Eileen Ivers and unIVERSal roots band

Concert preview and CD review

Caltech Beckman Auditorium - Sunday, March 15, 3:00pm

By Tom Cheyney

Eileen Ivers Scatter the LightThere are many ways light can be scattered. Through a glass darkly or a shaggy cloud, under murky water or out on a dusty trail. But when music scatters light, the colors can change with a blue note or green riff. When fiddle phenom Eileen Ivers and her friends bend and scatter the light, they bring the visible spectrum to the dance. And when the light transforms from particles and waves to the hue and tint of heart and soul, these physicists of sound go forth and scatter that light and fight the darkness.

Ivers and her brill band are touring behind the just-released Scatter the Light, her first collection since 2016’s Beyond the Bog Road. The new album veers toward an eclectic, original composition-oriented path compared with the previous roots music highway, which connected many dots between the Irish fiddle tradition and Cajun, bluegrass, Quebec and other flavors of the rich Americana loam.

As with most of her work, there’s no escaping the rootstock of this All-Ireland champ, the turn of the ear and tap of the foot toward the jig and reel, the gentle nod to a spacious airy ambience as she glides bow over string. But Ivers has never been one to stay in lockstep with the tradition, and her adventurousness finds solid purchase on the new album. She and her in-the-pocket bandmates, especially sublime squeezeboxer Buddy Connolly and soulful lead singer/multi-instrumentalist Matt Mancuso, take the new material in a plethora of pleasurable directions.

“This one really came from the heart and maybe it was, in some ways, a reaction to the cerebral nature of the last record,” she explained in an interview. “I let my heart guide me and then, thankfully, I started to see patterns and shapes forming. When I look at the record, I see myself, my thoughts and even my dreams, all connected through the 11 tracks.”

The luminous Shine kicks things off, with a lush waltz waveform buoying Mancuso’s life-affirming vocals. “As time flies, it leaves my shadow behind,” he sings. “So I'm going to shine.” Indeed, grab life, don’t let it pass you by. Chase the Blues Away follows, with Ivers’ funky ceilidh flow giving way to a sweet Sowetan swing. Taking a deep breath, Gratitude floats ethereal, an air of positively charged meditation.

Two gospel retellings uplift the midsection of the new album. A Cajun-Zydeco thread weaves around the old chestnut, Go Tell It On The Mountain, while its companion “Children Go” gets a rocky rumbling treatment with percussionist Dave Barckow stepping up lively on the lead vocals.

“Road Trip” crams a lot into its 3-minute-plus romp, veering Irish, then roadhouse Americana, getting funky enough to shred the tires on that ol’ ride of yours. Ivers flies solo on One Violin Wah Wah, which carries the same rumbling rhythm and melody riff as Road Trip, but tips into the gizmo-tronic side of Ivers’ fiddling, embracing the kind of wild wobbly skronk that usually emanates from an electric guitbox.

The closer You Are Strong is a #MeToo stunner and departure from the album’s light-filled mood. A spoken-word rap telling a friend’s story of sexual violence, Ivers and company lend dark, subtly thumping atmospherics that help bring the ultimate message of speaking one’s truth to the fore.

The physics don’t lie: Eileen Ivers and her friends produce their own gravitational field. What better place than Caltech’s venerable Beckman to feel their pull.

Tom Cheyney has been writing about the global and roots music scenes in Los Angeles and around the world since fax machines were high tech.