40 Mini-Reviews of New CDs

Plus News of Recent or Forthcoming Albums

Out with the old! In with the new!

Rosie MacKenzie - The MacKenzie Project

Updated: December 3, 2010

Pan-Celtic Collections Irish Scottish
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia Newfoundland Atlantic Canada (other)
(collections, PEI, etc)
English Breton, Welsh, Galician and Asturian Celtic Music

Albums Just Released:

List of Reviews (most recent first)

Below is a list of all the reviews on this page with the most recent reviews first (not necessarily the newest records) to make it easier for you to figure out what's changed. The reviews themselves are sorted by musical tradition, also with the newest reviews first. (To print this page, make sure your browser is set to print black text!)

*** indicates an album that I highly recommend. In general, but not always, a CD wouldn't be on this list if I didn't like it; these are ones that particularly stand out.
*** (essential)
These are the precious few CDs that go with me to the proverbial desert island. Trust me, buying these CDs will greatly improve your quality of life! So skip a few cappucinos and get these, mail order if you have to. You won't regret it.
indicates that the musicians are from the S.F. or Monterey Bay areas and should be supported!

....or Coming Soon:

| Collections | Irish | Cape Breton | Scottish | English, Welsh, Galician, etc. |

Pan Celtic:

(Live at the Espresso Garden)

Molly's Revenge - Live at the Espresso Garden (2003) Recorded live on Friday June 13th 2003 at Judy Hackett's Espresso Garden and Café in San Jose. The CD contains a mixture of tunes and songs including new material and some previously unrecorded material (but with a different instrumental lineup now - notably fiddle and uilleann pipes). , and just because we damn well like them! We've also included a couple of video clips that will play on your Mac or PC. Just put the CD into your computer's CD drive and follow the on-screen instructions.

All of the tracks on this CD were recorded that night with the exception of a very special set of tunes we recorded with the MacTarnahan's Prince Charles Pipe Band. They are one of a handful of Grade 1 pipe bands in the USA, and were also the world champions at the Grade II level in 2001, so it has been a great privilege for us to be associated with them. The set of tunes we play with them is part of one of their competition medleys and was recorded at Santa Catalina School in Monterey, CA on Saturday June 28th 2003.

We hope you enjoy the tunes on this CD. You'll hear some missed notes, chords, and technical glitches (which we'll blame on Friday 13th !), but we think it captures the atmosphere of what was, for us, a very special evening.

American Celtic:

These CDs explore the role of Celtic songs in America, songs the immigrants brought with them from Scotland and Ireland and shaped American music indelibly from the hills of Appalachia to the broad prairies to the cowboy songs of Wyoming. Listen and learn.




Karan Casey and John Doyle - Exiles Return (Compass Records 2010).  Karan Casey and John Doyle were founding members of SOLAS and provided much of the magic of that group's first few albums. They both left SOLAS to pursue individual careers and produced some very nice albums. However, it is a real treat to have them together again. Karan's singing is as superlative as ever, and John's beautiful guitar accompaniment and harmony vocals are perfect. John sings lead on three songs and does a lovely job. The 12 songs are all traditional ballads in English. Excellent liner notes.  (Very highly recommended)

SOLAS - The Turning Tide (Compass Records 2010)  I was a huge fan of SOLAS' initial CDs, then lost much interest as they ventured off toward a fusion of traditional and various other styles. It had been awhile since I heard them, so I sent to a conert (April 2010). The addition of Mairead Phelan on vocals is a definite plus; she has a lovely voice and handles the songs well. I was unhappy with the sound mix at the live show which seemed to my ear to muddy the instrumentals and bury the vocals, but on this CD the sound mix is excellent with all the instruments sounding crystal clear. Seamus Egan on banjo, whistle, flute and mandolin is stellar, as to be expected. The songs include both traditional, as well as contemporary folk songs from Richard Thompson and Bruce Springsteen ("Ghost of Tom Joad") and Karine Polwart.    (Recommended)

Gráda - Endeavour ( 2002) - This young Irish group came in like alovely spring breeze - full of life, charm and beauty. They display a tremendous skill and appreciation for traditional music but infuse it also with a modern jazzy inflection - without losing the traditional flavor - a great and rare accomplishment. The group consists of  four guys on whistles, flute, acoustic guitar, and Nicola Joyce as lead singer on most of the song tracks. Nicola's voice is gorgeous and her delivery wonderful weather it be slow ballads or mouth music. Two of the group are originally from New Zealand, but all call the west of Ireland their home now.  (Very Highly Recommended)

Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh - Imeall (self-published 2008)   Mairéad, best known as the lead singer & fiddler for the Irish supergroup Altan, is exploring more of her Donegal music in separate projects, such as this gorgeous album., a joint project with bouzouki master Manus Lunny and several friends. All but one of the songs is solely in Irish (Gaelic).  There is no translation of the lyrics in the minimal liner notes, but there is info about each of the tracks and the lyrics in both Gaelic and English on her website where you can also hear samples of the tracks..  This CD has a more private feel to it than much of Altan's CDs; it sounds like songs that would be sung in someone's house, rather than at a concert, which is surely how Mairéad learned them. I was also struck by the beauty and variety of the arrangements on these tunes and songs. Mairéad's spectacular voice has never been better, and her fiery fiddling is as rousing as ever. She has even included several of her own songs, including a very lovely lullaby she wrote for her daughter. This is a full hour of music that will exercise all your listening and emotions. (Very Highly Recommended)

