Celtic music comes from many different countries and encompasses numerous musical styles. One of my favorite Celtic bands, SixMileBridge, originally from Texas. Celtic Soul band heralds from Jacksonville, Florida. Cape Breton Island, on the northern part of Nova Scotia, has a lot of excellent Celtic musicians, including Mary Jane Lamond. Then there's Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. Not to mention Australia and New Zealand, which also produces a good crop of Celtic music.
For it to be called Celtic, the music needs to incorporate some of the traditional sounds, words or lyrics from Celtic lands. I'd say that somebody in the band needs to have a little Celtic blood, too. Celtic music can be pure Celtic, in Gaelic perhaps, or consisting of reels and jigs, or it can be almost rock and roll -- Loch Ness Johnny and Bad Haggis are two that spring to mind. Clannad, Capercaillie, Boys Of The Lough, De Dannan, Clandestine, The Poozies, The Poor Clares, and Raven are examples of more traditional Celtic music groups with strong, innovative elements. Traditional doesn't preclude variations on the theme, either: There are Celtic pop groups with a polished sound like The Corrs (I've seen them perform and The Corrs are real fun in concert) and B*Witched; there are also Celtic groups with rock backbones, such as Barking Monkey, which incorporates a mean fiddle and guitar -- their Evolver CD is a Celtic-rock-folk album. Barking Monkey is sort of of alternative-Celtic. Celtic music has made inroads into jazz (Bachue, for instance) and blues (Mary Couglan, for example.)
Celtic music bands often offer surprising sounds: On any given CD, you may find a mix of traditional, rock, instrumental and fusion sounds. Strong voices, soft, teary ballads may also be on the same album, too. One group that mixes a variety of sounds together into several astonishingly good CDs is Kilbrannan. Kilbrannan's strengths are its ballads, but that's not what you'd expect from four guys who look exactly like the kind of people you'd rather not meet in a dark alley. Do yourself a favor and sample their "Eye of the Storm" CD, an album that gives the full flavor of journeying by boat. (And while you're at it, give "Bedlam Boys" a whirl, too: This CD shows off the band's smart lyrics and superb musical arrangements.) Four men together in one band are not the norm in Celtic music, which seems to be dominated by women and male/female bands, but Kilbrannan proves that exceptions offer unexpected wonderful surprises.
Celtic music leans toward the soft and ethereal like Loreena McKennitt, or rough and tumble the Barking Monkey or The BMC Band. You'll find that there's a great variety of Celtic music. If you're interested in learning more about Celtic music, definitely listen to the Thistle & Shamrock on National Public Radio. There are other Celtic music radio programs listed at Ceolas. Explore Celtic music by country; or by theme, or by type of music. And before I forget: Celtic Tides is a great video about Celtic music, which is available in VHS and DVD.
And by all means, run, don't walk to get a copy of Maireid Sullivan's Celtic Women in Music. You'll get a rich appreciation of Celtic music by reading this delightful and captivating book.
I discovered Capercaillie years ago while in the Scottish highlands. Capercaillie is one of the most innovative and exciting Celtic groups. While their traditional Scottish roots are evident, there's nothing traditional about Capercaillie's music, which draws on a number of different influences. Their music ranges from the sublime to pop, and it's always a treat to listen to. Capercaillie's lead vocalist, Karen Matheson, has one of the most beautiful and sensuous voices anywhere in the world. Sean Connery said that Karen Matheson has "a throat surely touched by God." How can you have better praise than that? Three Capercaillie CD's I would suggest are Secret People, To the Moon, and Beautiful Wasteland. But there are other CDs, too. There's a lot more about Capercaillie on their web site. One of my absolute favorite songs, on the To the Moon CD, is "Why Won't You Touch Me?" -- a song about unrequited love.
Where to begin with Clannad? They've been around for a while (I bought my first Clannad album in Dublin in 1979), and Clannad represents the mainstream of traditional Irish music. While their music is strongly rooted in Celtic tradition, you'll find elements of pop and rock in their songs. Clannad is the kind of group that you can listen to all day long -- and then the next day, too. I had the pleasure of hearing the Clannad's lead singer, Maire Brennan, perform recently. Wow. Brennan's voice has a lovely, ethereal quality to it; it's silky, sexy and melodic. Maire Brennan has the kind of voice that doesn't need any instruments.
