The Barra MacNeils,
In Session
(Barra Music, 2008)

The Barra MacNeils have been good to me in the 15-some years since I got to know them.

A dear Canadian friend introduced me to their music in the mid- to late 1990s, and I've never looked back. Their albums have been consistently good ... and their live performances are always spot-on, too. After a several-year absence, I returned recently to their home island of Cape Breton and picked up a copy of In Session, which captures the live action in an informal setting -- specifically, Bunkers, a pub in Sydney, where the music was recorded during "a marathon afternoon and evening session," according to the band's website.

You couldn't ask for a finer taste of this band at work. Featuring siblings Sheumas, Kyle, Boyd, Ryan, Stewart and Lucy MacNeil, the family from Sidney Mines is in rare form. Well, no, that's inaccurate, since they always sound this good. The music was expertly recorded by Jamie Foulds, and it's about as close to being there as you can get without actually, well, being there. The chatter in the bar adds to the ambience, so be sure to have a cold Keith's or Schooner in your hand while you listen.

The album features a handful of songs and several tune sets -- and it's here the band really shines, because each set is studio perfect. Of particular note is the final track, "So You Think You Can Stepdance," which churns on at a fever pitch for some 15 minutes. It's "wow" all around. If you like Cape Breton music, you need this CD.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
Tom Knapp

20 October 2012

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