The Browne Sisters
& George Cavanaugh,
West of Home
(Woodenship, 1996)

Only one in every six or seven CDs I review actually makes it to my little traveling collection in my car. If I'm going to listen to it often, it needs to be good -- and not just a couple of songs, the whole thing! Well, I have to say that West of Home just happens to be one of the good ones, and quickly worked itself into rotation.

The Browne Sisters and George Cavanaugh (a cousin of the three sisters, Laura, Pamela and Diane) have been playing together since they were children, which is apparent in this well-polished album of traditional songs in the Scottish vein. Hailing from sunny California, George (rhythm guitar, vocals) joins the Browne Sisters with their exquisite vocal harmonies. Mark Romano (guitars, bass, keyboards, accordion, mandolin) and Rick Dobr (keyboard, piano) make frequent appearances throughout the album as well.

I don't think that I really need to say a lot about this album here. Each song is characterized by the lovely vocal harmonies of the Brownes, excellent guitar melodies and rhythm, stimulating instrumental arrangements and familiar songs that just beg the listener to sing along. Cavanaugh's rich and resonant vocals are often added to the mix, with good effect.

The more upbeat songs -- "The Queen of Argyll," "Come Out Ye Black & Tan," "The Day of the Clipper" and "The Bonnie Blue" -- feature a certain strength and energy while bringing out the emotions behind the lyrics. The addition of instruments such as the congas ("The Queen of Argyll"), bodhran ("The Bonnie Blue"), mandolin and accordion ("The Day of the Clipper") add a little spice to the recording. I was quite impressed by the guitar in virtually every song, and the band has a knack for using some interesting rhythms to add to a song's potency. "Buain A Rainich," Gaelic mouth music which also included "Fosgail An Dorus," allows the sisters' harmonies to shine. I like the transitions between the two songs, and the instrumentals provide a toe-tapping back beat.

Slower songs, such as "City of Chicago" (which had a bit of a pop sound to it), "The Fisherman's Song," "Both Sides of the Tweed," "Easy and Slow" and "Will Ye Gang Love," are equally well done. Soothing vocals mesh with gentle, flowing instrumentals. Each of the three sisters sings lead vocals in one of the songs on the album; Laura displays a strong, emotional lilt, Pamela a soft and gentle sound, and Diane is sonorous and solid. Together, the trio is formidable.

What more is there to say? I quite enjoy this album, and I am sure that it will find its way into the car player often. Anyone with a taste for good harmonies, a mix of male and female voices, fantastic guitar accompaniment and a good smattering of other instruments should enjoy this recording of traditional songs and songs with a traditional theme.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001