Clannad, the album, is one of their most traditional albums, and their first. It's lively and engrossing. Some of the songs are about love, others about the sea, emigration, pollution and war (the Battle of Clontarf, 1014, in specific.) All in all, an excellent interpretation of traditional Irish music. Most of the songs are in Gaelic. This CD is hard to find, but I highly recommend it.
As with Clannad most of the songs on Clannad 2 are in Gaelic. Yet even if you don't understand Gaelic, the lyrics and music penetrate you mind is some inexplicable way, letting you feel what the songs are about.
Far less traditional than their earlier albums, and more pop sounding, Sirius still retains an Irish feel. I think the song, "Something to Believe In" is one of Clannad's best. There are many other Clannad CD's to buy, but another I'd give four stars to is Magical Ring and Legend.
Beyond imagining: That's the best place to start with when it comes to describing Beth Patterson's music. How else can you describe an eclectic mix of Celtic-Cajun-Pop, with a heavy emphasis on the Celtic? Combine that mix with truly brilliant music and lyrics and you have Beth Patterson's two CD's Hybrid Vigor and Take Some Fire.
Previously, Beth Patterson was part of the traditional Celtic music band, The Poor Clares. But Celtic music is an evolving form, and the direction that Beth Patterson has taken Celtic music is so brilliant and creative that the moment you put her CDs on your player, you feel compelled to stop everything and just listen.
Hybrid Vigor, Beth Patterson's first CD, and Take Some Fire, her second both showcase Patterson's outstanding bouzouki playing. Forget the twelve string guitar, the electric piano, the Celtic harp, the violin -- the bouzouki is where it's all happening, especially the way Beth Patterson plays it. Hybrid Vigor has some songs in English and French as well as some instrumental tunes. On that CD you'll also find "Steer by the Stars," a love song that can make even the coldest hearts melt.
But you're in for a special treat with Take Some Fire, which gives you a undeniable view of one of the Celtic music world's best musicians. You'll also get to listen to Beth's salty, mysterious and lush voice.
Beth Patterson's 2005 release, "Caught in the Act," like her previous CDs, combines Celtic, Cajun and pop music with great flair. Many, though certainly not all, of Beth Patterson's songs are about love and loss, but the way she sings makes you feel good about feeling bad -- Beth Patterson's songs are high energy. "Caught in the Act" is a live album, but these songs were recorded just for this CD -- you won't hear them on any of Beth Patterson's other discs. If you've ever wondered what a bouzouki sounds like when it's played by a master, you'll find out on "Caught in the Act," which you should get if you're interested in hearing spirited music that has a story to tell.
I was wandering through an independent music store in Takoma Park, Maryland, and saw a CD with both a cover and group name that I liked: SixMileBridge. How could you go wrong with a name like that? (Well, to be perfectly honest, I've gone wrong many times before when I've bought a CD based only on the cover.) But SixMileBridge's Across the Water CD, is great. I saw SixMileBridge in concert -- led by the vibrant Maggie Drennon, they're vibrant, creative and extremely talented, mixing traditional Celtic music with their own blend of rock and pop. Originally from Texas, SixMileBridge now inhabits the New York City area, so be sure to see if they're performing when you're in New York. I'd suggest their No Reason CD as well as Across the Water, which you can order directly from SixMileBridge's web site. (Sadly, SixMileBridge has disbanded, but the good news is that their music lives on CDs and that you can hear the reincarnated band's new music performed by the Maggie Drennon Band.. So, enjoy!)
SixMileBridge perform with tremendous energy, passion and musical talent. Maggie Drennon's vocals are especially enthralling, and she plays a mean fiddle and base guitar, too. What SixMileBridge is, is great vocals, brilliant music, and musicians who make no bones about loving what they do. SixMileBridge performs what would best be described as Celtic-rock, with a heavy traditional emphasis. But there's nothing traditional about SixMileBridge -- they put a great deal of creativity and flair into their music.
While many of their songs are contemporary-Celtic, there's considerable range in their music. Some slow songs, like "Wild Mountain," from their latest CD, No Reason, have a traditional flavor. Others, such as "It Was 'a For Our Rightfu' King," on the Across the Water CD, display their traditional origins, but have a strong pop-rock element. While it's hard to think the fiddle, mandolin, and tin whistle as "rock" instruments, you should see what SixMileBridge can do with them (along with guitar, drums, pipes -- more than a dozen different instruments in all.)
