Gregory Grene grew up between Cavan, Ireland and Chicago, and is the leader and founding member of the Prodigals, one of the foremost Celtic rock bands in the United States (the Village Voice dubbed them "NYC's jig-punk answer to the Pogues.") They have six albums to their credit, and have played, and continue to play, across the U.S., from California to Columbus, Boston to Butte, as well as abroad and in Ireland. However, during his time with the band, Gregory has also played a number of acoustic or solo concerts, ranging from a classical setting at New York's Lincoln Center to a Christmas concert in St. Mary's Cathedral in Austin, Texas; and while playing at the latter with John Doyle, the concept for this album was born. In it's acoustic element the album marks a return to his more traditional roots - he trained with Liz Carroll, won the Midwest Fleadh Ceoil in both Junior and Senior divisions, and founded the Dublin University Traditional Music Society. At the same time, the highly eclectic nature of the tracks reflect the wide array of influences absorbed on his musical road, from Cajun to jazz to singer-songwriter. On this album he is joined by an extraordinary all-star array of musicians, among them: John Doyle on guitar and backing vocals, Darren Maloney on banjo, Joanie Madden on whistles and flute, Mattie Mancuso on fiddle, and Tony Cedras (from Paul Simon's band) on trumpet, as well as Prodigals' bandmates Ed Kollar (bass) and Chris Higginbottom (drums/percussion) - a line-up that would only be possible in the close-knit musical community that builds up through years traveling the musical circuit. 'Gregory Grene's original songs stay true to the style and tone of old, yet speak to modern life, in some of the most well-crafted and poetic verses I have seen.' - Punchline 'Grene's expertise on accordion and his understanding of Irish music elevate' - All Music Guide PRESS ON THE ALBUM FROM THE IRISH VOICE (AUGUST 2008) The Flip Side of Grene By Mike Farragher GREGORY Grene has had a long and successful career that spans six albums as leader of the Prodigals, whose furious punk assault on traditional Irish melodies has earned them the rightful title of jig punk kings. But there has been a flip side of his artistry that Grene has been eager to explore for a long time. "I have been working with musicians in acoustic settings for years, in anything from sessions at Lincoln Center here in New York, and more recently in Austin, Texas, with a acoustic version of the Prodigals at the Celtic Festival and the Cactus Cafe, and in St. Mary's Cathedral with John Doyle," explains Grene. "Whereas the Prodigals audience is this mad, ebullient sea of people pumping their fists in a wild party, in the acoustic environment people are often seated, but there is a different energy, the energy that comes from listening to and digesting every note and lyric. I was eager to explore this second side of the music." He does so with marvelous results in the appropriately titled FlipSides, a radical departure from the punishing beats of the band that made him famous. When a new Prodigals CD came in the mail bag in the past, I would run to the car and be coached to break all sorts of speed limits as the furious racket propelled the vehicle. I stayed in the slow lane playing FlipSides. This is an artistic triumph that instead paints a beautiful picture with introspection and melody rather than adrenaline. "Liverpool Pandora" is the only track that injects the visceral energy of the Prodigals into the melody. It is a radical rearrangement of the trad ditty "The Leaving of Liverpool" that builds an anarchistic steam as it goes along. While the singer doesn't exactly wear his heart on his sleeve, the choice of songs on FlipSides makes this a deeply personal journey without coming out and saying so. Along with original tunes, Grene reinterprets songs that have meant something to him in his life. The collection opens with "Work's Too Bloody Hard," a Cajun song that Grene first heard in a Louisiana dance hall. His role as a father figures heavily into the mix on FlipSides. He has created a gorgeous, lilting button accordion melody for his daughter called "Andi's Set" and he also includes "Paper and Pins," a song he first heard from an old recording by Bobby Clancy and Peg Clancy that served as an introduction to Irish culture for his young child. "I just always thought it was a lovely song, and it was made much more personal and special by singing it to my daughter," he explains. "It is a classic old courtship song and it's not just pretty, it's real roots music. It is a lovely tale that anyone can respond to, and many people throughout generations have. And it's great finding a song like this, that as well as being wonderful in itself, is surprisingly little known." Grene also includes "Nancy Brown," a old-time American song that has a surprising and subversive message. "I've always loved how the song 'Nancy Brown' turns the whole expected format on it's head," says Grene. "How many songs in the folk genre exist where the woman is punished for straying? With Nancy Brown, she