Issue 12 12/99

FolkWorld CD Reviews


Old Blind Dogs "The World's Room"
Green Linnet; GLCD1201; 1999; Playing time: 52.59 min
Old Blind Dogs "Live"
Label: KRL/Lochshore; CDLDL 1294; 1999; Playing time: 57.48 min
The unique sound of the scottish Old Blind Dogs was always coined by its long-time singer, Ian F Benzie. Last year, Ian left the band in friendship; only Jonny Hardie and Buzzby McMillan remained of the original line-up. They were joined by Singer/Songwriter Jim Malcolm, Deaf Shepherd's bagpipe player Rory Campbell and Percussionist Paul Jennings.
It was entirely clear that with this new star line up the Old Blind Dogs should remain a top band. However, when in January 1999 at the Celtic Connections Festival club in Glasgow the Old Blind Dogs introduced their new line-up for the first time to the public, I was astonished that the typical and original sound of the Doggies is preserved without reservations. Now the first CD in the new Line-Up is out, "The World's Room".
Already after the first minute, each fan of the old Old Dogs will completely be convinced, that the line-up change has not damaged the appeal of the Doggies. Jim Malcolm gives a worthy succession of Ian F Benzie with his traditional songs, moreover he adds on the CD also one of his great own songs, "Battle of Waterloo". Rory Campbell, without doubt one of the best composers of modern Gaelic pipe tunes, expands the repertoire with his pieces, arranged in the typical Old Blind Dogs style combined with the rough energy of new wave Gaelic music. Also the new Percussionist, Paul Jennings, contributes with his inventive percussion to the old magic of the Old Blind Dogs. The sound is held together by the old established dogs, Buzzby McMillan on bass and cittern and Jonny Hardie on fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bouzouki.
The World's Room offers a highly enjoyable selection of five songs and five instrumentals, for a big share composed by Rory. The Sound is yet entire the old, "clubby folk music", destintinctively traditional, with Djembe/Conga-Percussion, the songs of Jim Malcolm with nice backing choirs, plus an exciting traditional selection of instruments. The appearance of the Old Blind Dogs meanwhile has now a cooler and more youthful touch - without doubt a good start to gain new bigger audiences.
Those who miss nevertheless the old Old Blind Dogs and want to have another souvenir of them, and those who want to have the direct comparison, should get the previously unpublished live recording of a concert in the Aberdeener cult club "The Lemon Tree", brought out of the archives of Lochshore Records. In the old Line-Up Buzzby - Jonny - Ian F Benzie - Davy Cattanach, the Old Blind Dogs play once again all the old favorites of the Doggies. The quality of the recording is quite high, and the famous atmosphere of the Lemon Tree is captured as well on the album. The Old Blind Dogs as they used to be at their best - live in concert.
The Old Blind Dogs - old and new - prove with both discs that they have been and still are one of the best folk bands that Scotland has produced in the last decade of the millenium.
KRL/Lochshore Homepage; Old Blind Dogs' Homepage
Michael Moll

Rattle The Boards "Rattle The Boards"
Label: Own; 1999; Playing time: 44.52 min
During the last few years, there is a trend in the Irish scene that most of the best recordings are published on the band's own labels. Here we have another superb album, available only from the lads themselves.
Rattle the Boards is a band that has found together in pub session, and brings together three highly talented musicians. Benny McCarthy is the internationally best known musician of the trio, playing accordion in the famous band Danú, joining up in Rattle the Board with Pat Ryan from Co. Tipperary, a talented multi instrumentalist playing in Rattle the Boards banjo and fiddle, and with John Nugent, a guitarist from Newcastle. The ensemble playing is very tight, and you can feel that these lads have played together for quite a long time. On this recording, the three have a guest singer, Martha Beardmore from Newcastle, adding with her beautiful and sensitive voice two impressive songs, "Loving Hannah" and Nancy Griffith's "Talk to me".
Playing mainly old traditional Irish tunes, Rattle the Boards are one of those few Irish bands who have managed to capture the fun, enjoyment and atmosphere of traditional Irish music on CD. There is enough variation on the CD, and the combination of instruments works really well.
Rattle the Boards are another strong proof that the scene in Ireland produces currently a lot of new highest quality trad bands. This is a recording that anybody interested in lively Irish trad music simply must have in his/her collection.
Phone Pat Ryan at Tel.+353 52 23796
Michael Moll

