Issue 11 10/99
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Mac Umba "BuHuháho"
Label: Greentrax; CDTRAX 161; 14 Tracks; Playing Time: 43.05 min
Mac Umba present the combination of a pipe band with Brazilian rhythms - quite unique. There is a lot of power in this blend, making Mac Umba to a superb party band.
"BuHuháho", Mac Umba's second album, features their current line-up of three pipers (Shuttle and Border Pipes) and five percussionists (among others congas, bongos, tamborin, surdos, snares and "other noisy things"). A big part of the tunes are written by Mac Umba members, along with some trad tunes, featuring the likes of Samba, Reggae, Reels, Marches, Airs, Bossa, Rumba and other Celtic and Brazilian tunes and rhythms. On a few numbers the boys and girls chant along to the pipe/percussion sounds.
The album brings over some of the special appeal that Mac Umba has in live, but still it cannot reach the live act itself. If a band of just pipes and percussion sounds boring to you, try out Mac Umba to get convinced that it is far away from the usual pipes and drums stuff!
Greentrax Recordings; Edinburgh Road, Cockenzie, East Lothian EH32 0HL, Scotland, E-mail; Tel: +44 1875814155 Fax: +44 1875813 545
Niss Kerstin "Träd"
Label: Amigo Musik; AMCD739; 1998; Playing time: 58.49 min
"Träd" - "Tree" is the name of this album of the Swedish singer Niss Kerstin. As she explains in the booklet, in her childhood she used to go regularly into a birken wood, just to sit around and dream, with the trees being her friends. When she discovered the nature lyrics of Harry Martinson, these lines expressed exactly her childhood feelings and dreams. This album is a dedication to the trees, featuring 12 nature poems of Harry. They are musically arranged by Niss, and sound like steeped in Swedish traditions.
With her pretty light voice, Niss sings the poems carrying a lot of her passion, love and simplicity to the words and the trees she is singing about. To accompany her singing, Niss has invited three members of Groupa - Mats Edén (violas and concertina), Terje Isunghet ("natural" percussion) and Rickard Arström (piano) plus Anders Hagberg on sax and flutes and Johannes Lundberg on bass. Still, the voice is always in the foreground, making this recording a real pleasure for anybody who likes Swedish singing steeped in Scandinavian culture.
Amigo Musik AB, email@example.com; , Box 6058, S 10231 Stockholm, Sweden
Label: Siljum; BGSCD9910; 1999; Playing time: 49.54 min
Plommon, the five young girls from Southern Sweden, have built up quite a popularity in Germany, where they are touring several months this year - just in the last issue we have reviewed a 1999 Plommon release, "Emma", released on a German label, Akku Disc. At the same time, the girls stay true to their home, so they brought out another CD in 1999, for their Swedish Siljum label.
While "Emma" also features several of their own compositions, on this album they are presenting only material that is either traditional or written by the old Spelmans of Skåne and beyond. The five little songs have simple texts and seem to be folk songs in the truest sense of the word, having titles like "Cognac", "Mother and daughter" or "Marry Me". They are sung in a simple and honest style, with pretty voices. The tunes and songs are played on up to five fiddles, recorder, tramp organ and clarinette. The music seems to be very local music from the Skåne area, carrying on the old spelman traditions.
It is a good sign for the state of local traditional Swedish music hearing five young girls (around 20 years old) breathing new life into those old melodies. Still, what lacks on this recording is the wit and charme that the girls show in their live appearances. But it's hard yet to press charme onto those silver discs isn't it...
Carlos Núñez "Os Amores Libres"
Label: RCA Victor/BMG; 74321 6694 2; 1999; Playing time: 58.26 min
Having worked for several years on this album, the result of Carlos Núñez' second disc is impressive and of highest quality. Carlos has invited once again a huge list of some of the best known (and best) folk musicians from all over the world, and the album does not sound like a commercial project, but like a real music project. While I found Carlos' first album, "Brotherhood of Stars", at times a bit soft and radio friendly, this album has all the edges and the rough energy that we know of Carlos' live performances.
