It is spring. Add with the soft and gentle weather this trio of Austin releases to an already impressive list of recent local Celtic and Gaelic music titles (Silver Thistle Pipes and Drums, Brobdingnagian Bards). It could be a stretch to link that activity to the very successful Austin Celtic Festival last fall, but all these artists played it and the recordings are most welcome. A veteran of Silver Thistle and founder of Two O'Clock Courage, Wolf Loescher's debut EP Holy Grail is a thoroughly engaging and occasionally tongue-in-cheek tip o' the hat to his self-styling as a "singer/storyteller." "Amazing Grace (Again)" finds Loescher in good humor as he sings "strange how everyone becomes a Scot when the pipes begin to skirl," while "Diesel & Shale" is a not-quite-shanty that still carries its weight a capella. Singing and storytelling are arts steeped in deep Celtic tradition and on these eight tracks, Loescher approaches them with broad vision and deft mastery. Ed Miller is a folksinger in all the best senses of the word. His soft Scottish brogue is genuine and the twinkle in his eye finds its way into more than a few of the tunes on his latest, Lowlander. This recording finds him back in good company with Rich and Kathy Brotherton, as well as fiddler John Taylor and piper Ken Liechti. Just as the title suggests, Miller performs traditional and original tunes of and about the Scottish lowlands plus two by Robert Burns ("Aye Waukin' O" and "The Lea Rig"). Brian McNeill, who wrote or co-wrote seven of the 15 songs, proves to be a most valuable partner; in "Prince of Darkness," their composition bears the noblest imprint of folk tradition, the political statement. A bitter reference to the anti-union Thatcher era, Miller and McNeill's song is laced with homespun venom of politicos who exploit the Scottish coal mines: "They come back to find their roots in their sharp Italian suits, but when the cameras are gone, so are they." The astonishingly professional outfit known as Poor Man's Fortune gives a four-star performance on the humorously titled Blowhard. The local fourpiece balances Irish and Breton music -- the jig beside the gavotte, the reel by the plinn -- with delightful results. One of the pleasures of Breton music is how at home French words sound in music usually associated with Gaelic brogues; Poor Man's Fortune neatly combines that charm with 11 tracks of traditional and original tunes. Medley reels like "Farewell to Connaught/ The Cup of Tea/ John Brennan's" displays the band's superb musicianship while others, like the melancholy Breton tune "Heuliad Dans Plinn," leave a wistful yearning. Blowhard is present testament to the past and future. And even if the Celtic Festival didn't inspire these marvelous recordings, they're living proof of what any lover of traditional music will tell you: What's old is always new again.
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