Sharon Shannon & The Woodchoppers - Live in Galway (Daisy Discs 2000).  The sound of Sharon's bouncy, virtuoso button accordian playing on her first CD, being played into the street from every music store in western Ireland, was my epipheny into "celtic" music, and over the years, every association I have with her music -- on CDs or the numerous times I've heard her live (including an incredible 6 hour session in Milton Malby) have breen brushes with genius. And after these many years, there is no celtic music I enjoy more than her bouncy, hard-driving playing. In addition to her vituoso playing on accordion, Sharon has the ability to draw out the best from her fellow musicians.  There is some stellar work on mandolin on this CD by Sharon's sister Mary, and on whistle by Shannon. It is all good here, in this seemingly modest recording.  These appear all to be tunes she has recorded on othe CDs, but who cares. It is live. The craic is good. The music is infectiously joyous. To my mind, it doens't gert better than this. 14 tracks and 52 minutes of musical joy. (Very Highly Recommended)

Karan Casey - Chasing The Sun (Shanachie 2005)  This album features a significant number of  songs Karan wrote. Recorded at her home in Co. Cork and produced by herself and partner Niall Vallely, the album largely features her touring band of Robbie Overson, Paul Meehan and Niall Vallely along with Ewen Vernal, John Anthony, Michael Aharon and Erik Johnson.I have been a sucker for Karan's voice and singing since I first heard her with SOLAS, and have not missed any opportunity to hear her since. As usual, I think Karan's singing is at her most powerful in her edgier, political anthems. I particularly like her song "When Will All Be Free?"  Other songs of particularly Robert Burns' "Lady Mary Anne" and  Robbie O'Connell's  rueful "The Keg of  Brandy". (Recommended)

bohola - bohola  (2002 Shanachie w/ sound samples). This Chicago-based band consists on this CD of Jimmy Keane on piano accordion, Sean Cleland on fiddle, viola and baritone fiddle, and Pat Broaders on dordan, bouzouki and vocals. (Since the CD, singer/guitarist Kat Eggleston has been a welcome addition to the band.) The band describes itself as playing "a driving, muscular, and yet emotive style of Irish music with deep roots in the 'pure drop' tradition, melded with the raw and gritty urbanized musical vernacular of the Irish-American experience." I don't know about that, but I did see bohola twice in Cape Breton recently at Celtic Colours, and they blew the audience away (in the positive sense!) both times. The drive of their music, particularly Jimmy Keane's phenomenal accordian playing, is mesmerizing, comparable to Martin Hayes/Dennis Cahill in full flight. Pat Broaders singing complements the instrumentals well, and gives us a chance to catch our breathe. The CD is only slightly more subdued than their live performance, but still very clearly shows the excitement this group can generate. 65 minutes of great music. (Very highly recommended)

(The Blue Idol) Altan - The Blue Idol (Virgin Records 2002). Altan continues its exploration of songs at the edge or outside the Irish tradition. This CD features lots of guests including Paul Brady, Dolly Parton, Liam O'Flynn and Donal Lunny. This may seem a bit strange, but when Altan jumps on a bunch of jigs (The Blue Idol) or reels, hang on to your hat because their music has the fantastic drive and lift it has always had. Maighread and Ciaran Tourish on fiddle are capable of lighting any venue on fire (even via CD) and Dermot Byrne's button accordion just pours gasoline on the flames. Truly breathtaking stuff. (Highly recommended)
(Culann's Hounds CD) Culann's Hounds - (2002)  the excellent San Francisco Irish group, has a debut CD out, Culann's Hounds available from Amoeba Records and Lark in the Morning. The group consists of Steve Gardner on fiddle, Kevin McDonough on fute and whistle, Conall O'Raghallaigh on uilleann pipes, Frank Jordan on vocals and bodhran, and Michael Kelleher on guitar. The group bounces along through 10 sets of familiar tunes and less familiar songs. Particularly effective is the piping of Conall on The Maids of Michelstown. Not the same as catching the boys live, of course, but still an enjoyable CD with lots of energy.
(Forgotten Days) Davy Spillane & Kevin Glacknin - Forgotten Days (self published 2001). After wandering around in Balkan and world music, uilleann piper Spillane unexpectedly returns to his traditional Irish roots on this CD. Spillane and fiddler Kevin Glacknin show that however far they may have wandered, they have not lost the sensitivity to the traditional sound, nor their mastery of this music. The CD is 13 tracks of instrumental duets, perhaps not for every taste, but for those who love piping, Spillane's work here fully lives up to the promise of his enormous talent. This CD has caught a lot of people by surprise, and as Irish Music stated, ignore at your own risk! (Very highly recommended)


Cape Breton:

You can get Cape Breton music at these stores locally and on-line.