Jexux Artze, Pello de la Cruz and others "Sakanatik Arbaila Ttipira (From Sakana to little Arbaila)"
Label: Elkarlanean; KD-521; 1999; Playing time: 55.12 min
The txalaparta from the Basque Country is a wooden instrument consisting of four vertical boards, pounded in the middle "to get a deep sound" and towards the ends "to achieve a feeling of distance". Played by usually two musicians with wooden sticks, the playing is "a conversation between two musicians (...), one person confronts the other while at the same time complementing him". It is possibly the oldest instrument in the Basque country, and has nearly died out some decades ago, until it found a new interest during the last years. These days, international audiences are aware of the instrument when they have seen Kepa Junkera's band featuring a pair of txalaparta players as rhythm section.
Having learnt the playing of the txalaparta from the Zuasnabar brothers, Jexux Artze along with his brother Jose Anton have developed totally new ways of expression on this old Basque instrument, and have made the instrument once again popular, and have made it to a kind of symbol for Basque culture.
This album is dedicated to the txalaparta. Featuring four of the best txalaparta players, Jexux Artze himself, Pello de la Cruz, Mikel Artola and Iker Muduruza, it brings ancient traditions to live - mostly featuring only a pair of txalaparta players, and sometimes joined by some shrill sounds of ancient Basque flutes, once also by a little song. The album is completed by a beautiful song of the local youth choir. As a frame around the txalaparta sounds, the CD starts and finishes with the ringing of church bells, having a strong part in Basque culture and having acted as "mass media prehistory".
This album gives an insight into an ancient, almost unknown Basque instrument. However being based on a percussion instrument, it will not have a bigger appeal to mainstream audiences and will without doubt remain an album for only a very small circle of specialists. Still, for music ethnology, it will be an important piece of Basque (music) culture.
Elkarlanean Records, Portuetxe Kalea 88 bis, 20018 Donostia, Spain
Michael Moll

The Bowhouse Quintet "Live in Ennis"
KRL/Lochshore; CDLDL 1291; 1999; Playing time: 42.55 min
Paul O'Driscoll is the man behind the Bowhouse Quintet. Being well-known in the Irish traditional scene as a talented double bass player, he has gathered for his Bowhouse project some of the best Irish folk musicians: Fiddler Liam Lewis, fiddler Tola Custy, Danú's Jessie Smith on viola and cellist Clare O'Donoghue. Additionally, for this recording, they are joined by the fiddlers Siobhan Peoples, Michelle O'Brian, Tommy Peoples and Michael Queally.
Yes, you are right: It is not the usual Irish traditional music session. It is a mature combination of Irish Traditional music with a "chamber orchestra" of traditional musicians. The tunes are all traditional arranged by Paul O'Driscoll, and with the calibre of the participating musicians (no doubt some of the best Irish fiddlers available) it is clear that the musical result of the Bowhouse Quintet is of highest quality. Recorded in a small local church in Ennis, the magic of an unusual classical arrangement of Irish traditional music can fully develop.
KRL/Lochshore Homepage
Michael Moll

