Beth Patterson – Hybrid Vigor (1999)

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NICK DERISO: Sequencing an album by the New Orleans-based Irish folkie Beth Patterson must be like trying to make sense of a series of radio stations.

The first track on her debut solo CD was a classic reel, one of those familiar yet still luminous moments with the swirling rhythms seem to lift every soul at a pub performance. The second song is darker, though, a gem of foreboding protest and of lost love, it seems. By the third song, Patterson has you tumbling through jazz rhythms and forgetting all about foggy moors.

One of the secret weapons of that great old Irish group the Poor Clares was unholstered on “Hybrid Vigor.” Lucky us.

Most of the hybrids of today sound like the noises father and I made out in the garage that summer we rebuilt the Volkswagen. Like, say, heavy-metal rap.

Not so Patterson, who deftly combines Celtic music with the Cajun two-step and just a smidgen of New Orleans funk.

Already a legendary performer in south Louisiana, she’s also blown them away in nine countries throughout the Americas and Europe. The multi-instrumentalist issued this debut solo CD on Little Blue Men Records.

It’s not the first time she’s appeared on a record, though. Patterson has been a session player (primarily on the exotic bouzouki) on more than 50 recordings, the most famous of which may be Patrick O’Flaherty’s 1998 album “Andrea’s Brown Eyes.” She received some significant acclaim for the album “Change of Habit” by the Poor Clares, a group that has been called “one of America’s best Irish groups” by Dirty Linen magazine.

Patterson began her own journey to solo fame here, with the kind of Irish CD that even novices can immerse themselves in — if only because many of the songs seem to have the muscle memory of Louisiana music. Turns out that’s drummer Jason Marsalis (of the legendary New Orleans jazz family) on that swinging mambolka.

The centerpiece of the album is the strange stringed-thing on which Patterson would rapidly become a well-known expert. (She has taught bouzouki both privately and for classes, including the exclusive Zoukfest.)

Originally a Greek musical instrument, the 10-string bouzouki looks and sounds something like a long-necked mandolin. Its centuries-old breezes blow through many of these more traditional moments on “Hybrid Vigor.”

How this comes to sound local is a mystery – like the very vibe of her hometown, a strange Crescent City connection. By the time you arrive at her stirring rendition of “Mardi Gras,” the CD has taken on the feel of relaxed exuberance, a sweet sort of contentment.

But it is Patterson’s originals – each a forceful and well-done take on such traditional Emerald Isle styles as jigs, waltzes and rags – that cap off this virtuoso performance. She also produced the album, sang lead and harmony on several songs and played the bouzouki, bass, mandolin, caxixi, ashiko, zills, rhumba, box, whip and bombo.

The reading of which, come to think of it, sounds a little like the last sounds out of that Volks before it threw a rod on that July long ago.

Purchase: Beth Patterson – Hybrid Vigor

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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