Rosie MacKenznie - The MacKenzie Project (2009) The first time I heard Rosie fiddle - on the first Cottars' album -- I was stunned  at the very high quality or her playing. She was 12. She played on the next two Cottars' CDs, then she and her brother went their separate ways from the MacGillivray siblings (who retained the name "The Cottars"). Rosie's playing has gotten better and better to the point where I don't think there's anyone better, and Rosie is always a lot of fun to see & listen to.  Having heard  Rosie bring the house down every time she played at Celtic Colours in Cape Breton, I eagerly anticipated her new group and this their debut CD. It is everything I could have hoped for. Rosie's playing has enormous energy and drive, beautiful control and tone, a total mastery of technical wizardy, and a remarkable level of polish.  To top it off, Rosie is charming and projects the joy and excitement of this music extremely well.  Rosie is joined by legendary Cape Bretoners Howie MacDonald on piano and Dave MacIsaac on dobro, guitar, mandolin; and an Irish contingent of Donogh Hennessy on guitar, and Pauline Scanlon as the lead vocals. There are two songs among the 11 tracks - and Pauline has a very lovely voice. This CD is a bit hard to find; I ordered my copy from The Blue Heron Gift Shop in Baddeck; well worth the effort to track down. (Very Highly Recommended)
Dawn and Margie Beaton - Taste of Gaelic (2008) Dawn and Margie, part of the wave of extended Beaton family fiddlers coming out of Mabou, were the winners of the 2008 Celtic Colours Drive'er Association award which recognizes young talent and helps finance and record their debut CD. Both Dawn & Margie are expert fiddlers totally steeped in the Cape Breton tradition  Margie also plays piano on several tracks and Dawn banjo and mandolin.. Their playing differs from most Cape Breton CDs in featuring two fiddles. There playing should appeal to traditional dancers with its steady rythyms and plenty of drive. They are joined on various tracks by friends Tracy Darees and Jason Roach on piano, Kenneth MacKenzie on a lovely version of the Sir James as a slow strathspey, Sandy MacDonald on guitar, and Mary Janet MacDonald stepdancing on "Mary Janet's Fancy".  The group really goes to town on the last set of strathspeys and reels -"Saved by the Milkman", a rousing Cape Breton number that will have you up and dancing around the room. There is a LOT of music on this CD - 64 minutes. The CD was nominated in 2010 for a East Coast Music Award in the Roots Traditional Group of the Year category. If you can't get down to The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou (video of them playing at the Red Shoe on thier website) or the dance hall across the street, this is a good substitute.. (another, more informed review by Dan MacDonald)
Brenda Stubbert - Endless Memories (self-published 2008) A new CD by Brenda is always an occasion to celebrate, and this one's a doozy, and winner of the 2008 East Coast Music Awards "Traditional Album of the Year".  Renowned for years as a superb tune-writer and mighty fiddler, there are qualities in this CD that rise above the very high standard she had set before. You are not going to find a  better tune writer nor a Cape Breton fiddler with more drive and lift in their playing -- as I've said many times, Brenda when she gets rolling has the energy and drive of a runaway locomotive. But what struck me about this CD are traits I had not previously always associated with her music -- reflection and relaxed joy. For whatever reason, Brenda has seemed a happier, more relaxed person and player the last several years, and this is reflected magnificently in this CD.  Her stellar accompanists -- Dave MacIsaac on guitar, Howie MacDonald on piano, the late Jerry Holland on fiddle on two tracks, Mac Morin on Accordion and Mike Wadden -- all seem to sense they are along for a special ride and play accordingly. (Very Highly Recommended)

The Barra MacNeils - Five  brothers and Lucy -- arguably the hardest working sister in celtic music (vocals, step dancing, harp, fiddle, bodhran). The Barras  have been providing very high quality music for more than two decades now. One of the many things that particularly impress me about the Barras is the beauty of their arrangements. And, of course, there is Lucy's voice, which is a treasure. Traditional tunes with all the drive you could everr hope for, Gaelic mouth music, ballads, and rousing folk songs. You cannot go wrong with either of these CDs. Buy either; you'll end up buying the other soon enough

- 20th Anniversay Collection - (2007)  This is a "greatest hits" release of a remarkable 27 tracks on 2 CDs of songs and tunes from albums spanning the 20 years of the Barras recording. If you have a favorite Barras' song or tune, it is probably here, and after you listen to it, trust me, you will have a favorite Barras' song(s)! The tracks are almost all studio tracks, so they are very polished, but have a different energy than a live recording.

- In Concert - (2008).  The Barras are a great live band. They have an energy and audience appeal that brings the crowds alive. This album, recorded live during two performances in Truro, Nova Scotia in 2008, captures the joy and energy of a live Barras show. However great their studio music is, there is is something magical about a live Barras performance.

The Rankin Family - Reunion (2006)  This is my 1st exposure to the re-united Rankin Family, missing the late John Morris.  The CD consists of 10 songs (4 by members of the family, and others by Gordon Lightfoot, David Francey and John Hiatt) and 2 instrumentals. The best song on the album is "Sunset", written and sung by John Morris's daughter Molly. The album has even more of a pop/country flavor to it than prior albums. The CD has only 2 tracks that would be recognized as traditional Cape Breton. These are both historical --  a 1990 recording of late John Morris Rankin playing the march "Johnny Cope" on piano --  wonderful, if you can tune out the horrible, soporific synthesizer  that he added. John Morris also appears on fiddle on  "Hillsdale Medley" a group of two jigs and two reels he wrote and performed with Tracey Dares and Dave MacIsaac in 1996, and it shows what a sweet fiddler he was with far, far too few fiddle tracks his available on CDs. .   

Rachel Davis - Rachel Davis (self-published 2009).  (Facebook with music samples) I first heard  Rachel fiddle at the Celtic Colours Festival in 2006 at 2 in the morning. I stopped in mid-conversation, thinking "who is that very young girl who clearly gets it and has the skill to play it?"   She fired up the exhausted audience who knew good music when they hard it. Well, two years have passed, and Rachel has just released her first CD. And an impressive debut it is.  Most importantly, Rachel's playing has the drive and lift that I associate with the best Cape Breton playing, and that I find lacking too often in non-Cape Bretoners playing the same tunes. As very pleasant surprises, Rachel even includes the J. Scott Skinner air "Hector the Hero" which I had thought I had way too many times until I heard Rachel's and Tracy's lovely version, surprising in that I find few Cape Breton fiddlers capable of drawing out all the emotion of airs.  We also get Rachel singing a  lovely Gaelic song in which she gets her mom and grandmother to join her on the choruses. Rachel has a lovely voice, so I hope she will continue singing. Rachel is joined by Tracey Dares-MacNeil on piano and Buddy MacDonald on guitar and various others -- an indication that Rachel's playing attracts other great CB talents.  (Hightly Recommended)

