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Theo Paige

Theo Paige

Order of reviews:

The San Francisco Gael
Good Times
The Dayton Voice
Into the Music
Fiddler Magazine
Dirty Linen

When one thinks of music capitals in the United States, Nashville, Tennessee; Austin, Texas; and New York City spring to mind. Yet, the San Francisco Bay Area could probably give all of those cities a run for their money, in terms of extremely talented musicians residing and performing in the vicinity.

Just out on Aniar Records, Theo Paige's self-titled first recording is a good example. Besides the seventeen-year-old fiddling phenomenon, the CD features guitarist Martin Simpson, the West Coast banjoist Séamus Egan, piper Todd Denman, guitarist Steve Baughman, and Lucas Levitsky on flute.

Paige started playing at the age of eleven, taking his first lessons from Eve Wagner, a klezmer fiddler. A Kevin Burke concert, however, veered Paige in the Irish music direction. His Irish musical lineage can be traced back three generations to Sliabh Luachra concertina player Bridget O'Rahilly (his maternal great-grandmother); and cousin Nicky McAuliffe is a fiddler and flute player from Kerry.

They must have good, strong genes in his family because there's a natural magic to Paige's playing. He doesn't sound like anyone else. I'd hear a lot about Theo Paige from others, but I'd never heard him play myself. When CDs first arrive at my house, they're usually subject to a pretty cursory first listen. They're pooped in the deck while the rest of the mail is opened, the children's days are listened to, and the evening meal preparations are begun. Once in a while something so string comes along that immediate, involved attention is necessary. That was Theo Paige.

Call it youthful exuberance, call it reckless abandonment to musical dreams, call it whatever you like, but Theo Paige exudes an energy, a subliminal quality, and musical integrity rarely heard in one so young. It's hard to pick favorites amongst the tracks, but the opening "Boogie" with Martin Simpson, and the closing reels with an assembled cast, are extraordinary. What comes between keeps our expectations high. You might say, all in all, it's good to the last note.

All accompanying musicians are excellent: Martin Simpson on thwacking good guitar and Todd Denman on uilleann pipes are exceptional. Both musicians ignite Paige's fiddle when they join up with him. The young fiddler also plays bodhrán, harmonica and guitar (featured on a lovely Tommy Potts air "Billy Byrne of Ballymanus"). The recording is available from Aniar Records.

- Maureen Brennan, San Francisco Gael

Theo Paige There's just no disputing it - Theo Paige is a virtuoso. And his self-titled debut also features acclaimed guitarist Martin Simpson and the equally distinguished Séamus Egan. The musicianship is first-rate throughout, but let me say, if you're going to spin this disc, you've got to like jigs. Actually, Paige, Simpson and company throw some interesting twists into traditional Irish and Scottish forms, but they're at their best on this album when they're really mixing it up. "The Boogie" is a startling opener, with a bouncy guitar part and some infectious percussion that really drives the piece home. "Billy Byrne of Ballymanus" has an almost Flamenco feel, "Todd's Lament" features bluesy fiddle and pipes, and "Pretty Saro/Improv" saws along as Paige reels flawlessly (no pun intended) through a thicket of melodies.

- S.P., Good Times (Santa Cruz)

Theo Paige could very well be called the Pete Townsend of the Irish Fiddle. Like Townsend, who wrote the rock masterpiece "My Generation" at 18, Paige has hit a creative spark at a young age. In November the 17-year-old multi-instrumentalist released his self-titled debut CD on Aniar Records. On the 14-cut disc, Paige, who favors upbeat jigs and Irish reels, has an uncanny grasp of traditional styles for one so young. Don't pigeonhole this strictly as Celtic music, because this is an impressive debut for any genre of music.

Paige will be performing with Todd Denman as part of an evening of traditional and contemporary Irish music at Canal Street Tavern this Sunday Dec. 29. The musicians will be accompanied by guitarist John Sherman and Irish step dancers.