When I started writing these mini reviews, Celtic music DVDs were a rarity. I think that there were exactly two. But that's changed for the good. Unlike traditional MTV-style music DVDs, Celtic music DVDs are more than just concerts or music videos, and this should come as no surprise t Celtic music fans, since Celtic music itself has always been among the most heartfelt and innovative genres of music.
And so what Maireid Sullivan and Ben Kettlewell have done with their pan-Celtic DVD, Time After Time is in the true Celtic music tradition -- it's something that's not entirely Celtic. Or rather a mix of heavy doses of Celtic music and tradition and world influences. This DVD, which contains vividly breathtaking images of Ireland (how did they get that close to the edge at the Cliffs of Moher -- I never could!), America and Australia, accompanied by some of the sweetest and lyrical Celtic songs sung by Maireid Sullivan, is a masterpiece.
I'm not sure what Time After Time is exactly: Something to mediate with, something to calm and relax you, a cross-cultural experience, or just spectacular images with beautiful song. But Time After Time really is an amazing accomplishment. This DVD goes well beyond anything you may have seen in the way of Celtic music creations -- and possibly goes beyond anything you may have imagined. In some ways, Time After Time, is an expression of imagination itself -- in Celtic song, of course.
I bet you haven't heard of Figgy Duff. When I first learned about Figgy Duff, I thought that Figgy Duff was a "who." But Figgy Duff's a what --a band. The who of Figgy Duff is Pamela Morgan from Newfoundland. I once played "Weather Out the Storm," the title song from the CD of the same name for my sister-in-law. It only took about 5 seconds of listening to that song for her to say, "I'm getting this CD." Their songs are fresh, with strong Celtic flavoring, and more than a dash of folk. Pamela Morgan, who has her own solo CDs, has an amazing voice -- it's rich, lush and strong. There's no way to talk about Figgy Duff without using the words "beautiful," "exquisite," and "original." Weather Out the Storm is a must for any fan of Celtic Music. Another excellent Figgy Duff CD is Figgy Duff: A Retrospective. Figgy Duff disbanded in 1993, when Noel Dinn, the group's founder, died. But you can still buy both Figgy Duff's and Pamela Morgan's CDs.
Eleanor McEvoy is a rising star. While promoted as an Irish singer, most of her songs have to do with affairs of the heart. The lyrics are innovative, and the music lively. McEvoy's voice is tougher sounding than many traditional Irish singers -- it has a edge. One of my favorite McEvoy songs is "Did You Tell Him?" a song about unrequited love, on her Snapshots CD. It's clear that she's not just singing words she writes, but like most good writers, she sings what she knows about. McEvoy plays both the fiddle and guitar during some of the songs -- and with extraordinary talent. Many of her songs that has a little Irish, a little country, and a little pop in them.. "Please Heart," also on the Snapshots CD, is zesty and creatively written.
I've been fortunate to see Susan McKeown perform. She is simply marvelous in concert, and I can say the same for her CDs. Like many Celtic musicians, McKeown has a lush, silky voice, but her singing voice is also complex, rich and varied, with quite a range of octaves. As the lyrics demand, she can go from soft sounds to really belting out the words. McKeown's not the kind of musician you put on for background music (though you could) -- her music compels you to listen. While she sings traditional Irish songs, many of her songs are also innovative. Perhaps one way to classify her music would be to call it "progressive Celtic," but that doesn't do her justice. Susan McKeown was born in Dublin. Try her Bones and Songs Celebrating Mothers CDs.
Good Celtic music is where you find it. The Poor Clares first came to light at O'Flaherty's Irish Channel Ballad Room and Pub in New Orleans' French Quarter in 1993. Their songs range from enchanting to vibrant, and almost all have a strong traditional backbone. When you buy one of their CDs, you hear strong lyrics sung by Betsy McGovern, Beth Patterson and Patrick O'Flaherty, among others. The Poor Clares are one of the most gifted American Celtic groups; and while their songs are strongly Irish in nature, there's often a dash of jazz and folk in their music. One of my favorite songs is "Dance to Your Daddy" on their Change of Habit CD. Some of the songs they perform are traditional ballads, gentle and melodic, but with creative adaptations. Other songs, such as "Dark Stranger's Ceili," a song about being consumed by the dance at a Ceili, are originals. "Dark Stranger's Ceili" makes you feel as if you're in the midst of a dance -- or wish you were. Buy their CDs: You won't be disappointed. And by all means, if The Poor Clares are playing nearby, see them.