Each number has its very own cultural background, each reflecting one special musical relationship of Galicia. The ideas behind the pieces are illustrated in the fine booklet, so that the listener knows what the music is about.
If you ask about highlights it is different to answer - there are so many exciting, beautiful or impressive moments. The first number "Jigs & Bulls" features the flamenco guitarist Juan Manuel Cañizares, flamenco bassist Carles Benavent and a firy flamenco gaita by Carlos. "A Lavandeira da Noire" represents the Galician emigrants to Israel, sung by the Israli singer Noa. "Viva La Quinta Brigada" features the Rumanian Band Taraf de Caransebes, and is a strong version of Christy Moore's song about the International Brigades, sung by Irish singer Liam O Maonlai. Perhaps the most impressive piece is the nearly quarter an hour long "O Castro da Moura", the Moorish maiden's Hill Fort. It features a "millenarian orchestra" of more than 50 interantionally renowned Galician musicians, along with the programming of Afro Celts' Simon Emmerson (amazing great stuff - programmed Pandeiretada) and the big pipe sound of the Breton Bagad Kemper. This suite features the whole range of Galician music of today, with some singing, a lot of pipes, flutes, pandeiretada and so on. A lot of variation and power, an absolutely exciting piece of music.
Although having so many different influences, this album has a very round feeling. It is absolutely amazing great stuff, a masterpiece of music.
The master of Galician pipes was highly successful, having created a timelessly impressive album, maybe the most exciting folk music project album around.
Dicky Deegan "an phib"
Label: self-produced - DD002CD
There can't be many visitors to Tasmania who haven't seen and heard Dicky Deegan. In his distinctive tweed cap and coat, playing his engagingly different set of bagpipes, he's a busker who stands out while sitting down!
But listening to his new CD, "an phib", I'm inclined to believe that familiarity has bred contempt. I don't think we locals were prepared for the class of this recording.
We may know that Dicky plays the uilleann pipes. What we mightn't know about this London-born son of Irish parents, is how good his playing has become. Even the UK and Irish folk scene is taking notice, with the ultimate piping accolade - favourable comparison with master Irish piper Seamus Ennis - being made more than once in print by those who should know.
So what can you expect from this album? If nothing else it is exceedingly generous - 72 minutes of judiciously chosen traditional tunes, and a 16 page booklet full of fascinating notes. But it IS something else, far surpassing his very good first two efforts ("The Pipe on the Hob" and "River of Gems"). Like a river "an phib" sparkles and ripples with cracking jigs, reels and hornpipes; then darkly swirls with slower airs. Instrumental accompaniment is kept to a minimum, with organ on two tracks, synth on a few others, and dord iseal (Irish horn, sounding very much like a didgeridoo) on one other. Dicky also plays whistle on a couple of tracks.
While the uilleann pipes have been enthusiastically embraced by many during the current "revival", few have studied and worked at the tradition in the way Dicky Deegan has. "an phib" therefore stands out as a traditional piping CD worth forking out pounds, dollars or punts for.
This Tasmanian-made CD is being marketed to the world via the Internet. Contact Dicky via email
Colin Hay "Transcendental Highway"
Label: Festival (D 31831)
Can it really be 20 years since Men At Work first got together? And could the man who so famously sang "we come from the land down under" really hail from Glasgow? Alas both are true, though there are also two pieces of good news. The first is that Men At Work are in reunion mode, with US and Australian tours recently completed. The second is this solo CD from front man Colin Hay.
Although the infectiously husky voice is still there, don't expect the same good-time pop that made the band famous. Instead Hay shows what a fine wordsmith he can be. "Death Row Conversation" covers the territory of the stunning book/film "Dead Man Walking", and does it with a poignancy made all the more potent by its spare musical arrangement. The more personal "Freedon Calling" - reminiscent of early Dylan - tells us something of the journey Hay has been on since he left Australia. The use of bagpipes adds a touching home-country reference to a song that deserves to be considered a classic.
