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For Celtic Woman, ‘it’s all about the sound’

“On the Road Again.”

Chances are better than good you won’t hear Celtic Woman sing that vintage Willie Nelson tune when they return to The Smith Center for the Performing Arts for two concerts Sunday.

But they definitely know the feeling.

So you’ll forgive Susan McFadden for hesitating a moment when, during a telephone interview, she’s not quite sure where she and the other women — singers Chloe Agnew and Lisa Lambe and violinist Mairead Nesbitt — are performing that night.

“I’ll have to think about that,” McFadden admits before recalling their current stop: “Oklahoma City.” (They were in Memphis the night before.)

And so it goes on tour for Celtic Woman, whose richly harmonic renditions of melodies old and new have sold more than 6 million CDs and DVDs — and have inspired 1.7 million people to see them in person. (At least according to the Celtic Woman website.)

The Irish group’s current tour, which began in February, has taken them across North America aboard their own tour bus, from New England and into Canada, from Pennsylvania into the Midwest, then to the South and Florida before heading west to Texas — and on to Phoenix, Saturday night’s tour stop, where they’ll perform at the Wild Horse Casino.

No casinos for Celtic Woman when they hit Vegas, however.

They’re returning to The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall, where they ended their previous North American tour in April 2012.

McFadden remembers Reynolds Hall as “a particularly stunning venue,” she says. “It’s beautifully laid out. I love when the audience is all around you.”

Last year’s tour was McFadden’s first as a Celtic Woman; she joined the ensemble in January 2012, replacing Lisa Kelly, who departed the tour because she was pregnant with her fourth child.

Personnel changes are to be expected with “an all-female lineup,” McFadden says. “It gets to the point where it’s time” for members “to spend time with their families.”

Besides, “it’s very demanding on tour,” she adds, citing another reason why Celtic Woman’s lineup “is going to change.”

Such change, however, enables members new and old “to keep it fresh and keep the energy in the group alive.”

For McFadden, singing with Celtic Woman enables her to play a new onstage role: herself.

Before joining Celtic Woman, McFadden spent seven years in the West End, London’s Broadway equivalent, performing in such musicals as “Grease” (after winning the role of Sandy on the U.K. version of the NBC competition “Grease: You’re the One That I Want”) and taking on the lead role in the musical version of “Legally Blonde.”

“I was used to being onstage and hiding behind a character, in costume, with wigs on,” she says.

But as a member of Celtic Woman, “I have to just be me,” McFadden says. “I found it really scary.” (Even though she made her professional debut at 11, playing the title role in “Annie” in her native Dublin.)

Indeed, the chance “to go back to something homegrown” proved irresistible, she says. Especially something homegrown that was already “so successful, and on such a huge scale.”

McFadden admits she’s still “quite shy onstage,” getting “a little bit tongue-tied” when called on to comment during concerts.

But the singing’s another matter.

Unlike last year’s tour, which was designed to promote the CD release “Believe,” in the 2013 concerts “we’ve gone back to fan favorites,” she says, citing “Orinoco Flow” and “She Moved Through the Fair.”

But there are still selections from “Believe,” resulting in “a real mixture” of music, according to McFadden.

With “a lot of songs I loved” already in the Celtic Woman repertoire, “it’s very special to be able to perform these songs,” she says, “to work with three other girls and two other voices.”

Overall, “it’s all about the sound and all about the music, foremost,” in McFadden’s view. “There’s a power and strength we strive to maintain.”

And with “very different and versatile voices, we change around all the time,” she adds. “We all have our own solos as well,” so no one’s stuck singing “the harmony lines” all the time.

McFadden’s own favorite among her numbers: “Caledonia.”

Technically, it’s Scottish. (Caledonia being the name the Romans gave to the land north of their province Britannia.)

But “it’s all Celtic, it’s all related,” McFadden says.

Besides, “it reminds me of my childhood.”

She and her cousin “would argue over who got to sing it as a party piece,” McFadden says. (“Guess what I’m singing?” is how she informed her cousin, who now lives in Australia, of the solo.)

“It’s such a beautiful song,” McFadden says, but “it’s difficult to sing,” she admits, “because I’m so far from home and it touches a nerve.”

Then again, so do most of Celtic Woman’s numbers, she points out.

“Most Irish songs — they all tell a story,” she says. “And you can see the reaction in the audiences’ faces” when their hear those stories.

To quote “Caledonia’s” lyrics: “I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs, that make me think about where I’ve come from.”

And, of course, where McFadden’s going.

Even when the grind of cross-country touring gets a bit much, there’s always another concert to anticipate.

“For us, if you’re tired, or homesick, or feeling a bit low,” McFadden says, “the audience’s reaction really spurs you on.”

Which explains why, as she insists, “the most enjoyable 2½ hours on any day is being onstage.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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