Bill Whelan,
Dancing at Lughnasa
(Sony Music, 1998)

I'm not generally a fan of soundtrack music, but composer Bill Whelan drew on a clear understanding of traditional music to make this soundtrack a little bit special. The instrumental voices chosen are eerie and moving, giving the music a lyrical quality. The result is an ethereal score, both beautifully orchestrated and elegantly recorded.

This is not to say that the soundtrack is imminently listenable. It remains very much background music, playing recurring themes that, though memorable, will not keep the listener's interest without some help. If you've seen the movie, listening will be a pleasure. If not, it makes for pleasant background music while working.

There are two exceptions to this. The title track, "Dancing at Lughnasa," features a terrific cast of traditional musicians, including Mairtin O'Connor on accordion, Davy Spillane on pipes and low whistle, and Nollaig Casey on fiddle, all exhibiting their skills with grace and ease. Bill Whelan's original reels show all the characteristics of traditional Irish reels and are very danceable. The break that these songs provide amidst such low-key background music is refreshing and much needed. The final cut, "Down By the Sally Gardens," features the deep, evocative vocals of Dolores Keane. Whelan's lush yet simple orchestration and Keane's emotional performance of this old standard will send chills up your spine. The soundtrack is worth a listen for this cut alone.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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