Jerry Holland (w/ Dave MacIsaac & John Morris Rankin) - A Session with Jerry Holland. (self-published 2005). This gem of a collection has thankfully been re-issued. Digitally recorded in 1990 this classic album was originally issued as a cassette. Three of the 12 tracks appeared on the now out of print Fiddlesticks compilation. I have long been a huge fan of Jerry's lyrical playing and tunewriting, and his light and sweet touch on the fiddle. Here is teamed with two of the finest musicians ever to grace Cape Breton (or elsewhere), and the result is pure bliss. There are far, far too few recordings of John Morris Rankin (to whose memory this CD is dedicated), and this CD again shows why he was such a treasure.  The recording quality on the CD is very nice indeed for 1990. If you like Jerry's playing, you need this CD. (Essential purchase))

Howie MacDonald, Dave MacIsaac & Mac Morin - Live! West Mabou Hall (self-published 2005) Cape Breton music is overwhelmingly music for public dances. So why, you may ask, are so many CDs studio productions? If it is the dancers that give the musicians energy and keep them honest on the tempo, why are live recordings so rare?  Good question, and this CD shows that live recordings can sound great. All you folks looking for authenticity, you are not going to find a CD that is more authentic than this. Howie, Dave, and Mac are three of favorite musicians among dancers in Cape Breton--who have an embarassing richness of great musicians to choose from. The West Mabou Hall is an intimate little community hall in the heart of Inverness County, and is a favorite among the dancers. So, when these three musicians record a CD before a live, dancing crowd on Easter weekend 2004 (with lovely recording quality), good things are going to happen, and the boys don't disappoint. If you wonder why Cape Breton was able to keep its traditional musc thriving when it was dying out in other celtic areas, all you have to do is listen to the fun and energy in this performance and it is all explained. More than 62 minutes of music. Liner notes that give all the tunes and photos of the folks dancing. What are you waiting for? Order the CD and get your dancing shoes ready. (Very highly recommended)

Chrissy Crowley - Chrissy Crowley (Offshore Gael Music Production, 2007). Chrissy is from the Margaree area in Cape Breton, and at the time of this her debut album was 17 years old. Her grandfathers were Newfoundland fiddler Bill Crowley and Cape Breton fiddler Archie Neil Chisholm. Largely self-taught, albeit in an environment surrounded by excellent traditional fiddlers, Chrissy's plaing embraces both her Cape Breton and Newfoundland roots and the Irish and Acadian influences from Newfoundland and her area. She is very ably assisted on this CD by some of the best Cape Breton musicians including Troy MacGillivray nad Ryan MacNeil on Piano, and Gordie Sampson, Patty Gillis, Brian Doyle, Tim Chaisson and Pius MacIsaac on guitar on various tracks. What Crissy has accomplished musically so far in her young life is impressive. Add to this a charming personality and her obvious love of this music and you have a combination that has caused Chrissy to be in great and increasing demand at festivals. I first met her at the 2007 Celtic Colours Festival where she was a featured performer at a concert in honor of Archie Neil Chisholm. With this much talent and enthusiasm, we have a lot to look forwrd to in the future from Chrissy. You go girl!  (Recommended)  
Jason Roach - Jason Roach (2007). The volunteer drivers for the performers at the Celtic Colours Festival raise money each year and donate it to some young musician to pay for his or her first CD. In 2007, there choice was Jason Roach, a 23 year old pianist from Cheticamp with impeccable Cape Breton musical roots.. The "Festival Drive'Er's members know their music, and the choice invariably worthy. Being more a fan of fiddle rather than piano music, I think it is particularly challenging to make an entire CD of mainly piano music. Jason has done a fine job here. Not only is his playing stellar, but the variety of the tunes and arrangements thoughtful and varied. Jason is a superb on traditional Cape Breton tunes, but his college degree in jazz gives him a breadth and variety that shows through on several tunes, several of which he wrote himself.  He is very ably assisted by Mike Hall on fiddle and Ian Hayes on guitar. This album was a joy to listen to. (Highly recommended)
Natalie & Buddy MacMaster - Traditional Music from Cape Breton Island (MacMaster Music Inc, 2005). I like this CD. No frills, no gimmicks, no drum sets, no electric guitars. Just  Buddy, his sister Betty Lou Beaton on piano,  niece Natalie, and almost-MacMaster Dave MacIsaac on guitar,  playing in front of a few friends and family at Natalie's parents' house and a couple of other intimate places. The goal was not to make a CD but just to get a recording of Buddy and Natalie playing some of their favorite tunes together, some of which were not commonly heard. There is an intimacy and informality to this manner of recording  that clearly reveals the passion of these players for this music. Here is traditional Cape Breton music played with tremendous heart and superb skill by two of the finest fiddlers you will ever hope to hear.  There are terrific marches, the jigs Buddy is so famous for, and some rip-roaring strathspeys and reels. Natalie has recorded several CDs that have strong rock, bluegrass and fusion influences. Buddy's early recordings were painfully formal. Here they both are in the form that has made them legendary in Cape Breton. There is a synergy to the playing of all four musicians that gives the music the drive and power never found on a standard studio recording. 68 minutes of joy! Get this CD; you will love it. (essential purchase)
The Rankin Family - Backstage Pass (DVD) (Longview Music 2006). This DVD captures a portion of a live concert of the Rankin Family at the height of their success in 1995 at the lovely Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver. This video was shown on PBS many years ago, but only recently became available on DVD. The Rankin Family were an act that covered both traditional Cape Breton tunes and songs as well as contemporary songs that played well on country and pop radio, with Jimmy Rankin's "Fare The Well, Love" reaching #1 in the Canadian charts. Live, the group had infection energy, gorgeous harmonies, and a magical rapport with the audience. That is all captured beautifully in this nicely crafted video. Interspersed between the songes are interviews with the band members, including several interviews with the late John Morris Rankin. My only complaint about this video is that it is only 46 minutes long; but what a lovely 46 minutes. If you are like me, and never got to see The Rankin Family live, you need to get this. I think I've watched this DVD about 10 times!  (Very highly recommended).

