Talking to a friend the other night at my local folk club I just happened to say I had just received a handful of Celtic CD's for review. Ah' he retorted "they are all from Wales then", he being a proud Welshman and always up for a bit of fun, "Well no, only one" I said. "Oh well they can't true Celtic then" he said, knowing that my grandfather came from Scotland and I was going to fight in that corner! This led to a 'fun' conversation between an Englishman, an Irishman, a Scotsman, and a Welshman, about what is or is not Celtic music. The net outcome was that 'Celtic folk music' as we have come to call it, is a style of playing, and that in its self, can be divided into many sub-categories. Because of migration, Celtic music is now found all over the world. In this review I compare a few albums, which can all be filed under Celtic.
Coming from South Wales, Mabon's CD Ridiculous Thinkers is a brilliant Celtic album of tunes centred around the accordion of Jamie Smith and fiddle of Gareth Whelan with Derek Smith on Guitar, Jason Rogers on Bass and Lolo Whelan on Drums, percussion. Guest musicians include Jojo Davey on Flute, David Kilgallon on Hamond and Church organ, additional violin, Mared Whelan on Cello, Steve Haynes on Mandolin, and Sarah Smith and Grainne Joughin on Donkey Jaw.
It is a pity there are no vocal tracks on this album for they are all superb musicians and have good arrangements. Some of the tunes are composed by Jamie Smith, although the sleeve notes are a bit vague as to which ones. The title track 'The Ridiculous Thinker' comes up at track 9 and a set of three tunes. It has nice 'funky' sound as do a lot of the tunes on the album. However, one tune that deserves an extra mention is 'Fiddler's Despair'at track 6. On it Jamie demonstrates his manual dexterity with possibly the fastest fingers in the west. As the sleeve note says, "There must be someone who can knock him of his smug perch on this one." Overall I have this is nice album of tunes by blisteringly good musicians. They have a great 'young' sound. However its a pity there are no vocals tracks, as this would have lifted the album to another level, but it's still an album well worth having. If you are a fan of the band 422, you may well like Mabon. You can find the Mabon website here.
The Muse's, Passing Time is Celtic music with zing, it says on their logo, the zing coming mainly from Canadians Matt Gurnsey and Tanya Brody. Although it was recorded in a studio, it has plenty of whoops and yelps giving the effect of a live performance, and it's clear they are enjoying themselves. As the leaders of The Muses, Tanya Brody and Matt Gurnsey handle all the lead vocals very well, Tanya also plays guitar, harp, hammered dulcimer, pennywhistle, bodharan and bones. Matt Gurnsey is also a multi instrumentalist playing Concertina, Mandolin, Bass, pennywhistles and shaker.
Other singers and musicians making up the Muse are Chaz Kemp on Dumbek & vocals, Michi Regier on violin, Keith Spears on keyboards, Kelly Wohford on Djembe Tamborine & vocals, and Roger Gurnsey on Bagpipes drones.
The track list is bright and lively - no dirges here, and it makes for very pleasant listening with songs such as 'Cape Cod Girls', 'Rattlin' Roarin' Willie', 'Haul away Joe', 'The Bonny Ship the Diamond', 'Little Beggarman', all traditional songs punctuated with contemporary works such as 'Sonny's Dream. One song I hadn't heard before turns out to have been written by Tanya and is 'Maiden's Revenge', telling how a young man a bit to big for his britches is cut down to size by young maid. The album closes with a nice fitting song called 'Come for to Sing' by Bob Stuart.
In conclusion, I can recommend this album as a fine example of Canadian acoustic Celtic folk song, - good easy listening that won't offend anyone. For more information about The Muses plus you can buy the album online go here.
And also filed under Celtic, although I suppose their real classification should be Celtic Rock, I took a listen to 2 albums that are not to dissimilar. If you are a fan of Steeleye Span or Fairport Convention you might well like these....
Enter The Haggis, Casualties Of Retail are a band from Ontario, Canada. Formed in 1996, this is their 4th album and as such will be no strangers to readers in North America, where they have toured extensively. The band has a good sound, producing a pounding rock instrumental base for a fusion of Celtic funk and almost bluegrass tunes and songs. I would say they sit midway between The Oyster Band and perhaps Rage against the Machine, if I had to compare them with anybody. This is a show band headed by the flame haired Brian Buchanan on vocals, fiddle, acoustic guitar, banjo, and mandolin, with Craig Downie on Highland pipes, tin whistle, jaw harp, harmonica, & vocals, Mark Abraham on bass & vocals, James Campbell on drums, percussion, & vocals, and Trevor Lewington on electric and acoustic guitars and banjo.
