by Alix Cohen . . .

When Tim Connell begins “Look to the Rainbow” (Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg from Finian’s Rainbow) with a capella Irish lilt, one’s instinct is to turn for a view. The captivating performer is authentic. He exudes warmth and naturalness, immediately gathering in an audience. Though “yet to make a pilgrimage to the motherland,” Connell is 95% Irish. This is St. Patrick’s Day.

Instead of offering a program of traditional classics, the performer draws as much  from theater and American Songbook as he does from a here more eclectic cannon.  Yes, we close with a luminous “Danny Boy” (Frederic Edward Weatherly-lyrics), but preceding is a variety of material from romp to ballad.

“On the Streets of Dublin” (Lynn Ahrens/Steve Flaherty from A Man of No Importance) brings out the storyteller. Connell conjures with infectious joy.  MD/accompanist James Followell musically lights the scenario. It’s like getting a private tour. Intermittent banter concerns the colorful side of the artist’s roots by which he’s puckishly tickled. (There were even vaudevillians.)

“Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral” (James Royce Shannon) and “When Irish Eyes Are Smilin’ (Ernest Ball/Chancey Olcott/George Graff Jr.) arrive with a sway and a twirl, perfect opportunity to showcase Connell’s lovely tenor and Followell’s glissando. Jimmy MacCarthy’s “Bright Blue Rose” finds the collaborators in duet. Ari Messenger’s fiddle is high and dewy.

A George M (Cohan) medley is jiggy and bright, though I’m unclear how “My Town-Manhattan” fits. “The Blower’s Daughter” (Damien Rice) emerges a folksy, fine grained ballad of longing. The fiddle articulates ardor. When Connell goes up an octave, his shoulders rise, his neck extends, we feel the song coursing through. Every repetitive lyric is differently expressed. This is an actor.

“Finnegan’s Wake” (Ken Casey/Matthew Edward Kelly/Rick Barton) is a rowdy drinking song: Whack fol, de, dah/Now, dance to your partner/Welt the floor, your trotters shake/Wasn’t it the truth, they told ye lots of fun/At Finnegan’s wake…Piano emphasizes like boots on a wood floor; fiddle is playful and perhaps a bit mad.  The chorus elicits spontaneous clapping.

Similar mischievousness erupts with “Seven Drunken Nights” (traditional folk song via The Dubliners) The obtuse protagonist grows increasingly pissed off, but  Connell never overplays. Two off-color, winking verses are added to the familiar. Phrasing is adroit.

“Song for Ireland” (Phil and June Colclough): I stand by your Atlantic Sea/And sing a song for Ireland… lays bare deep affection. Open hands splay across Connell’s chest, lower and reach out, then clasp. He looks from face to face for understanding. It’s crystalline.

One always leaves a Tim Connell show in a brighter mood, feeling as if something has been shared.

Pangea is a small, genial club with a solid kitchen, excellent drinks, and discreet waiters. Tim Connell performs again on March 20 at 2 pm.

Photo: Stewart Green

Tim Connell: Lucky Me!
MD/Pianist: James Followell

Guest Artist: Ari Messenger

Pangea  178 Second Avenue at 11th Street NYC