The Barra MacNeils,
Racket in the Attic
(Barratone, 2000)

Still walking the line between Celtic and pop music, the Barra MacNeils' newest release Racket in the Attic is, well, music to the ears! Recorded independently, this energetic album features the Barras' trademark harmonies and Cape Breton music traditions in a healthy mix of original, traditional and cover tunes, with guest appearances by Paddy Maloney and Great Big Sea.

Hailing from Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, the Barra MacNeils are siblings: Lucy on bodhran, fiddle and harp (plus her own two feet in one track), Stewart on accordion, Irish flute, whistles and guitar, Sheumas on the piano and keyboard, and Kyle on fiddle, mandolin and guitar. Jamie Gatti also joins them on bass.

Although it is sometimes difficult to say exactly what musical category the Barra MacNeils fall into -- they have a unique style, which ranges from traditional Celtic to pop with a light Celtic flavour -- this style suits them well.

Racket in the Attic begins with the upbeat song "Don't Call Me Early," often heard in their live performances. The second track, "Rattlin' Roarin' Willie," has been recorded twice previously by them. This can be forgiven, however, since it is certainly the best version I have heard! Paddy Maloney appears on the uilleann pipes for this tune, and the harmonies with Stewart's whistle (not to mention the vocals) make the tune memorable.

Next, Lucy's vocals do justice to a song made popular by Fleetwood Mac, "Second Hand News." The fiddle adds a lovely Celtic flavour to the song, making the MacNeils' version the better of the two, in my opinion. "Longest Day" is a heartening instrumental written by Sheumas. "Queen of Argyle" would fit in nicely in the pop section, while "Misty Moisty Morning" with guests Great Big Sea has a definite Celtic sound. With so many vocalists on one track, it could be overwhelming, but not so in this tune. The vocals are well distributed and harmonic, and the instrumentals round out the tune well.

"By Northern Light" and "Everytime" are both slower melodies featuring Lucy's compelling vocals. The energetic title track, "Racket in the Attic," is an instrumental which creates the feeling of sitting in on a jam session with the MacNeils. Two thumbs up! Two other original tunes follow; upbeat instrumentals support the melody in "Come High, Come Low," and my personal favorite, "Nancy O" -- a toe-tapping, singing-along-in-my-car kind of tune. To complete this fine album, Kyle and Lucy get out their fiddles for the difficult "Tullochgorum," which they play with well-accompanied vigour and style.

The Barra MacNeils' decision to produce this album independently was a good one. It has a "homey" feel to it, which seems difficult to achieve when working with large production companies, and highlights their unique style that fans have come to love. It also gives the MacNeils a chance to shine at what they do best -- being themselves.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]

Buy it from