Rogues, Cluan, Marc Gunn, Brobdingnagian Bards, Ed Miller, Carey Street, Larisa Montanaro, Stephanie Prewitt, Schola Cantorum, Tamsen Mann, Laurie Stevens, and Christopher LeCluyse
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Jan. 30, 2004
On the heels of last fall's seventh and most successful Celtic Festival comes a bounty of recordings to help pass the time until the next one. Though festival showstoppers the fabulous Killdares don't have current product, Houston's the Rogues have a double CD, Made in Texas, that captures them tearing it up at McGonigel's Mucky Duck on "Pipes in Space" and "Bonny Portmore." Austin's much-praised Cluan is seeing Fevered Pitch, their first studio recording, just hitting the shelves as the band truly steps into its own. Erin Bobruck's Gaelic vocals are confident mouth music on "The Diddle Song" and Chris Buckley's fiddling is strong. "We're not really 'Celtic,'" explains Marc Gunn of the local Brobdingnagian Bards, and he's right; the duo is more lo-fi English folk with a distinct Gaelic twist. Yet their simple autoharp-and-recorder music is remarkably diverse ("Hobbit's Dance," "The Psychopathic, Chronic, Schizophrenic Gollum Blues"), as Memories of Middle Earth (Mage Records) displays. Gunn's own debut, Soul of a Harper, is only available on the Internet, the place where rebel Celtic music thrives the Bards' MP3 hit, "Tolkien," racked up well over a million downloads in cyberspace. Harper is a delightfully homespun collection of instrumentals and songs about dwarves and elves, rebels and Ireland, and trad a capella such as "My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose." (Gunn also oversaw the Celtic MP3 collection Coventina's Well, featuring Ed Miller.) Carey Street's self-titled EP previews six songs from the local trio's impending full-length. Lovely instrumentals feature tentative but charming vocals ("Song of Repentance") from fiddler Heather Gilmer and fill the recording with lively reels and jigs. The ambitious Celtic Christmas show at St. Mary's Cathedral in December is packaged as a CD this year and is as impressively realized on disc as it was live. Highlighting the disc is the exquisite "Taladh Chriosda," sung in Gaelic Norse by Larisa Montanaro and in English by Stephanie Prewitt with the Schola Cantorum accompanying. The gorgeous "Be Thou My Vision" by Tamsen Mann with violin soloist Laurie Stevens, and "Wren King" with soloist Christopher LeCluyse, plus Cluan's exuberant reels are also bright spots. Marred only by the audio drop between songs where a little studio magic could fill it with applause, Celtic Christmas is a white cockade in the cap of local Celtic fire starter Donnelle McKaskle, and more importantly, the sign of a healthy scene.