Stark Raven, Committed (Stark Raven 2001)  

 

"Oh, there's a band!" says Reginald.

Reginald's tale is interspersed with the musical selections on Committed. A patient at a psychiatric facility, Reginald seizes an opportunity to escape. Where does he flee but to the local pub, ordering a Guinness and listening to the band, who is presumably Stark Raven. From the sound of things, Reginald picked a good night.

Stark Raven is one of those bands that shows versatility while maintaining a unique, identifiable sound. An example is their version of "John Of Hazelgreen," with jazz fusion guitar, bass, flute, and udu drum, and Swingle Singers-like choral vocals. Or witness the driving acoustic rock arrangement of "The Blacksmith," bridged with a bouncy "Billy In The Lowground." The more traditional arrangements are also good. The fast tunes flow and the slow ones are riveting. The playing is incredibly tight; on some of the reels the fiddle and flute practically sound like a single instrument. The sound is well balanced, although in a few places ("Eamonn An Chnoic") the keyboards are a shade overpowering. There are some instruments listed in the liner notes that are not easily heard, and require careful listening to distinguish from the mix, so subtle is the blend. The vocal leads are strong and rich, and the supporting voices add clear, sometimes delicate, harmonies.

Some of the selections are quite familiar -- it seems that every Celtic band these days sings "The Blacksmith" and "I Know My Love" -- but the versions presented here are far from stale. Others, like the funny "Dunn Song," are less common, and a welcome inclusion. There are also several originals, with each member of the band contributing. Most of these fit seamlessly alongside the traditional tunes they're matched with.

But what happens with Reginald? Read no further if you don't want the ending spoiled. Our friend is retrieved, and goes peaceably. As he leaves the pub, he remarks, "I had a wonderful time."

I'm not surprised.

[Tim Hoke]

Stark Raven has a website here.