Failte - A Cape Breton  Welcome (Celtic Music Interpretive Centre)   Cape Breton is famous for its hospitality, and this is a musical welcome that has you up and dancing, or at least tapping your foot before you know what hit you. And we did tell you that stamina was important...this is 72 minutes of highly energetic music. The CD was produced as a fundraiser for the new Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, and the local musicians from up and down Route 19 contributed one of the tracks from their own CDs. Lets see, thats 18 world class musicians (+ accompanists). The CD is heavily biased toward fiddle music (14 fiddle tracks, 2 piano, 1 song), 1 bagpipes), and slightly biased toward younger players you might not have heard, but totally deserve to be on this all-star lineup. The cast includes: Buddy MacMaster,  Ian MacDougall, Glenn Graham, Mac Morin,  Robbie & Isaac Fraser,  Natalie MacMaster,   Karen Beaton,   Ryan J. MacNeil,   Troy MacGillivray, Jackie Dunn, Andrea Beaton, Raylene Rankin,  Kinnon Beaton, Rodney MacDonald,  Howie MacDonald,  Mairi Rankin, Shelly Campbell, and Wendy MacIsaac. The only reason this was not an essential purchase for me was that I already bought all the CDs these tracks were taken from! Be forewarned, that after you get a sample of their playing, there is a high chance that you may be buying a whole lot more Cape Breton CDs in the near future. Hey, this is great stuff, and supports a worthy cause. A superb introduction to the music of Cape Breton. (Very highly recommended )

(Piper cover)

Ryan J. MacNeil - Piper (self-published 2005). Its been awhile (too long!) since I've gotten a new CD of Cape Breton piping. But the wait is over, and Ryan's does not dissapoint. You may know Ryan as the piper from the group Beolach. Here, his superb playing on  border pipes and on various whistles (that he also designed and makes) is out front in a way not possible in Beolach, and you are in for a great treat. Ryan's playing is superb. No surprise there. What I particularly enjoyed is the wonderful variety of the pieces on this CD. There is a lovely song from sister (?) Katriona MacNeil, and several rousing live recording with folks whooping in the background, a set of waltzes, a lovely guitar duet from Paddy Gillis and Sheamus MacNeil,  and some blistering reels. Ryan is very able accompanied by Wendy MacIsaac on piano, Gordie Sampson and Fred Lavery. (Very highly recommended)

Ian MacDougall (and Mac Morin) - Before You Arrived. (self-published 2006).  This CD was recorded in the West Mabou Hall, a cozy little community hall in Cape Breton legendary for the quality of the dances held there. It is as if the two musicians are warming up before the dance, Ian on fiddle and Mac on piano. It's also if you were a jockey on a very, very strong and eager thoroughbred, trying to hold him back before the race starts. These two stellar musicians radiate musical energy, and it is very, very clear that once the doors open, the extremely knowing dance folks of Mabou are going to be in for a barn-burner of a dance that will have everyone totally exhausted by 2:00 am, but no one sitting down before then. Paul Cranford, a noted Cape Breton fiddler and composer writes: "Ian's style is earthy and rooted in tradition.... As a team Ian and Mac are very popular on the Cape Breton square dance circuit. They play lively hard driving tunes, with a waltz for good measure." Boy, is that ever an understatement.  Before You Arrived contrasts with much of the light-weight "celtic" music that one hears as a good pint of Guinness contrasts  to Coors Lite. This is the righteous playing that makes me so love Cape Breton music. (Very highly recommended)

(Jennifer Roland's - For Each New Day CD) Jennifer Roland - For Each New Day (self-published 2006) For the last 10 or more years, Jennifer has been playing some of the most beautiful fiddle music in Cape Breton and dancing up a storm. This, her 3rd album, is masterful. Jennifer and producer Allie Bennett keep the arrangements simple and the tunes traditional, and Jennifer's gorgeous fiddling is allowed to shine throughout, and shine it does. Jennifer infuses each of her sets of tunes with joy and just the right rythm and touch; her jigs bounce along as nice to my ear as Buddy MacMaster's, and her strathspeys have a bite that is Cape Breton music at its best. Her rendition of the classic march, Johnny Cope, is a showcase for her tremendous fiddling ability. This is the best of Jennifer's three excellent albums, and not to be missed. (Essential purchase)
Kimberley Fraser - Falling on New Ground  (self-published 2006) Kimberley had a nearly impossible act to follow - her first album, Heart Behind the Bow, has for the last 6 years been my single favorite Cape Breton CD. In the six years since that album, Kimberley has matured as a musician, and her always great technique has reached virtuoso levels.   Kimberley still has the same heart-breakingly lucious sound, that just swallows the listener during a slow air. This time Kimberley chose some of the most difficult pieces in the Cape Breton repetoire, including Tullochgorm and some very difficult reels, and handles them not only technically, but with extraordinary musical skill. Gracenotes and ornamentation are added to the most complex passages, but the tune never gets lost in the flurry of notes. Kimberley also has created novel and relatively complex arrangements with good effect . Kimberley is stretching on this album, most evidently on "The Great Danes", a set of dunes with the Danish fiddler Harald Haugaard and  guitaris Morton Hoirup, which sound startlingly Danish to start. The stretch is also felt on sets such as "Flee As a Bird" which includes the flute-playing of Nuala Kennedy, guitarist Dave MacIsaac, and Damian Helliwell on banjo, an instrument not often heard in Cape Breton.  But most of the album is quite traditional. The respect locals have for Kimberley's playing is reflected by the by the all-star list of folks who join her  including Dave MacIsaac, Tracey Dares MacNeil, Stephanie Wills, Brian Doyle, Troy MacGillivray and Gordie Sampson. (Very highly recommended).