The title track surprises in being a "spoken" song that somehow succeeds in being both musical and likeable. In many ways this typifies an album that could be summed up as the thoughtful and tuneful work of a talented musician who has moved on from fame into a new place that is worth visiting.
John Whelan & Friends - "Flirting With The Edge"
Label: Narada (72438-45444-2-3)
The frontiers of Irish music are always being pushed, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Irish-American accordionist John Whelan has been around that frontier for some years, both solo and with his band Kips Bay. On this aptly titled CD, Whelan mixes Celtic folk with touches of flamenco and African music. It would be tempting to see this as an effort to cash in on the rising popularity of such "world" music, and one or two tracks show the strain of combining such disparate musical styles. At other times it's not the ethnicity of the music so much as the style of performance that fails to take off - as with Bernadette Peters' slow and listless version of "Dublin Lady".
But so much else on this CD works so well, that by the end the cracks are barely apparent. On the adventurous side, Whelan's collaboration with Ugandan kalimba player Samite and flamenco guitarist Oscar Lopez on "Mayengo Reel" creates real energy. On the more traditional side, melodic pieces from Pat Kilbride ("Lough Beg Waltz") and Kinny Lundrum ("The Heather in Winter") join with Whelan's numerous and varied instrumental compositions to provide the Celtic heartbeat of the album. It seems a touch ironic that a track like "Jigs" - a trio of traditional-sounding jigs co-written by Whelan and fiddler Liz Knowles, and only beefed up by some heavy-duty percussion - provides the greatest "edge" to this adventurous and enjoyable album. But then maybe you have to leave home before you really appreciate it.
Gai Saber "Troubar R'Oc" (1997; 56.41 min)
Gai Saber "Esprit de frontiera" (1999; 49.09 min)
Gai Saber were introduced in an article in the last issue; here follow the reviews of both their first and their very new second CD.
Gai Saber are a young band from Northern Italy representing the troubadour traditions of Occitania. They bring new life into the old traditions by treating them in a folk rock approach, yet they pay attention for staying true to traditions and language. On both albums, Gai Saber sing mainly ancient songs written by the great old troubadours.
While "Troubar R'Oc" is already highly enjoyable, it seems to be more a concept album, trying out different things. "Esprit de frontiera" sees Gai Saber having found their style, and presenting a coherent album of modern Occitan music. In some pieces on "Esprit de frontiera", the modern approach seems to be a bit unappropriate to the old lyrics, yet the new album sounds much more mature than their first.
The highlights of both albums are those parts with the traditional instruments like hurdy gurdy, flute, accordeon or bagpipes in the foreground. Both CDs have an innovative design (and format) of the booklet that offers many informations - unfortunately in Occitanian and Italian only.
All in all, it is a self confident presentation of a nearly forgotten regional culture. If you are interested in either unconventional folk rock music or revived old medeiterrean traditions, this might be exciting for you.
Gai Saber's homepage e-mail Gai Saber.
Drones & Bellows "Bothwell"
Label: Music Partner; MPCD0425.2; 1999; Playing time: 53.15 min
More and more high quality Celtic bands evolve these days on the European continent, often not having to fear a comparison with their collegues on the Celtic islands. Drones & Bellows are one of these bands, being a collaboration between five Danish musicians and Scottish Pam Naylor living in Denmark. They are based around the town of Tønder - in these surroundings it simply must be a breeding place of good music!
All band members are skilled musicians, and the range of instruments features the beautiful sounds of Scottish Small Pipes, flutes, whistles, accordion, a range of string instruments and the rhythm section with double bass and bodhran. All six also sing, presenting at times some lovely harmony singing.
Their second album was produced by no other than Scotsman Brian McNeill, and obviously he has given some great advice to the arrangements of the band. The selection of songs and tunes on "Bothwell" is tasteful, featuring a couple of (not too well-known) traditional songs. The tunes are partly trad Celtic, partly written by band members Pam Naylor and Halvor Bogh (great stuff!) and producer Brian McNeill. The tune "Waiting for the Whale" (introducing the song "Bonnie Ship The Diamond"), written by Halvor, was even already used for British TV!