The pipes and fiddles are energetic: When you hear Clandestine's jigs and reels it's hard to stay seated. Clandestine offers a harmonious mix of fiddle, guitar, vocals, Highland bagpipes, Scottish smallpipes, hand percussion, flutes and whistle. Clandestine began as instrumental group --pipes and drums mostly-- and has evolved into some much grander, but still solidly rooted in traditional Celtic music. While Jennifer Hamel and Emily Dugas' voices are occasionally ethereal, occasionally just plain beautiful, some of Clandestine's songs can really boogie (in a traditional, way, of course!) Actually, high-spirited might be a better way to describe many of their tunes. Hamel and Dugas' voices are complex, and you won't tire of them, even after listing to the same songs again and again. One of my favorite songs, on their To Anybody At All CD, is "Peggy," a song about a girl who father isn't happy about her choice of boyfriends. Many of Clandestine's songs are instrumental --their origins-- but the vocal songs are simply marvelous. This Scottish band comes from Houston, Texas. Their CDs have both original compositions and traditional songs that they've adapted. Besides To Anybody At All, be sure to try The Haunting and The Ale is Dear.
Every time I travel to Ireland or Scotland and then I hear an American band like Celtic Soul, I wonder, why bother to take the trip at all? Certainly it's not for the airline food, though Aer Lingus does try. There are some really wonderful American Celtic bands--and Celtic Soul is one of them. One of the great pleasures I get in writing these mini-reviews is discovering new Celtic bands, especially those with considerable talent. Celtic Soul combines strong traditional elements (and awesome fiddling) with what can best be described as effervescent flair. Celtic Soul has a knack for taking traditional songs and adding vibrant originality that makes you think that you're either listening to the song for the first time, or you heard it wrong all these years. I especially like their rendition of Molly Brannigan on their "wee blue man" CD: It kind of makes you want to stop what your doing and dance a jig.
Most of Celtic Soul's songs are written by the band. Some of their songs have touches of country and rock in them, too, such as "Think of Me," a song about love lost and the wondering that goes in love's aftermath. On the "wee blue man" CD there's a balanced mix of slow and fast songs. Based in Jacksonville, Florida, Celtic Soul's band members herald from both the United States and Ireland. Give Celtic Soul a whirl; they won't disappoint!
Bevel Jenny is one of the growing
breed of Celtic fusion bands that explore innovative mixes of Celtic music
with rock, pop, jazz and blues. Some bands pull off this combination well
enough, but Bevel Jenny is just incredible. Regardless of their innovative
style, all their songs retain a vibrant Celtic underpinning. Their songs are
sophisticated, melodic and give the impression of a band that's been
performing together for a long time.
In my dreams I can do the impossible There's nothing real in my way And in this state there are no rules, fools Lord, of all that I survey... In the nighttime I can turn my world around.
Mix that kind of lyrics with the smooth, lush voice that belongs to Aisling Ní Fharachtáin, and you've got a song that resonates more each time you play it.
Every now somebody in the music business reads this page. And also every now and then somebody emails me and asks if I can review their music. I'm often hesitant to do that. Why? Well, as you've probably noticed, all the reviews on this page are quite positive. And the reason for that is that I'm selective about what I review: only the music I really like. What would happen, I wonder, if I received something that I just wasn't thrilled with?
That was my concern when I was asked to review Mouth Music. Mouth Music? That's undoubtedly going to be something so eclectic, something so on the outer edge of Celtic that I'm going to have a hard time even listening to it. (Mouth Music is very well known, but somehow it escaped my peculiar radar.)
I was more than pleasantly surprised when I put Mouth Music's Seafaring Man on my player.