(Caveat: Newfoundland music is great, but is less traditionally Celtic and more folk oriented than Cape Breton or PEI music. There is a much stronger Irish influence, and much lesser Scottish one. )
  Bernard Felix - A Song For My Mother Mary (self-published 2007)  Ah, a CD that brings an instant smile to my face!  This is good time music brought to us by an Acadian with way too much energy and talent.  I saw Felix in action in Cape Breton years ago, and it was one of the best performances I've ever seen. This is righteous piano accordian playing with full-on Acadian foot percussion -- no need to go the gym for aerobics if you  play like this. This is a lovely collection of  11 sets of reels, jigs and pretty waltzes, all played beautifully. Bernard plays the accordion and acousitc guitar, and Norman Formanger plays bass guitar. (Highly recommended)

Ron Hynes - Ron Hynes  (Borealis Records 2006) It's been three (too long) years since there's been a new album from Canada's best songwriter. I had the enormous pleasure of  hearing Ron live at the 2007 Celtic Colours festival; it was one of the highest highlights of my 10 trips to that fantastic festival.. Ron's songwriting is so fresh, honest, personal, and eloquent, it has enormous emotional impact. Ron combines this with a a lovely voice and an expressive style of singing  that brings tears to my eyes is so beautiful and fitting. Ron's honesty and faithfulness to his own personal experiences and his passion for Newfoundland and working people end up making his songs remarkably universal and almost always compelling.   The record is described as "a collection of soul baring, very personal songs ...this self-titled CD...a combination of  live and studio recordings - features 14 songs born of Ron's own  life experience. Ron delivers songs of tragedy, salvation, struggle, survival, love lost and love found, touching the heart and soul of the  "everyman"".

(Hard and Easy) Great Big Sea -- The Hard and the Easy (2005). Everyone's favorite band "from the tropical island of Newfoundland" is back with a different, but still highly enjoyable CD. Rather than lots of songs about the sea, the boys have 12 traditional songs about workers in the woods and rivers for a change., including not one, but two, songs about horses that fell through the ice, and a rolicking, slightly off-colour ballad about falling in love with a mermaid... The infectious energy and lovely harmonies are still here. Pour some rum and get ready for a good time.  (Highly recommended)

You can get Newfoundland and other Maritime CDs at the same stores that sell Cape Breton CDs or directly from the Rock at Fred's Records and NFMusic.com

Atlantic Canada (compilations & other)


Karen Matheson - downriver (Compass Records 2006)   This album is stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful. Even as a non-Gaelic speaker, I find the album deeply moving. For those who speak Gaelic, the impact of these songs can be even more emotionally powerful and rewarding as evidenced by the testimonials in the guestbook at Matheson's website.  I have been a fan of Capercaille and Karen since their first album and own nearly all of their CDs. This album differs from the group's in that it is, and feels, intensely personal. In the liner notes, Karen writes: "This album is about going to a special place for me...a place in my memory where many of these songs have remained since my childhood." These powerful associations to Matheson are reflected in the emotional depth behind her singing of them and make this album very special indeed.   I find that in some of her albums with Capercaille, Matheson's voice gets lost in the instrumental arrangements. However, on this album, the accompaniment -- very tasteful as it is -- stays well out of the way of her voice. I particularly enjoyed the haunting piping of Michael McGoldrick that adds just the right touch to several of these songs.  Matheson grew up speaking and singing in Gaelic, and 8 of the 11 songs are in Gaelic plus one track of Puirt a beul. The lyrics and translation are not provided in the liner notes, but are available on Karen's website. . Don't let all the Gaelic put you off; nobody shows off the beauty of Gaelic songs better than Matheson. Between her in Scotland and Mary Jane Lamond in Cape Breton, the language has two extraordinary champions

Anna Massie, Jenn Butterworth & Mairearad Green - The Missing Giftnt>(Foot Stompin' Records 2006) .Anna Massie is an extraordinarily gifted young musician. When I first encountered her (at Celtic Colours), she was stunning the locals with her virtuoso guitar playing, on stage trading tunes with J.P. Cormier, Dave MacIsaac, and Scott MacMillan and clearly earning their respect. Well, she is also an exceptionally good fiddler, an excellent banjo and mandolin placer, and a remarkably good writer of tunes. Her trio here consists of  Jenn Butterworth (guitar and vocals) and Mairearad Green (accordion, border pipes, vocals), all of whom look look even younger than their young age. Together, their music is exciting and inventive, while remaining true to tradition. Before you go searching the old tunebooks for some of these gems, Anna wrote most of the tunes here, although they sound very traditional. Given the diversity and depth of the talent among these musicins, this album has a lovely variety to it. There are wonderful finger-picking guitar, Border pipes, singing, and fiddling, and its all very, very good.  This may the first you have heard of them, but rest assured you will here a lot more. Anna was the BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2003, and in 2006 her band was awarded "The Best Folk Band" award at the Scots Trad Music Award. You might as well get on the bandwagon now; its going to be a good ride. (Highly recommended)

