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'So strong' tenor breaks barriers

CD review out of the SligoWeekender 2002-03-07
written by Robert Cullen

 

SHATTERING the tenor stereotype has been a hobby of James Nelson for a long time.

 

As part of the Celtic Tenors, alongside Niall Morris and Matthew Gilsenan, James is keen to break down the barriers between what a tenor should sing, and what he can sing.

 

The latest album by the Celtic Tenors, So Strong is hailed by their record company, EMI, as a definitive crossover album.

 

It blends classical, Irish and pop/rock into a form far more cohesive than its description suggests.

 

With a new album comes new responsibilities, new roads to travel, new venues to play in and new people to meet.

 

For James, Niall and Matthew, promotion of the new album has already begun. In December 2001 the trio met in a TV studio in Germany to record a two hour special for German television, which will be screened there on Easter Sunday to a television audience of millions.

 

Amazingly, the success of The Celtic Tenors in Germany is not based on record sales. EMI have not yet released the tenors' self titled debut album. That will come later this spring. And So Strong is also scheduled for release in the second half of 2002.

 

Irish fans don't have to wait as long. Following the huge success of last year'™s album, So Strong is released here this Friday, March 8.

 

To coincide with the launch The Celtic Tenors will be performing on The Late Late Show on RTE 1 on Friday night.

 

And the TV appearances don't stop there. UTV'™s The Kelly Show beckons on March 22 and an edited version of the German show will be broadcast on PBS in America.

 

All this doesn't leave much time for James to come home to Sligo. I've been trying to come down as often as possible of the last six months, he said. My mother isn't too well so I want to see her as much as possible.


James has spent much of the last six months either in a recording studio or on the road. The Celtic Tenors' success has taken them to the US, most recently in December, as well as the UK, Europe and all around Ireland.

 

Another nationwide tour is in the pipeline. However, unlike last year's hectic schedule, which included a performance in Sligo, this tour will deal exclusively with bigger venues, so no repeat performance for James in his home town.


The tour kicks off in The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin on March 25, with five shows there before moving on to the Cork Opera House and the University Concert Hall in Limerick.

 

The stateside success of The Irish Tenors (Finbar Wright, Anthony Kearns & Ronan Tynan) might have led the Celtic Tenors over there in pursuit of their fortune, but James, Niall and Matthew are a different breed.

 

Where Messrs Wright, Kearns and Tynan plump - no pun intended - for the larger venues, the Celtic Tenors prefer a greater level of intimacy, to compliment their deliberately gentler style.

 

Their return to America in December was tinged with sadness, as James explains:

We played a big charity concert in New York in December and, having been on top of the twin towers in July, we decided to visit ground zero. That concert was amazing.

 

That concert came just after the tenors had finished recording their new album, in the hallowed Abbey Road Studios in London.

 

So Strong contains sixteen tracks, none of them predictable and almost all of them arranged by the tenors themselves, under the watchful eye of producer Mike Moran.


Mike produced the Barcelona album with Freddie Mercury. He worked with Montserrat Caballe, Elton John, Queen and Elaine Page, so to work with him is just amazing. he says with obvious enthusiasm.

 

We went to his house in Buckinghamshire and actually practised all the harmonies there and worked on the music with him. All the orchestra work was done completely in Abbey Road.

 

Irish songs on the album include Phil Coulter's classic The Town I Loved So Well, Star Of The County Down, The Contender and The Green Fields Of France made famous by the Fureys.

 

It also contains two gaelic language songs, Ag Criost An Siol and Fionnghuala, a whimsical piece from across the water in Scotland (keeping up the tenors' Celtic tag).

 

Possibly the most interesting pieces are the two overtly classical tracks Nella Fantasia and Adagio. The first was often performed, and still is, by The Vards, who are good friends of the Celtic Tenors.


The second piece is a vocalise version of a piece of classical music, Barbers Adagio for String.

 

The rest of the album is equally as unusual. The title track is a lively cover of the Labi Sifri classic (Something Inside) So Strong.

 

Niall Morris' eerie similarity to the voice of Freddie Mercury comes through in Love Of My Life originally recorded by Queen.

 

The evergreen pop classic Mull Of Kintyre is injected with new life, as is the poignant Roy Orbison A Love So Beautiful.


Dein ist mein ganzes Herz or You Are My Heart's Delight is a not to the Tenors' growing German fanbase, but it is still recognisable as one of the best known German love songs.

 

For more information on the new album and their forthcoming nationwide tour you can visit the Celtic Tenors website www.celtic-tenors.com