Barrage,
Live in Europe
(Swath Records, 1998)

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, 1992 edition, the third meaning of the word "barrage" is "an overwhelming, concentrated outpouring."

Yes, that sounds about right. Barrage is an ideal name for these young, energetic musicians from Calgary who took Cropedy '99 by storm. The ten-member band (seven men, three women), consisting on compact disc of eight fiddlers (with some of them doubling on other instruments such as tin whistle, keyboards, bass and mandolin), a guitarist, a percussionist, and all contributing vocals, becomes one single performing entity that entices listeners to the group's debut CD, Live in Europe.

The majority of the 15 tracks were recorded live in the Shetland Islands, with others from gigs in London, Aberdeen, Paris and, contrary to the album's title, Calgary.

Just as this Live in Europe CD isn't entirely what its title claims, Barrage itself defies categorization. A Celtic fiddle group from Canada? I don't think so. There are Celtic influences, along with Ukrainian, Appalachian and even Calypso, among others. The group is primarily a fiddle band, but the other instruments also are important. Barrage simply is a group of energetic musicians who feed their listeners with that aforementioned (almost overwhelming) concentrated outpouring.

"Old Joe Clark," the first track, has a fast and furious pace that immediately sets your foot tapping. The second track, "Calypso Jam," continues the upbeat tempo as the tin whistles echo the fiddles' melody line. It's only the third track, "Appalachian Dream," that slows down the pace. It's an almost necessary respite, and the unworded vocalizing only adds to the restful feeling. Never fear, however. After that brief break, the tempo picks up again with "St. Patrice," featuring solo fiddle work and guitar.

The different musical styles allow the band to feature and show off different instruments. A solo violin starts off the klezmer-infuenced "The Ukraine," but Bob Fenske's percussion also figures strongly. Fiddlers pluck their instruments as if they were guitars, and all of the musicians yell, "Hey!" at the song's mini-climaxes building to a furious and cumulative finish. Barrage's artistic director (and the CD's producer), Dean Marshall, who also writes and arranges most of their material, displays his keyboards amidst the fiddles in "Mountain Spring," which segues neatly into "Texas Swing."

Canada? These folks are from Calgary, Canada? Not Texas, Appalachia, the Ukraine, or as "Spazz Jazz" might indicate, New Orleans? After I listened to all of Live in Europe, I was convinced that Barrage can command almost any music style. Whether it's the sweet melody of "Karen's Air" to the raw spirit of "Seven Wicked Reels," Barrage can handle it. Live in Europe barely manages to contain the barrage of the group's infectious live energy. Resistance is futile. Give in, and listen to Barrage.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]