Celtic music is often a place where musicians can experiment, mixing hundreds of years of Celtic musical heritage with other traditions and forms. Seafaring Man is a stellar fusion of Celtic music with African, Middle Eastern and techo-sounds. Yet these non-Celtic components are woven into the songs so well that you feel as if they desperately belong.
Mouth Music is the creation of Martin Swan, a native of Scotland. On Seafaring Man you hear Martin's voice (at times he sounds a little like Ralph MacTell, at other times like a little like the American singer Jimmie Spheeris), and you'll also hear the more delicate voices of Ishbel MacAskill and Kaela Rowan.
Most of the songs on Seafaring Man are in English, but the real treats are the songs by MacAskill and Rowan, especially those sung in Gaelic. The CD's liner notes are in English, so not speaking Gaelic won't deprive you of the depth of feeling that goes into those songs. Perhaps the loveliest sounding song on the entire CD, sung by Ishbel MacAskill, "Milleadh Nam Braithream" ("The Brother's Killing") is also the bloodiest and saddest. See what I mean about Mouth Music preserving the Celtic traditions in music.
Heather Dale is one of the most magnificent musicians on the planet. Her voice is sweet and silky; the lyrics reach to the depth of your soul, with strong mythological and historical roots. There are great stories embedded in her songs. She sings in English, but I have to say that if her songs were in Gaelic or some ancient tongue they would be just as beautiful. Yet not all of her songs are soft some, like Prodical Son on her CD, May Queen, have an edge to them. Visit Heather Dale's website at www.heatherdale.com. The short reviews that I've limited myself to can't do her music justice, so you'll have to take listen for yourself. She melts song and mythology with a voice that's nearly perfect. Her CDs are a testament to what gorgeous sounds can be produced without the backing of a major record label.
We're talking amazing, here. Loreena McKennitt plays Celtic harp and sing with the most spectacular voice you've ever heard. Her songs are often sad, about love lost, and they always touch the soul. We're not talking about a Cilene Deon here, who seems like an amateur musician in comparison. You can visit her music at www.quinlanroad.com. Let me suggest her CD, The Visit, to start with. You probably find Loreena McKennitt's music at many music and bookstores, too.
In a perfect world there would be incredible bands and musicians whom you never heard of before and whom you simply discovered one day and which brought joy to your life. West of Eden, www.westofeden.com is one such band. It's not just their outstanding lyrics that make this band so special; the sound of Jenny Schaub's voice is among the most beautiful out there. As one reviewer wrote, "Göteborgarna i West of Eden blandar pop med irländsk tradition...Musikaliskt hamnar de någonstans mittemellan the Corrs och Fleetwood Mac..." Which brings me to the other thing I want to mention about West of Eden -- they're a Swedish band that performs what's best described as nouvelle/progressive Celtic pop. They sing in English and if you hadn't known beforehand, you'd swear they were from Ireland or the UK. If you like October Project, Vienna Teng, Capercaillie, Eddi Reader, Dar Williams, Equation, or Dido (to name a few) then you'll like West of Eden. West of Eden's CDs can be hard to find in the US. Look for them here: www.tayberry.com.
If you're looking for music to put on your CD player so that when you close your eyes you feel like you're in Ireland, pick up Stonecross' Dark Irish. The songs on Dark Irish were mostly written by Zig Zeitler and Susan O'Rouke, who are the bands musician and vocalist -- new music with a strong traditional Celtic presence. In the song "Barbara Allen," sung a capella, you'll discover Susan O'Rourke's rich voice. My favorite song on the CD is "I Will Carry You," a melancholy love song.
I'm lucky to live close to two Irish pubs in Washington, DC, Nanny O'Brien's and The Four Colors. When feel the mood for some authentic Irish music and simply can't convince my family to pop onto Aer Lingus for a quick trip, I can just walk down the block. But when it's raining one of those cold winter rains or I'm just too tired, I can pop on a CD like Willie McCulloch's Auld Tales & New. It's a stellar CD. McCulloch's voice is passionate, silky (which is quality you don't often get with male vocalists), and a treat to listen to, with delightful harmonies. When you get your hands of Auld Tales & New be sure to pay attention to the song "Fender Bay," about a boy and his younger brother fishing for cod -- it's a charming and captivating song.
Real foot-stomping Celtic music, and it's impossible to stay seated while listening to Mactalla Mor's CDs.