Janne Viksten "Blue Harbor"
Label: Seita Music Ky (Finland); SeitaCD 003; Playing time: 42:24 min
I've known Janne Viksten for 10 years. He's the best banjo player in Finland. (To you who are thinking "B.F.D." I'll quote Tony Trishcka's liner notes: "If Janne lived in America instead of Finland, he would be an acoustic star.") In the absence of commercial pressure to conform to existing blugrass banjo substyles, Janne has reconfigured the right hand so that "melodic" style comes across with the same punchiness as Scruggs. But Viksten is a studio engineer and a excellent fiddle/mandolin/flatop guitarist as well, and could hire out in any of those other capacities.
His instrumental CD features him playing in various contexts: solo banjo, or being the whole bluegrass band on all instruments. All original material, some of it with a progressive/Trischka type influence. Other stuff ("Rosine") is as hard-core bg as you could want. One of the tunes that was tabbed out with the BNL piece, "Feta Cheese and Meatballs" is here, played on 2 banjos (only). "River Valley Waltz" has him on multiple mandolins backed with guitar on a lovely semi-classical sonding piece.
"Across The Marshland" is the only track with a real Finnish folk feel. Violas, fiddles, bowed bass on a slow dark minor tune (ala JPP) with a subdued banjo added in. "Blue Harbor" which features accordionist Maria Kalaniemi, and some light electric guitars with, Viksten's guitars/banjo/fiddle is hard to pegeonhole - sort of impressionist jazz-folk; if you've listened to the most recent Kalaniemi record, IHO, is along those lines.
And finally, the track I kinda like best, "Malabar Junction". A slower funky blues stomp with cool instruments - banjo played with slide, plus rhythm mando, bass, drums, electric sitar and electric dobro, jew's harp, and acoustic guitars. Remember the Eagles' "Flight Of the Sorcerer" (the best track they ever did, imo) which got used as the theme music for the radio version of "Hitchiker's Guide To The Galaxy"? That's the feel this track has!
Overall, a really fine piece of work.
Seita Music Ky, Box 24, 69601 Kaustinen, Finland
Niles Hokkanen

Virpi Forsberg & Arja Kastinen "Vita"
Label: Sibelius -Akatamien (Finland); SibKaCD027; 1999; 6 tracks; Playing time: 49:54 min
Forsberg plays pukinsarvi (5 finger holed goat horn) and puusarvi (a wooden 4-holed horn similar to the goat-horn), andīKastinen is on 10 and 15-stringed folk kanteles and 37-string modern concert kantele.
While one can play recognizable "tunes" on the kantele, a very big part of the older, especially Karelian, repertoire was improvisational trance music. Arja Kastinen has previously recorded in this trance/minimalist mode with her 1995, one-track, 55 minute improvisational kantele CD, IRO - Arja Kastinen (Mipu) (which was re-released in 1997 on Warner/Finlanda as KANTELE MEDITATION.) This new album VITA is an continuation of that approach, but with the ancient goat-horn sharing the trance.
The goat-horn is literally made from a goat's horn. Having heard some old ethnic field recordings of the instrument in which it seemed to function more as a brash noisemaker or signaling device than as a musical instrument*, I was quite surprised and amazed at the tone and control Forsberg has achieved, getting it sound more like a French horn. (*In fact, some archive samplings were incorporated into track 6.) Often the simple melodic lines are comprised of long sustained reverb-soaked notes, played over a repeated phrases on overdubbed horns, creating a an almost synthesizer effect, such as on Brain Eno's DISCREET MUSIC. Tracks such as "Ukontaarna" are very similar to Eno's tape-loop music, although the process used is overdubbing rather than tape manipulation. (Occasionally, Forsberg's phrasing/tone reminds me a bit of modal Miles Davis).
I can't really call any of the tracks 'tunes' or 'melodies'. 'Atmospheres' would be a more apt description. I liked it as in the same way I like Eno's work, and both Kastinen and Forsberg are excellent musicians on their instruments. But, don't order this expecting something along the lines of JPP or Värttinä!
Sibelius -Akatamien (Finland)
Niles Hokkanen

