Although he's collected a slew of awards in Irish folk and traditional categories in recent years, Dublin native Damien Dempsey is a renegade who not only flirts with the punk ethos of bands like the Pogues but also has freely dabbled in hip hop and electronica. Dempsey's latest, The Rocky Road (United for Opportunity), is a strictly traditional affair packed with ballads culled from the tumultuous history of the Emerald Isle, ranging from 200-year-old accounts of rebellions to Shane McGowan's uncharacteristically gentle love song "A Rainy Night in Soho." Dempsey even recruited Dubliners John Sheahan and Barney McKenna, along with button accordionist Sharon Shannon, for a rootsy feel. Nevertheless, Dempsey sings with such unbridled passion and barbed ferocity that his contemporary leanings haunt these songs in a curious reversal of common practice. Even on an ancient a capella piece like "The Twang Man," the modernist ghosts in Dempsey's voice imbue fresh urgency. And the vividly dramatic title tune, "The Rocky Road to Dublin," picks up a driving intensity from Dempsey's rhythmic phrasing that transcends folkie formulas.
Sat., Sept. 6, 7 p.m., 2008