The Barra MacNeils,
Until Now
(self-produced, 1997)

Until Now is a wonderful collection of some of the Barra MacNeils' best work off of their six previous albums. With only 14 tracks, it can hardly do justice to over a decade of music, but each track is well chosen, demonstrating the talents of each member and the cohesiveness they have as a whole.

Starting the album is "The Banks of the Roses," a fantastic traditional tune, followed by a set of jigs and reels. A cover of "Darling Be Home Soon" comes next. I really enjoy this version, but I've never heard the original so I can't compare. Some funky mouth music, a few more instrumental sets and some of their most influential songs round out the album.

Never ones to lack energy, the quartet of brothers Stewart, Sheumas and Kyle and sister Lucy have infused each of the instrumental sets and the two mouth music selections (one is an extended version of the first) with a remarkable amount of gusto. With three of the four of them singing lead at some point and all of them playing a range of instruments and singing backup, each song is unique. Their version of "Going Down the Road" is the first to appear on an album, although it was part of an unreleased soundtrack for a movie of the same name. Written by Bruce Cockburn, he was apparently so happy that they were to record it that he agreed to appear on this recording alongside them. "The Island" is another standout track, and is the unofficial anthem of Cape Breton. The Barra MacNeils are well known for their spirited rendition of this song.

As they have never had much radio success (mostly because they have never looked for it), it is difficult to say if anything is missing. There are personal favourites that are not there, but that is the case with any compilation album of a group of which you have been a fan for a long time. They have also never tried to make their music more mainstream (with the exception of a few selections off of The Question, a recording with only one track featured on this album and not the one that got radio play either) -- they certainly cannot be accused of misrepresenting themselves. Instead, the album genuinely reflects their passion for the music of their native Cape Breton.

It is a great introduction for people new to the group, though the liner notes are pretty sparse on biographical information. Longtime fans will not find anything really new, but the album is well put together and has a nice flow to it. I often choose to listen to Until Now over their studio albums because this one feels like a celebration -- of their career, their music and their passion. I certainly hope that half a dozen recordings from now, we get another great collection to celebrate with.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 3 July 2004