Drones & Bellows are one of the really good representants of Celtic bands from the European Continent. Expect them soon in FolkWorld's "Continental Celts" series!
Contact of Drones & Bellows: e-mail Anker or Pam
Camerata Meiga "Habelas Hailas"
Label: Resistencia; RESCD080; 1999; Playing time: 51.30 min
Galicia sees currently an explosive expansion of the Celtic music scene, creating both superb and commercial low-quality bands. Camerata Meiga are one of the superb ones, with a similar calibre like a Carlos Nuñez Banda, Berrogüetto or Milladoiro.
The core of Camerata Meiga is an instrumental seven-piece band featuring four Galician men (Carlos Iglesias, Miguel Forneiro, Tino Mojón, Nacho casas) on piano, accordion, a huge range of percussion instruments, soprane sax etc., a violinist from Madrid (José Amador) and two Argentinians on double-bass and violincello/guitar/mandolin (Rubén Giorgis, Victor Gil). On their debut CD they are joined by Afro-Protuguese female singer Amélia Muge, Galician piper Manuel Prada Ramos and percussionist and producer Juan Alberto Arteche from the Balearic islands.
Camerata Meiga's strength lies particularly in giving enough scope for all instruments by changing regularly the lead instruments. The lead in the tunes interchanges between violin, gaita, accordion, violincello, giving the tunes a very vibrant and exciting touch. The songs sung with a strong and self confident voice and instrumentally well arranged represent the beauty and power of Galician traditions. While most of the music is composed by band members (especially by Carlos Iglesisas), the over all sound is steeped in Galician traditions with both Celtic and "Southern" traces.
Camerata Meiga started their carreer as "Xeque Mate" (Checkmate), having now changed to a name rooted in Galician myths: "Meigas" are witches, and their album title, "Habelas Hailas", refers to a Galician saying when people mention supernatural things happening: "There are definitely some of them around".
This album represents the full beauty of Galician music with its many cultural influences. It offers a lot of variety, a perfect ensemble playing, great vocals, combined with a high quality production and an attractive, tri-langual (Galician, Spanish, English) booklet. 10 out of 10 points for this brillant album!!
Mail to Resistencia; Mail to Camerata Meiga
Joxan Goikoetxea & Juan Mari Beltran "Beti Ttun-ttun"
Label: No-CD; CDNO 21; 12 Tracks; Playing Time: 63.00 min
A musical voyage introducing the musical traditions of the Basque people. It starts with the call of the txanbela, which sounds something like a bombarde, and goes on to introduce the amazing txalaparta percussion in which two players each hit wooden or metal planks with a pair of wooden sticks in a complex interplay of backbeat and counterstrike. We are also presented with the singing and playing of the shepherds, the bell-ringing
tradition of the Larraun valley, traditional Basque dance tunes played on various instruments, traditional songs and even a nursery rhyme.
The linking thread of the album is Joxan Goikoetxea's atmospheric synthesizer, which can be heard on most tracks but doesn't spoil or drown out the sound of the traditional instruments. Joxan Goikoetxea is also responsible for all the arrangements, so this is very much his album, with musical contributions from multi-instrumentalist Juan Mari Beltran,
guitarist Suso Saiz, txalaparta team Iñigo Monreal and Arantxa Ansa, and others.
It is an interesting, exotic-sounding album, but it is not very easy to listen to. I can imagine jazz fans enjoying it, though.
Joxan Goikoetxea website
Joxan Goikoetxea "Goazen Lagun"
Label: Aztarna; AZ 000; 15 Tracks; Playing Time: 54.42 min plus CD-Rom
Joxan Goikoetxea's first album on his own Aztarna label follows a similar approach to "Beti Ttun-ttun", but is somewhat more accessible and thus should appeal to a wider audience. Once more the synthesizer provides the unifying element without becoming too dominant. This is a very quiet album which requires concentrated, attentive listening but it rewards the effort. The music is complex and occasionally quite
jazzy. The mood is quite sombre, but not gloomy or depressing. The sources are various, not all tracks are from the Basque tradition (there's even a Kurt Weill melody!).