The band has nice tight quality with Brian Buchanan taking lead vocals on most of the vocal tracks, having written the lyrics of several with others by Trevor Lewington. I thought Trevor's song 'Another Round' deserves an extra mention as does 'Gasoline' written by Buchanan. It's from a line in this song that the album takes its title. These songs are complimented by traditional tunes and songs like 'She moved Through the Fair', and a nice version of 'Minstrel Boy' (lyrics by Thomas Moore arranged by Enter the Haggis).
I liked this album very much and I can't understand why I've not heard them before, maybe they should cross the pond more often. They have a young 'loud' sound that would go down very well with the more forward thinking festivals. The more you listen to them, the more you like them. You can learn more about the band and buy the album on line here.
Many of the comments directed to Enter The Haggis could also be directed to the northern Californian band Tempest. Having been around since about 1989, this is their 8th album as a band, plus numerous other outings on compilation albums with assorted artists. They are still a little shy on the UK circuit despite an appearance at Fairport's' Cropredy Festival. This is their latest album, The Double Cross . The band's international lineup accounts for their sound, for the members of Tempest originate from five countries across three continents. They are founder Lief Sorbye on lead vocals and electric mandolin, from Oslo, Norway; On drums is Adolfo Lazo from Havana, Cuba; Guitarist Ronan Carroll is from Dublin, Ireland; Bassist Ariane Cap is from Innsbruck, Austria; Fiddle player Michael Mullen is from Fresno, California. Like Fairport Convention, the overall sound is one of having more rock than folk in their interpretation of folk rock. I liked it, even if the giants of the folk rock bands have done the songs before.
I thought at first from the cover, a ship floundering on some rocks, it would be a nautically themed album. Not that it matters that much, but apart from the opening track 'Captain Kid' the album is mixture of traditional and contemporary works. I failed to connect with 'the double cross' from albums title. Not to worry as Tempest makes good listening as the instrumentals weave in and out of songs such as 'Hangman' and 'Who Ever You Are'. Given the bands pedigree, there is even a nice song 'Per Spelman' sung in Norwegian. A well known traditional song from Norway, it has a great tune that will carry it even if you can't understand the lyrics. I particularly liked the arrangement they have for 'Eppy Moray' the traditional Scottish song. This one really knocks on Fairport's door! There are only 10 tracks on this album and it ends with a medley they call 'Wizards Walk' which takes in Tam Lin, Wizards Walk, Boffyflow and Spike, and Jenny Dang the Weaver, running for over 10 minutes and getting wilder and wilder - good stuff!
For the bonus video "In The Studio" inset the CD in your computer. Here you will discover why the album is called 'The Double Cross'. Lief Sorbye explains that Captain Kid was double crossed and had to be hung twice because the rope failed. (This would often happen at hangings, in days gone by.) You learn more about Tempest here.
No Celtic review would be complete without the Irish....
Shilelagh Law are an Irish pub band from New York. On this, their 3rd album Good Intentions, they bring the atmosphere you would expect from a pub band, with good quality Irish songs superbly executed, - you can't help but enjoy. The band are: Terence Brennan on percussion & vocals, Stephen Gardner on bass & vocals, Denis McCarthy on fiddle, tin whistle, piano, mandolin & vocals, and Richard Popovic on guitar, banjo, and vocals. Kevin McCarthy is a guest musician on this album, contributing Accordion & vocal backing.
'Good Intentions' is the first and title track, song written by Richard Popovic as are 3 other compositions on the album 'Nothing Gold Can Stay', 'Weariness Falls Away', and 'Songs to Sing'. Terence Bennan provides another 2 songs in 'Here We Go', and 'Boys of 98', Denis McCarthy ads 'Meet Me on McLean' to the traditional 'Wild Mountain Tyme', Whiskey You're the Devil' and 'Jug of Punch' ending the album with a true Irish rebel flavour.
Although some of the songs might lean towards the Irish rebel cause, these are sung and performed in a honest fashion, in fact as you might hear in almost any folk club. Although Shilelagh Law doesn't push any boundaries out with this album, its good easy listening that you will be sure to enjoy. You can learn more about the band and buy the albums online here.