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Worcester’s Blackstone Cuil Combines Folk and Celtic Styles

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Photo courtesy of Joe Miglionico

As a group, Worcester's Blackstone Cuil, a quite unique band that combines a noticeable contemporary folk sound with a crisp Irish Celtic flavor, is relatively new on the Worcester music scene. But, individually, they are Central Mass music staples.

This is especially true of Mike Ladd, the band's very able, sometimes even captivating guitarist and lead vocalist. He helped form the regionally popular rock band Chimera in 1985. The band released Coming Into Color as an EP and actually appeared on the show Spenser for Hire. Since, Ladd has been in a member of the local bands Critics, Cynics, Antagonists, Leslie Buck & the Change, No We Don't, Wistah, The Ladd Foundation, Ladd & MacLeod and most recently the funk and R&B band the Valves. In the meantime, the busy Ladd also founded a short-lived art and poetry magazine called The Auricle. His first full-length album, The Storm, was critically acclaimed throughout the Northeast for its "beautiful and brave vision of soul and psyche."

But Mike Ladd is trying something he has never done with this new endeavor.

"When the Valves disbanded, I took the opportunity to dive headlong into the Irish music genre that I had been an avid listener of, but never played," says Ladd.

"I started attending Irish seisiuns regularly and immersed myself in the techniques and the music. There are so many talented players of this style out there; I allowed my own influences to morph these timeless songs into something a little different – playing with time signatures, coloring the chords differently, twisting the arrangements."

He joins: fiddler Myra Macleod, another well-traveled member of the local music scene and with whom Ladd formed Ladd & Macleod with; drummer Johnny Guertin, a former member of Chimera, No We Don't, The Ladd Foundation and Leslie Buck & and the Change with Ladd (he has also supported a number of national acts including The Joe Perry Project, John Waite, and Los Lobos); and at different times accordion, 12-string guitar, Irish bouzouki, flute and mandolin player Brendan Keenan, a founding member of Celtic group Fergus and member of the Roots band Sons of the Soil.

The band officially formed in the summer of 2012, bringing together an incredibly wide-range of styles, influences and experiences.

"It appears there’s a niche for an interpretation of the traditional catalogue in a modern way – we call it Irish Mod. I do the same thing to contemporary songs as well, songs people know but haven’t heard in such an unexpected way. Since I am able to play these songs in the way I’m comfortable with, my original songs fit right in with them," remarks Ladd of their particular technique of playing and writing.

Central Mass natives, especially of Irish descent, will notice the band's name, and may wonder about its origin. The name isn't a coincidence and it was chosen for a specific purpose, the idea coming from a rare in depth knowledge of the history of the area while connecting it to the mission of the band. Ladd tells the story.

"The Blackstone canal was the conduit by which the Irish came to Worcester. These immigrant workers built a waterway that is tangled with the mill villages that grew out of a reliance on it as a way to move goods and product, and for travel. It is beautiful but not pretty. That’s how I hear our style of music; like the underside of sod; the organic and complicated influences of earth and ether combining, exploding, and disintegrating back into the miasma."

He goes further to explain that "cuil" means "corner" in Irish Gaelic. Therefore, "Blackstone Cuil" is the section at the end of the canal, at the edge of industrial Worcester. "It is where", as Ladd explains the significance,

"the city halted the Irish canal builders and said 'you stay there, come no further', we don’t want you here'. It’s now the Green Island section of the city and the Irish grew out of it to be the largest professed nationality in the county."

Indeed anyone who was in the area this past weekend for the St. Patrick's Day celebrations, which, of course, Blackstone Cuil was a big part of, cannot deny this fact. Central Mass and New England in general is indeed very Irish nowadays, and this new band's potent Irish style and sound fits right in.

Look out for the band at any number of venues throughout the area. Their next show in Worcester is May 24 at the Fiddler's Green Pub.

For more information on the band or to listen to some of their music, visit their website or find them on Facebook or Reverbnation.


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