Nine of the fifteen tracks feature the singing of Arantxa Irazusta, who has a gorgeous, obviously trained voice, but who avoids the pitfall of over-embellishing her songs like many trained singers do; she prefers a natural style. Her singing reminded me of June Tabor's, although her voice isn't as deep as June's.
The CD also comes with a lovingly designed CD-Rom section which gives detailed information (including song lyrics) about each track in a nice-looking 3-D house and landscape environment. As far as I can tell (not knowing all of them), the available languages are Basque, Spanish, French and English.
album info from Joxan Goikoetxea website
Alboka "Bi Beso Lur"
Label: Aztarna; AZ 004; 14 Tracks; Playing Time: 57.33 min plus CD-Rom
Alboka is a traditional Basque wind instrument, and the name of Joxan Goikoetxea's group of three Basque musicians plus Irishman Alan Griffin. This is their second album, recorded in 1998, and the first since fiddler Juan Arriola replaced Txomin Artola in the line-up, encouraging them to introduce vocal material and compose their own tunes in the traditional
What they play is traditional Basque dance music and airs, still mostly instrumental and always in acoustic arrangements. The usual combination is trikitixa (Basque accordion), guitar / bouzouki / mandolin, one of various wind instruments and violin. It's easily accessible music which will particularly please Kepa Junkera fans and people who like medieval music. There's also a CD-Rom section, which I couldn't access
because it triggered an "unexpected DOS error" on my PC, but if the other Aztarna releases are anything to go by, it should be good. Not that it matters very much because this album is enjoyable enough to buy it just for the music.
album info from Joxan Goikoetxea website
Flook! "Video Live in
Windmill Video; 11 Tracks; 1999; Running Time:60 min (VHS video, PAL format)
Recorded live at Hammersmith Irish Centre
Flook! have come a long way since their beginnings as the "Three Nations' Flute" trio, having matured from an experimental session project into a proper band via two name changes and the departure of Mike McGoldrick. Their live video shows the most recent, very successful combination of Brian Finnegan on flutes and tin whistle and Sarah Allen on flutes, accordion and tin whistle with Ed Boyd on acoustic guitar and fab bodhran player John Joe Kelly completing the line-up.
The video footage is edited together from a live performance at London's Hammersmith Irish Centre, and therein lies its main flaw - the music is great but gains little by seeing the performers as they play. There are hardly any audience shots and on-stage action is severely limited so the whole thing is visually rather unexciting, which will limit the video's appeal. Those who buy it anyway will be rewarded by a fine selection of traditional and self-penned tunes in inventive, flute-led arrangements.
Susan McKeown & the Chanting House "Bones"
Label: Sheila-na-Gig Music / Prime CD; PCD 027; 13 Tracks; Playing Time: 52.27 min
Chanting House were a New York folk-rock band with Irish roots which I assume no longer exists now that Susan McKeown is pursuing a successful solo career. They recorded this one album, which initially came out as a cassette in 1995 and was issued on Prime CD the following year. By the time the album was recorded, the rock elements were somewhat dominant over the folk, so this is a (good) rock album more than anything else. That said, 5 of the 13 tracks are acoustic recordings (without drums), but they still sound like rock songs! "Bones" features 11 of Susan McKeown's original songs plus versions of "Westlin' Winds" and "Mná na hÉireann".
When "Bones" was recorded, Chanting House were Susan McKeown (vocals, guitar), Chris Cunningham (guitar, bouzouki, harmonium), Michelle Kinney (cello, accordion), Lindsey Horner (bass, tin whistle) and Joe Trump (drums, percussion) with support by producer Jimi Zhivago on hammond organ, 12-string guitar and dobro, Johnny Cunningham on fiddle, and a few others.
Recommended to anyone who likes female American singer-songwriters. Susan McKeown fans will no doubt want to buy it anyway, if they haven't already.
official Susan McKeown
website; Prime CD's Susan McKeown website
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