Geraldine MacGowan "Timeless"
Magnetic Music; MMR CD 1029; 1999; Playing time: 48.00 min
Geraldine MacGowan (formerly with Oisin) stopped serving a good pint (MacGowan's in Hannover/Germany became Irish pub of the year 1998) and stepped into the studio to record her 3rd solo album. Her bright crisp voice breathes new life in some old classic ballads, including a gorgeous blend of the "Demon Lover" and the "House Carpenter". Geraldine, too, has a favour for songwriters Sandy Denny ("Listen", "One Way Donkey Ride") and Kieran Halpin ("Don't Come Looking", "Miror Town"). Two sets of jigs and reels, respectivley, highlight the talents of her accompaniment, flautist Brian O'Connor and guitarist Chris Jones. The guest list includes Steve Baker on harmonicas and Annie Grace on backing vocals. The arrangements might be a bit too tame. However, that's what is meant to be: Timeless but never out of place!
Magnetic Music, e-mail; Planie 22, D-72764 Reutlingen; Tel +49/7121/478605; Fax +49/7121/478606
Walkin' T:-)M

Battlefield Band "Leaving Friday Harbor"
Temple Records; COMD 2080; 1999; Playing time: 55.34 min
Their Xst album and still going strong: The Battlefield Band! The same line-up which recorded "Rain, Hail or Shine" - comprised of the only remaining founder member Alan Reid on keyboards and vocals, Mike Katz on the bagpipes (Ex-Ceolbeg), John McCusker on the fiddle, and Davy Steele on vocals and guitar (Ex-Ceolbeg, Caledon) - delivers another well balanced selection of songs and tunes. Drummer Donald Hay (Mystery Juice) adds a lift to some of the tracks. "One more Chorus" penned by Davy stands in a good tradition of rousing Battlefield songs (and a fair adieu to the Tron Tavern, too). Additionally, four short samples - one from the "Rain, Hail or Shine" album, and one from the solo efforts of Alan, John and Davy, respectively - are meant to create further demand. So give us one more, lads.
Temple Records, e-mail; Shillinghill, Temple, Midlothian, Scotland EH23 4SH; Tel.+44/1875/830328; Fax +44/1875/830392
Walkin' T:-)M

Magna Carta "Live at the Grassington Festival"
HTD Records; HTDCD 98; 1999; Playing time: 69.37 min
Magna Carta - named after the famous treaty - are Chris and Linda Simpson and their acoustic guitars and voices. The original line-up was found thirty years ago, Linda joined in 1984. Dozen albums and numerous songs later they played the Grassington Festival in 1998 in the Yorkshire Dales, a picturesque landscape of dry stone walls and field barns in the North of England. It's the Simpson's "heartland", source and inspiration for many of their songs. Their agenda is lyrical and charming, somewhere a typical English affair between folk, blues and country. Whereas the 1215 Charter was a failure in its time, its successor by name already has an extraordinarily productive output. And maybe it becomes another worthwhile contribution from England.
HTD Records, e-mail; Unit 10, Kent House, Old Bexley Business Park, 19 Bourne Road, Bexley, Kent DA5 1LR; +44/1322/557355; Fax +44/1322/522878
Walkin' T:-)M

Brou - Hamon - Quimbert "Trois p'tits oiseaux"
Coop Breizh; CD 890; 1999; Playing time: 58.32 min
A booklet in a language you don't understand might have some advantages. You depend only on your ear and you are not distracted from the stuff the musicians (or their management) want you to believe. However, the language problem might be one reason why traditional Breton music doesn't receive the attention it could have. The "three little birdies" from Upper Britanny - Roland Brou, Mathieu Hamon, and Charles Quimbert - finally arrived in my CD recorder and these guys obviously have a lot of fun rendering traditional Breton song (in French). It's unaccompanied singing, the characteristic "Kan Ha Diskan" (call & response) as well as solo and unison sung ballads. Forget for a while folk rockers like Tri Yann, here's the pure drop in its most archaic form.
Coop Breizh, Contact: Mathieu Hamon, T 0240 519041
Walkin' T:-)M

