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Reviews: The Chieftains and Ry Cooder, San Patricio; Loreena McKennitt, A Mediterranean Odyssey; and Monster Ceilidh Band, Make Me a Dancer

This Monday we bring glad tidings to Celtic fans with two albums from some old (venerable, even) favorites and a solid self-release from newcomers the Monster Ceilidh Band.

Monster Ceilidh Band

Monster Ceilidh Band
Make Me a Dancer
[self-released MCB001CD (2009)]

Picture this: a dance club filled with bouncing, sweaty bodies pulsating under flashing lights to the driving beats of a . . . ceili band? Well, not just any ceili band. The Monster Ceili Band is a young foursome that started out playing dances at the Newcastle Student Union and soon began to play out at dance clubs. With funky, chunky bass guitar by David de la Haye (who also recorded and mastered the CD in his home studio), flashy, driving accordion by Amy Thatcher (who also contributed a few tunes), swirling fiddle by Carla Blain, and Kieran Szifris’ rhythmic mandocello beats, this group has crafted a delightful DIY project that might just lead to a rave-up in your living room.

Tracks 1-9 include several reels, both trad and originals, in a continuous stream with a few slower intervals inserted in the transitions to allow dancers to catch their breath. Tracks 10-14 are jigs, presented in a similarly seamless manner. The energetic set is highlighted by the fun and familiar traditional jig, “La Brisquette,” and continues to build, driving the dancers into the final, frenzied “MacArthur’s Road,” reminiscent of the Hans Christian Anderson story, the “Red Slippers.” One can almost imagine the dancers collapsing in a heap at the end of the piece, though one would hope in only temporary exhaustion! The final set, “The Stomach Steinway Set,” finishes the CD in a Hot-Club-cum-ceili number, a medley of two tunes by Scotland’s Ian Lowthian, accordion teacher at Newcastle University.

This Monster hurls tradition into the 21st century. [www.monsterceilidhband.co.uk]

— Susan Hartman (Baltimore, MD)

Loreena McKennitt
A Mediterranean Odyssey
[Quinlan Road (Limited Edition) (December 2009)]

The exquisitely atmospheric and lush romanticism of Loreena McKennitt‘s Celtic-rooted music is on full display in this gorgeously produced double-CD collection, combining new live recordings from her 2009 tour to Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Hungary and Italy with previously-released studio songs (most of them the same ones on the live show) on a companion CD. “From Istanbul to Athens” showcases the traveling concert McKennitt brings on the road, bringing ten cuts brilliantly to life, and “The Olive and the Cedar,” contains eleven tracks chosen from her previous albums “The Mask and Mirror,” “The Visit,” “An Ancient Muse” and “The Book of Secrets.”

She writes in her liner notes:  “Although music is a performance art, it is also a sharing art; and it was a great pleasure to share our musical offerings in so many magnificent outdoor historic locations in a part of the world which has long fascinated me—especially since the last few studio recordings have been so heavily influenced by the history of the Celts in the Mediterranean region.”

Indeed, as you listen you can instantly imagine how ideal it must have been to hear these concerts of the “eclectic Celtic”—a blend of pop, folk and world music—in these evocative locales. And for your further immersion, McKennitt has included a photo journal of her travels in a beautiful booklet accompanying the discs.

As is usual for this artist, the presentation perfectly matches the tone, style and imagery of this richly hued musical experience, conjuring fantasy, adventure, and high emotions. This is stuff for a romantic night out (or night in, as your choice may be!). Her singing is also a full tapestry that tells stories taken from poetry and legend. The international reach of McKennitt’s music throughout Europe and North America perfectly fits her compositions, which combine ancient sounds of Irish airs and tunes with evocative Middle Eastern rhythms and instrumentation.

Quite the accomplished singer/composer, Canadian-born McKennitt has come a long way from her musical origins busking with her harp and running her record label from her kitchen table. This now internationally-acclaimed artist has been nominated for a Grammy, won two Juno awards, the Billboard International Achievement Award, composed for numerous Canadian art institutions, and performed for Queen Elizabeth II. [www.quinlanroad.com]

—Susie Glaze (Burbank, CA)

The Chieftains featuring Ry Cooder

The Chieftains featuring Ry Cooder
San Patricio
[Hear Music/Concord Music Group HRM-31321-02 (2010)]

San Patrico weaves together The Chieftains‘ long tradition of collaborative theme recordings with Ry Cooder’s recent move into concept albums delving into the Mexican-American history of his native southern California. For San Patricio, the subject is a battalion of Irish immigrants who joined the U.S. Army in 1846 and ultimately switched sides to support the Mexican army against what they viewed as an imperialist invasion. This scenario formed a context for the disc’s juxtaposition of Irish and Mexican musical motifs, which are augmented by an impressive roster of guests from either (or, in the case of Galician harpist Carlos Nuñez, both) traditions.

Guest vocalists include Lila Downs, who sings the sprightly opening track “La Iguana”; Linda Ronstadt, who turns in a passionate “A la Orilla de un Palmar”; and Moya Brennan, who lends her voice to the funereal dirge, “Lullaby for the Dead.” The Chieftains and Cooder also pair with a number of groups, including Los Cenzontles, Los Folkloristas, and Los Tigres del Norte. The saga of San Patricio is depicted most directly in the Ry Cooder-penned and -sung title tune and “March to Battle (Across the Rio Grande),” narrated by Liam Neeson. Nonagenerian vocalist Chavela Vargas contributes a hypnotic vocal to “Luz de Luna,” and “Canción Mixteca” appears first as a pensive acoustic guitar instrumental by Cooder and then in a big-band version featuring the swaggering vocals of Los Tigres del Norte. This successful collaboration ends with Irish and Mexican musicians playing off one another on a joyful, multi-faceted “Finale.” [www.thechieftains.com]

— Michael Parrish (San Jose, CA)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.

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