does her own thing and flips two fingers at the establishment. "I love the implicit feminism, bucking a sexist tradition, and the confident non-conformism. Those are things that pop a lot more when you have a wonderfully determined and independent daughter." Grene has amassed a wealth of connections in the music business during his long career, which gave him access to a diverse group of talent that helps FlipSides shine. Joanie Madden from Cherish the Ladies lends her flutes and whistles to make the affair decidedly Irish, while Albanian Rubin Kodheli lends a gorgeous cello to another track. Grene was particularly excited to work with Solas guitarist John Doyle again. Doyle lent his guitar skills to Go On, one of the Prodigals' earliest releases. "John is a very full player that can attack with an acoustic guitar. Anyone who thinks you can only be aggressive with an electric instrument has obviously never heard John Doyle play. His playing is really insane. He is a charming person to work with who is unbelievably gifted." Offstage and in person, Grene is a brimming optimist who laughs loud and often. This can be in sharp contrast to the ferocious, snarling performer who melts the keys of the button accordion onstage. That humorous side of his personality shines on "Emily," a Southern-fried piece of polka. "Emily come back to me, I love you/Emily, come back to me I beg/ After all your said, now your voice is dead/I just watch your face and read your lips instead," he sings to a GPS that has refused to talk to him in the car after her voice is ignored. "The band had played a concert in Napa, California and we were heading to the San Francisco airport when we got the urge to explore the vineyards en route," he explains. "Our GPS system, which had been programmed with a snooty British voice named Emily, had the airport as her destination, and went into a frenzy of recalculating. "We ignored her, and eventually she stopped speaking forever. I thought the story would translate well as a country ballad." Prodigals fans needn't worry that Grene will be abandoning the band. He is stoked about the inclusion of two Prodigals tracks into the soundtrack of Pride and Glory, an action packed big-budget cop movie starring Ed Norton and Colin Farrell that hits theaters in October. "I'm doing both; this isn't going to supersede the Prodigals," he says firmly. "It's something I wanted to do for myself. I love the anarchy of the Prodigals, and this is complementary to that, not a replacement." Grene then discusses what the Prodigals brand means. Are there musical ideas that would tarnish the band's image? Does he feel limited by what the group can do? Grene dismisses the notion immediately. "These are two distinct avenues - if you are riding a horse, you are not swimming," he says. "It's just another side of me. I love looking out at a huge wild crowd in places like Dublin, Ohio when I play with the band, and I also love doing the Cactus Café in Austin, where 250 people listen to an acoustic set very intently. You get people emailing you weeks later asking you to interpret a lyric, or explain a song. "FlipSides enabled me to express myself outside of the band parameters," he continues. "Rather than try to twist the band's sound, I wanted to create something on it's own. I wanted to see what would happen when I brought it into a different format. "Now we're reimporting those tracks as Prodigals numbers, and they're totally different songs, which I love! It's proof that a solo and a band career can co-exist nicely." Grene has changed the lineup on the Prodigals yet again as a result of the departure of Eamonn O'Tuama, who has been replaced by Galway native Dave Fahy. The band has also added banjo player Darren Maloney. Grene seems as excited about the group as he was when the band first came together. "I think we explored a more pop aspect in recent years," he reasons. "And there was an interesting singer-songwriter thing that evolved nicely, so that was a positive. "But there has been this tradition of the hell-for-leather attack of the band, and that adrenaline is part of what folks came to see, and we've rediscovered that in spades. With the new lineup, the band is back to that and more, and I can't wait for fans to hear it!" Regardless of who plays with him, Grene feels that the mark of success for the music is transcending a single culture or genre. "I love the Irish tradition, I'm rooted in it. But I remember one time walking into a blues bar in Chicago and hearing this great, big woman, who owned the place, singing this passionate, raw music. And you knew immediately, there was something universally true in her singing; you could have been from Alaska or Mumbai and you would have identified with that truth. That's what I was shooting for," he says. With FlipSides, Grene has successfully captured the raw roots of the Irish culture inside a package of beautifully constructed melodies that will treat listeners of any nationality. FROM KOOP RADIO (AUGUST 2008) by Donnelle McKaskle Artistic Director of Austin Celtic Festival Host of Celtic Storm on KOOP Radio, Austin TX