Hotel Palindrone "Elegance"
Label: Extraplatte; EX 350-2; Playing time: 64.49 min
European bands often tend to be more Irish (Scottish, Breton etc) than Irish (Scottish etc) bands themselves, subsequently their repertoire is accordingly biased to be Irish (etc). Hotel Palindrone. is a refreshing exception. The five-piece band from Vienna plays tunes from every area Celts ever inhabited (and a lot more places, too): there's Asturian reels and a Galician waltz, Breton An Dros and Scottish airs, a finish mazurka and a number of undefinable origin. The sound is centered around the Galician bagpipe, gaita, of Nupi Jenner and the fiddle of Stephan "Stoney" Steiner, both contributing some original tunes. The saxophon of Albin Paulus adds some jazz-like colour. Combined with John Morrissey's tight mandola backing and Peter Natterer's bass it becomes a powerful sound inviting to dance away. Unfortunatly, no remarks about the tracks are given. That would have been very helpful regarding the broad spectrum of the music.
Extraplatte; POBox 2, A-1094 Vienna, Tel +43/1/3101084; Fax +43/1/3100324
Walkin' T:-)M

"Sessions from the Hearth"
Sessions from the Hearth Ltd.; SFH001; 1998; Playing time: 63.01 min
In the beginning there was anger: "A few years ago now, I took a dozen Italians into a local town for a night's session. To be truthful what I found amazed and shocked me. The playing wasn't up to much, the musicians were ignoring their audience and the whole affair was too loud." Thus, Irish guitarist Benny O'Carroll put a band together to re-create the spirit and mood of the "traditional session" (which means it is traditional music played, not that the session itself has any long history). Two shows in the Siamsa Tire Folk Theatre in Tralee have been recorded in January 1997. Legend has it that the nine-piece orchestra got together about half an hour before the curtain went up, the second half was worked out during the interval. Maith thu! such fresh and spontaneous approach was unheard for some time. Between the jigs and reels even an East-European tune found its way into the repertoire (so, why non-Irish musicians were oftentimes bothered for playing Irish tunes?). A fine unaccompanied "You can't boil potatoes in Cahirciveen" is given by Sean Garvey. His female counterpart is Deirdre Scanlon who recently joined Solas. Now Sessions from the Hearth is touring successfully the European circuit. However, to bring a session out of a cosy pub up on stage is like squaring circles. In the end it's simply another bloody concert!
Sessions from the Hearth Ltd., e-mail; Fortlands, Ballard, Tralee, Tel/Fax +353/66/7126952
Walkin' T:-)M

Per og Lars Lilholt & Next Stop Svabonius folkband "Next Stop Svabonius"
Folk&Musik; FFS 9801; 1998; Playing time: 62.29 min
Lars Lilholt is one of the leading folk (rock) musicians in the Danish scene. This is a project of Lars and his father Per Lilholt, along with a high quality band. The album was released together with an issue of the Danish folk magazine Folk&Musik (Issue 6/98), and came to all its subscribers for free.
All of the music is taken from three different Danish music books from the 18th century. Eight of the tunes are from Jens Christian Svabo (1746-1824) alias Svabonius, another eight are taken from a manuscript from the 18th century. The remaining two are from a music book called "English Dances" from 1799.
The whole album is an exciting and atmospheric musical journey two hundred years back. Lars (fiddle, hurdy-gurdy) and Per (viola) Lilholt have invited in the "Next Stop Svabonius" Band a huge number (all in all 18!) of excellent Danish musicians. Still most tunes feature only about six musicians, so that the atmosphere of the album remains very intimate and warm. It is an instrumental album, with the only exception of some beautiful "lilting" of Sofie Bonde.
Denmark - you don't hear of this county too often outside of Denmark (even in Germany not). This is such an album which should nevertheless receive the international interest and publicity it deserves. Thanks to Folk&Musik for supporting and releasing this brilliant project of old Danish music!
Album is available via FFS' Homepage, there you can also subscribe to the magazine (a subscription includes regular CD samplers of Danish music)
Michael Moll

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