Robin Huw Bowen, Hunting the Hedgehog: The Gypsy Harp of Wales (Teires, 1994 )
Killdares, A Place to Stand (Needfire Music, 2000)  
Patrick Street, Compendium: The Best of Patrick Street (Green Linnet, 2000)

There's good reason harps have long been associated with heavenly visions, fairies and all things sweet and light. Their gentle sound is hard to describe in any terms but "angelic," and the music they produce is as much lullaby as any mother's sweet song. It's as if someone took a music box, removed the cover and enlarged the strings (even though it's really the other way around).

Harp music has never made up a significant portion of my collection, though, and perhaps never will. I like to think I prefer my music with a little more of an edge to it; harps have a way of dulling that edge and placing a gilt over it.

Or perhaps it's because of an incident a while back on a tour through Scotland and England. At one proud old hotel, a beautiful harp stood in the corner, and the tour guide announced that one of the young waitresses would be treating us to dinner music. We sat down and awaited our meal and the night's entertainment eagerly. The teen warmed up with a few scales, then went straight into a version of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."

Without the vocals, and with the magic a harp lends any tune, it actually sounded nice. We all clapped politely. Then we went back to our meal, and she played a few tunes in the background. Soon, though, we heard something familiar, and realized she was playing a slightly different version of "My Heart Will Go On." Then a scale or two. Then "My Heart Will Go On." Then a segue into ... "My Heart Will Go On."

Thankfully, Hunting The Hedgehog is all traditional music, a collection of Welsh Gypsy tunes handed down through four generations of harpers with nary a hint of Dion. Bowen's skillful fingers make the instrument sing as only a harp can, portraying the enchantment of a beautiful country and free lifestyle. Some will recognize "Fairy Glen," a popular waltz. Other noteables are "Gypsy Hornpipe"; "Opening of the Flowers/Fair Maid of Corwen"; and "Smith's Hornpipe/The Policeman or The Man with the Mouth" (the last being a tune whistled by gypsies to warn of police presence).

This is an interesting and important collection as much because it is music that may otherwise have been forgotten as because it explores a world where everything can sound beautiful. Perhaps I will add more harp music to my collection, after all.

 

It's hard to have a best-of collection for this Celtic "supergroup," as they're so often dubbed. Just about everything they play is the best. Ever since their "The Legends of Irish Music" tour spawned a collaboration that's lasted 15 years, the fab four of Celtic have produced some pretty fantastic stuff.

The band is fiddler extraordinaire Kevin Burke (formerly of the Bothy Band); accordion player Jackie Daly (formerly with De Dannan); singer/bouzouki player Andy Irvine (formerly of Planxty), and guitarist/fiddler Ged Foley (House Band founder, formerly of The Battlefield Band). Foley replaced guitarist Arty McGlynn (formerly with Planxty, De Danann and Van Morrison) in 1996.

Compendium takes a look at all seven of their previous releases, with three previously unreleased numbers thrown in for good measure. Although almost all the tracks are fine works, the best, in my opinion, include "Stewball and the Monaghan Grey Mare"; "Jenny Picking Cockles/An Gabhrán/Jack Keane's Reel"; "William Taylor"; "Killanin's Fancy/Dash to Portobello/Anna Maculeen" (one of the previously unreleased numbers) and "Rainbow 'Mid The Willows."

This 14-song compilation belongs in any serious Celtic fan's collection; it's also a great choice for those less familiar with Patrick Street's work. Now all we have to do is hope for a release of new music soon.

Patrick Street's bio site on Green Linnet is here.

Celtic music is always evolving, much like the Celtic people, in an effort to survive and grow. It has spread roots to different nations and branches to new territories.

The Killdares, for instance, call Dallas, Texas, home, but their music belongs just as much in the Highlands of Scotland. From their stunning opener, "Firestarter," which leads into a blazing remake of Big Country's 1988 hit "Fields of Fire" to the uptempo ending, "Answer my Fall," A Place to Stand carves itself a little niche in the great wall of Celtic rock.

Tim Smith on lead vocals and percussion, Linda Relph on fiddle, Roy Fletcher on electric and acoustic guitars and Ed Walewski on bass, mandolin and bouzouki drive this progressive five-year-old band.

With a few surprises for the careful listener, the band's second CD clocks in at almost an hour. Standouts include the title track, a mover that's driven with in-your-face fiddles and a driving guitar hook; "Distance Between," which starts with the traditional "Dunmore Lassies"; and "Cutting Bracken," an eclectic, electric set of traditional reels and jigs that include "Cutting Bracken/Dram Before You Go/Helen O'Grady's/Paddy's Leather Breeches."

Visit their Web site here.

 

[Patrick O'Donnell]