Alasdair Fraser, Natalie Haas & Muriel Johnstone - Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle - volume 2: Tunes from the Life & Land of Robert Burns  (Culburnie Records 2004) A belated review of this sequel to Alasdair's acclaimed first volume in this series. On this CD he is accompanied by Natalie Haas on fiddle and Muriel Johnstone on piano. The three play beautifully together. Alasdair has been keen on restoring the cellow to its former place of prominence in Scottish music, and in Natalie Haas he has found just the cellist to showcase this instrument at its best in this music. Muriel Johnstone's piano is also entirely fitting and very well done. I am so used to listening to Cape Breton music that always has a piano, I had to remember this instrument appears far less often in Scottish fiddle music. Alasdair's playing is lovely, as always. This whole album, with its generous 67 minutes of music on it, sounds as if it would be right at home in the fancier parlors or Scottish castles entertaining the nobility of the late 18th century.  The tunes may be similar but the style of playing contrasts dramatically with the more rough-hewn dance music of Cape Breton as can be heard in the recent CDs by Ian MacDougall, Howie MacDonald or Ashley MacIsaac. The response to Legacy is more likely to be enthusiastic polite applause, rather than folks jumping to their feet ans setp dancing up a storm until the whole parish hall is shaking. Alasdair and Natalie are certainly capable of playing rabble-rousing music as can be heard in their 2004 collaboration on Fire & Grace; there is just more grace and less fire on this CD. Each type of music in its place. For friends who are classical music fans, this is album is  good introduction to traditional Scottish music. The liners notss helpfully connect the tunes with the Robert Burns' songs with which Burns penned for them. (Highly recommended)


Fred Morrison with Jamie McMenemy - Up South (KRL Lochshore 2003) A new CD by Scottish piper Fred Morrison is almost an epochal event. Fred has the kind of almost unbelievable talent on pipes that Martin Hayes has on fiddle. And Fred's musical journey keeps getting richer with the most impeccable piping you could ever dream of hearing. Here, Fred not only plays the highland pipes superbly, but also has absolutely stunning sets of tunes on the Irish uillean pipes, the Border pipes and low whistle, accompanied on three tunes by guitarist Tony McManus. The tunes are a varied and beautiful mix of Fred's own compositions, traditional tunes, and a 11 minute piobrach ("The Earl of Seaforth's Salute) to show the range and skill of Fred. Jamie McMenemy provides tasteful and supportive accompaniment on guitar. (Essential purchase!)

(Fire & Grace)

Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas - Fire & Grace/font> (Culburnie or Greentrax) 2004. Alasdair, the remarkable, sweet-sounding, energetic fiddler, has been a proponent of the cello in Scottish music for a long time. In the young, and astoundinglhy talented, Natalie Haas, his vision is validated with a skill and joy that has to be heard to be believed. Anyone who has seen the two perform together at the Sebastopol Celtic Faire will remember those concerts for the rest of their lives. Sometimes Natalie is providing a wonderful rythym like a bass, other times a langurous accompaniment, sometimes a drone, and occassionally takes over the melody entirely. It is a phenomenal performance. We have been waiting for this album for awhile, and it does not disappoint. Just as Tony MacManus brought out the best of Alasdair on their album, Return to Kintail, Natalie's playing has the same effect. Alasdair has never sounded better, and although many of the tunes on this CD are familiar, you will hear them in a new light altogether. And for those looking for a little fire in their Scottish music, the final track will not disappoint; it is a take-no-prisoners charge through The Hut on Staffin Island/The Barrowdown Reel/The High Reel. (Very highly recommended)

Malinky - 3 Ravens (Greentrax 2002) This fine young group is making a splash, having won the Danny Award for new talent at the 1999 Celtic Connections Festival in Edinburgh. This, their second excellent CD, is another excellent and varied collection of instrumentals plus traditional and new ballads in Scots. Particularly striking is Karine Polwart's terrific singing and gorgeous sounding guitar. (You may have heard Karine on the Battlefield Band's excellent Happy Daze CD.) The highlight for me is Karine's riveting version of "Billy Taylor". Karine is joined by Steve Byrne who plays bouzouki, guitar, cittern and mandolin and sings (well); Mark Dunlop on vocals, bodhran and whistles; Jon Bews on fiddle; and Leo McCann on button accordion. I also should mention Steve Byrne's lovely singing on a couple of tunes. A great new discovery! (Very highly recommended)
(Skyran) Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley - Skyran (Geosound 2001) (which means "to glitter brightly" in Old Orkney Norn. Jennifer (the fiddler) and Hazel (guitar and piano) just keep getting better and better as musicians and tune writers. This lovely album is rich in the Orcadian sound, and two better interpreters of that sound could not be hoped for. They are helped by a handful of Orkney musicians on fiddle, double bass and accordion in arrangements that are spare and very tasteful. As David Campbell writes in the in the liner notes: "So stranger close your eén come near/ For you are in the glaumered knowe/ And it's trowie jewels you hear." This CD is very interesting, highly varied, very pretty, and lots of fun. (Highly recommended)
(May You Never Lack a Scone) Jock Tamson's Bairns - May You Never Lack a Scone (Greentrax 2001). Jock Tamson's Bairns were one of the most influential folk bands in the 1970s and early 1980s, being key figures in the revival of Scottish traditional, acoustic music. (I adore the CD made during this period - A' Jock Tamson's Bairns.) Now, after a gap of 20 years, they have released their third album. These folks are clearly comfortable with the music and each other's playing. This CD consists of 7 songs in a very thick Scots and 6 tunes with excellent liner notes including the full lyrics (if not a translation!) as well as a recipe for proper scones. Their playing has a nice, relaxed tempo - there not is some rush to get anywhere; they're happy where they are. This is a CD to relax to with a single malt whiskey by your side. (FYI - other reviewers have been extremely keen on this CD.) (Recommended)

You can get Scottish CDs at these stores.