Gregory Grene has been the primary writer, lead singer and accordion player with the Prodigals over twelve years and six CD's. Through his work with the band, he has written some of contemporary Irish music's most compelling lyrics and keen observations, and his songs and tunes have been both critically acclaimed and covered by other artists. Even so, Grene's new solo album FlipSides not only constitutes a departure in it's more acoustic tonality, it dramatically establishes his individual standing as a major artist on the scene. The first track, "Work's Too Bloody Hard," is an adaptation of a Cajun song, "Travailler, C'est Trop Dur." Starting with a sly nod to the roots of the music, the first verse is in the original French (Grene is a fluent speaker), run through a Victrola filter. The song then swiftly morphs into an exuberant track that is a harbinger of all that is to come. It rejuvenates into a fresh and sparkling composition with brilliantly adapted lyrics and wonderful added touches such as Tony Cedras' trumpet. Mr. Cedras is a multi-instrumentalist from Paul Simon's band, and his contribution is both unexpected and charming. From there the album goes from strength to strength. The second track, "Whiskey Asylum," is, as Grene says, "a song about alcohol, but not a drinking song." Indeed, it features melancholy, profound, and poetic writing that can stand comfortably shoulder to shoulder with that of Shane MacGowan, Ewan MacColl and other acknowledged giants of the tradition. It bears that definitive quality, the sense that when he writes for himself, he writes for us all. The album as a whole is cohesive yet highly eclectic. Grene is an accomplished producer, and his imaginative, deft production plays a significant role in broadening FlipSides' range. Two tracks in particular, "Camera" and "Crazy," stand out in the individuality of their sound. The former shares with other tracks on the album poetic and moving lyrics, and a wistful melody line that is identifiably a Grene composition, but the instrumentation, by the Bulgarian pianist Mario Grigorov, sets it apart in it's eloquent simplicity. On "Crazy," conversely, the effect is achieved through multiple layers, starting with an extraordinary doubled bass line played by Grene's Prodigal bandmate Ed Kollar. Incrementally the track adds two guitar lines, vocal harmonies and cello, and the lead vocal soars and loops over an accompaniment that reinforces rather than interfering with the stark, haunting lyrics. The album falls into multiple segments, or "flipsides", from original pieces to interpretations of standards, and from songs to instrumentals. Among the standards, outstanding tracks include "Liverpool Lou," with an evocative last verse appended to Dominic Behan's classic song, and "Cluan Meala," a stunning, stripped-down interpretation featuring accordion and low-whistle harmonies. The instrumental compositions are first-class, and their performances are tight and virtuosic, featuring not only supple, powerful accordion from Grene, but a stellar lineup of contributing musicians including John Doyle, whose guitar and mandola are superlative throughout, Joanie Madden on flute and whistle, Mattie Mancuso on fiddle, as well as Grene's Prodigals bandmates, and others of a uniformly high level. All in all, an extraordinary album, one that truly makes a new mark on the world of Irish music. FROM IRISH MUSIC MAGAZINE (AUGUST 2008) "These twelve songs are golden...'Whiskey Asylum' proves his credentials early on. This is classic writing by a new writer. Give it fair airplay and this could be in the repertoire of every singer worth his salt. He follows this with 'Camera', another self-penned simple masterpiece with piano accompaniment. 'Liverpool Pandora' is a fascinating re-invention and addition to an old favourite...He shows us his love of the canon by giving us heartfelt renditions of two traditional songs starting with 'The jail of Cluan Meala' accompanied on accordion. 'Nancy Brown' is another lovely old song that he gives us with a twinkle in his eye as he recounts the eponymous young lady hold on to her virtue at least for a while. Not quite traditional but often thought to be is Dominic Behan's 'Liverpool Lou'. Grene gives a respectful rendition of this reminding us of the simple beauty of the old song so often murdered in pub and lounge. He picks up the pace again on'Paper and Pins' another lovely story song and then leads us in a Kerry polka.The abiding memory of this album is the humour as well as the professionalism that Grene brings to the songs. 'Emily' or as he subtitles it 'The GPS Lament'is a case in point with a lovely traditional sound, great performance and a light tale. Gregory Grene solo is a rare treat but more important, Flipsides is an album to hear." FROM THE IRISH TIMES (AUGUST 2008) *** [3-STAR REVIEW] "Tasty contributions from guitarist John Doyle, Cherish the Ladies' Joanie Madden and piper Cillian Vallely bring texture to the arrangements, and...a songwriting strength that Grene's only beginning to tap seriously."
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