who likes Celtic and/or American country based folk music, but if new to the Transatlantic programmes my own personal recommendation would be to start with Series 3 or 4 first.
Series 1 would probably be my favourite for the music alone, but the video quality might not make it the best place to start unless like me you favour the superb assemblage of vintage musicians in that series.