English Traditional Folk

Kate Rusby - Awkward Annie (Pure Records 2007). Since Kate's last album, she has encountered a lot of sadness including the death of two beloved relatives and the dissolution of her marriage to John McCusker. Her pain is clearly evident throughout this album. Her song "Daughter of Heaven" about the death of a young child is a particular tear jerker. Her recent albums had been produced by McCusker who brought a very light touch of understated accompaniment that showcased Kate's extraordinary voice and phrasing. Kate produced this CD herself, and chose to sorround herself with friends and excellent accompanists, but to my mind, in the mix they too often overshadow Kate's singing, which, as always, is magnificent. Often, a tune such as the traditional "John Barbury" starts off simply, then builds as more and more instruments get layered on, muddying the waters as far as I'm concerned. Of the 12 songs on this CD, Kate wrote five of them, and six are traditional. My quibbles about this CD are not widely shared by other reviewers, many of whom consider this to be Kate's best album. I just hope that she encounters a lot more happiness between now and her next CD which I will of course purchase as soon as I can. (Recommennded)

Waterson:Carthy -- Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man (Topic 2006).  If you are not familiar with Waterson:Carthy this may be a good place to start. For introduction, they are arguably the finest folk singers in England -- Martin Carthy, his wife Norma Waterson, their daughter Eliza Carthy, and To, vam Eyken. Each is a sensational singer in their own right, and together there is a magic borne of decades singing together. This is by far the most unusual CD on this list. It is a collection of carols and songs for all seasons of the year, although most are related to Christmas and New Years. The only carol that I had heard before is "While Shepherds Watched", but Waterson:Carthy do it in such a strong, a capella version, it was a new experience altogether.  Some of these carols and songs are quite dark and come from Gnostic or gypsy traditions. I have had a very hard time getting this out of my CD player ("I'll just listen to it one more time..."  (Very highly recommended if you are looking for something a little different).

You can get English CDs at these stores

Welsh, Breton, and Spanish Celtic Music

 (Celtic Music from Wales) ffynnon - Celtic Music from Wales (Green Linnet 2002). ffynnon is a new Welsh trio that plays and eclectic mixture of new and traditional Welsh music, with a Scottish border ballad, and Northumberland and a Breton song for dancing. About half the songs are in English, the other half in Welsh (and a Breton song in French). Lynne Dennan, the lead singer, has a lovely Their instruments include accordion, harpsichord, recorders, piano, and bass guitar. A nice CD for those who like their traditional music fused with more modern arrangements. The liner notes have the lyrics in both English and Welsh.
(Not Yet Saturday) Crasdant - Nos Sadwryn Bach - Not Yet Saturday Another lovely, tasteful instrumental CD from this Welsh group with Robin Huw Bowen on triple harp, Andy McLauchlin on flute, whistles and pibgyrn; Stephen Rees on fiddles accordion and whistles, and Huw Williams on guitar and stepping. 8 dance tunes and 3 song melodies. Liner notes in English & Welsh. The tunes tend toward the gentle and lyrical. Bowen's harp playing is sparkling and magical as always, and the arrangements varied and interesting. The tunes are mostly traditional, with a few compositions by the group. (Very highly recommended)
(Rough Guide Wales) The Rough Guide to the Music of Wales (World Music Network 2000) To me, this album points to the differences between Welsh music and Irish/Scottish music more than the similarities. This CD is a remarkable collection of 20 tracks (70 minutes) of instrumentals and songs of enormous variety. There are also excellent liner notes. Those who know Welsh music better than I love this CD.
(auga de Maio) Milladoiro - Auga de Maio (Green Linnet, 2000) Here is more magical, charming, haunting, exotic and refreshing celtic music from Spain. This is a studio album compared to Milladoiro's brilliant 1997 live concert album As Fadas de Estraño Nome. Milladoiro, a seven piece group, features Nando Casal on gaita (Galician bagpipe), clarinet, tin whistle, crumhorn, Galician tambourine, and vocals; Rodrigo Romani on harp, bouzouki, guitar, ocarina and vocals; Xosé Mendez on flute; Xosé Fereirós on gaita, oboe, mandolin, bouzouki, uilleann pipes, Galician tambourine and vocals; Harry C on violin, Antón Seone on keyboard, guitar, mandola and hurdy gurdy, and Moncho García on percussion and vocals. This ensemble of instruments creates a very different and highly varied sound compared to most celtic groups. There are also a couple of excellent songs sung in Galician. The songs and tunes are an emotional roller-coaster ride taking the listener from lyrical airs to rousing dance tunes, seducive songs, to sombre pieces with influences of Moorish, flamenco, and Irish flavors appearing in this very interesting music. You will listen to this CD a lot! (Very highly recommended)

For more album recommendations:

| Irish | Scottish| Cape Breton | Newfoundland |
| English folk music | Brittany | Wales | Galicea |

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Please send me your comments or suggestions: jim@sfcelticmusic.com