Banshee in the Kitchen,
If We Were Us
(Speirbhean, 2002)

Banshee in the Kitchen is a trio of women from Bakersfield, Calif., home of the Bakersfield Sound -- the visionary honkytonk music Buck Owens, Merle Haggard and others pioneered in the city's working-stiff bars in the middle of the last century. The Bakersfield Sound lives on in the work of younger acolytes, most notably and successfully Dwight Yoakam and the Derailers. One doesn't ordinarily think of Bakersfield in any other context, though I'm sure that like any other medium-sized city it is home to practitioners of a variety of musical genres. As Banshee in the Kitchen attests, it has one Celtic band, and it's a good one.

If We Were Us harks back to an earlier time in the Celtic-folk revival, say the 1970s to early '80s, before synthesized sounds became an assumed part of the mix and all the instruments were acoustic. Banshee's approach is purely organic, the sound always crisp and pointed; whether cheery or melancholic, the performances are never sentimental or phony or less than assured. Brenda Hunter's hammered dulcimer affords the arrangements a deep, rhythmic bottom, while Jill Egland's flute adds some charming jazzy flourishes. Mary Tvlin's 6- and 12-string guitars and bouzouki center the sound. Hunter also plays fiddle, Egland whistle, accordion and bodhran.

The selections are divided between actual traditionals and faux-traditionals, the latter so well camouflaged that you wouldn't know they are recent compositions if you didn't check the composer credits. Though most of the cuts are instrumentals, there are three songs: the hardy perennials "Black Is the Color" and "Spencer the Rover," plus the less-known "War Hent Kerrigouarch." To my hearing anyway, the Banshees are less impressive as singers than as players, and even here the arrangements behind the vocals strike me as a tad more busy than necessary.

Everything else is just fine, though. In its best moments, and there are many, Banshee in the Kitchen will remind you of what brought you to Celtic music in the first place. Nothing flashy is happening, but there is a whole lot that is solid, respectable and deeply felt, and that's more than enough to carry the day and the disc.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 13 March 2004

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