- Don Thrasher, The Dayton Voice

Occasionally a disc comes your way that simply takes your breath away. For me, this is such a disc. Theo Paige is a young (17 years) Irish-American fiddler of prodigious talent and as much spirit to match. Newly released on the San Francisco based Aniar label, they make the claim that "the future of Celtic fiddling is here." You'll have no argument from me, although some stodgy strict traditionalists may not be so enthusiastic. The tremendous guitar work of Martin Simpson appears on 4 of the 14 tracks. Wondering how this kid could pull such a coup, I was informed that Martin is Theo's guitar instructor. That goes a long way towards explaining Theo's obvious talent on guitar on a few tracks. He's also quite adept on bodhrán and harmonica. Fleshing out the sound on this fiery recording is the wonderful piping of Todd Denman, as well as the occasional guest on flute, [and] banjo... If this is the direction Celtic music is heading, I'll definitely be along for the ride. This comes as highly recommended as anything I've heard this year.

- Kyle Reese, Into the Music

Most Irish fiddle-______ (fill in the blank with genre of your choice) fusions fail because musicians misunderstand the intent of the various styles being attempted. The majority of tunes in Irish fiddle music are dance forms while modern jazz and ambient electronic music, to name two fashionable fusion ingredients, are not. It seems to me that if you are going to play something called a jig or a reel, it should make you want to get up and dance. Most fusioneers forget that and lose the rhythmic drive in a somnolent wash of synthesizer or a flurry of fancy chord changes.

There are fiddlers approaching their dotage who still haven't figured that out, which makes the debut of the seventeen year old Theo Paige such a wonder. Although he mixes blues in with his fiddling, he never forgets that the dance is the basis for what he is playing. From the opening track (entitled "The Boogie" - almost always a bad sign in Irish music, but here an accurate description), Paige lets you know this is music to jump up and dance to, not sit down and think about. Even the slow airs have a strong rhythmic pulse with none of the noodling that sometimes infects fiddlers when they get contemplative.

Paige is accompanied by an exceptional batch of musicians including the guitarists Martin Simpson and Steve Baughman and piper Todd Denman; tenor banjo player Séamus Egan and flautist Lucas Levitsky. For one so young Paige has exceptional command of his instrument. He handles the liveliest jig with the aplomb of a fiddler twice his age but he is still able to play an air with unusual subtlety and taste. The only problem with this CD is that it is so good that I can't see how Paige can top it. But I am looking forward to seeing him try.

- Michael Simmons, Fiddler Magazine

Theo Paige certainly plays a heck of a fiddle for one so young. Seventeen years old at the time of this recording, he plays a funky free-form fiddle (and guitar!) in the spirit of Ashley MacIsaac and Eileen Ivers. The playing is very rhythmic, joined by some groovy backing by Martin Simpson on Guitar and Todd Denman on uilleann pipes (among others).

Most of the recording lies far outside of the realm of pure traditional recording with a playful bounce and a driving guitar or bass line to keep your extremities moving. One element that Theo throws into the mix that really stands out is lead melody lines on guitar. The tunes are not as lush with swing, shuffle, and ornament as his fiddle leads, but the groovy sound really carries over well onto guitar. More so even than Ashley MacIsaac, Theo really gets a lot of groove and jitter into his music.

Though much of this record features Theo playing alone (or overdubbing fiddle unisons, guitar, or harmonica with himself), there is also some fine ensemble playing. Todd Denman's uilleann pipes really add a lot to the sound... Finally, the audio production is very professionally done. The instrument sounds are great, the mix intelligent, and the overall quality of sound is very high. Kudos to Aniar for taking the time and care to record this project well.

Who would like this album: This album is for people who like to hear groovy upbeat eclecto-celtoid music fans of Eilieen Ivers and Ashley MacIsaac would be well advised to add Theo's record to their collections.

- Dan Beimborn,

This is the first recording from a brilliant 17-year-old fiddler who sounds like he grew up in the traditional scene of Ireland instead of Santa Cruz, California. Paige's playing belies his age, sounding like a cross between Kevin Burke and Martin Hayes. Not many fiddlers could hold their own with guitarist Martin Simpson, as Paige does here, much less one his age. He has recorded a diverse album, featuring duets with Martin Simpson, [and] Todd Denman (uilleann pipes). He also adds a solo fiddle track and, on two racks, he plays guitar. Also joining Paige is Séamus Egan on banjo and Lucas Levitsky on flute. Certainly a fiddler to watch for.

- JLe, Dirty Linen

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