Celtic Soul,
(self-produced, 2002)

For a diehard Celtic music fan, the thought of blending Celtic with soul might have made me pass over this recording if I'd encountered it in a music store. Especially when I saw the graphics -- the cover reminds me of some old Kingston Trio records I came across a while back. Obviously, there's a point to it, but I think I've missed it. I don't hear a real Celtic sound here at all, and in fact I'd say the sound is hard to categorize.

The band employs some traditional Celtic instruments: Lori Poteat on fiddle, Trevor Tanner on mandolin, Jana Light on tin whistle, Nick Watson on percussion and Andy King on bass. They invite Neil Anderson in as guest on Highland and uillean pipes and whistles, and mix it all up with Light's clear light vocals (complete with a country accent and a shot-of-whiskey sound) and Tanner's youthful sincerity. Who knows what to call it? And who cares?

However, the CD immediately launches into songs that are catchy and lively. Like the cockeyed optimist of "Hard to be Happy," the songs make us want to believe in the possibilities of something better. There's an upbeat feeling to the whole collection that is a bit at odds with the dire events related in some of the traditional and Light's traditional-sounding songs, as well as the very contemporary lost soul of the Tanner compositions. But hey, it works.

Light's voice on "Shule Aroon" is a perfect blend of strength and yearning, and the Irish sounds pretty good, though I'm not familiar enough with that language to know if it's accurate. Her skills extend to songwriting, too. "Spare Them" is a lovely song that might have been translated from some 16th-century prayerbook, and "Maggie" is a slightly raunchy courting song that would not have been out of place in some old-time milling frolic.

Tracks like Tanner's "Hard to be Happy" and "Pretty Too" are original and quirky songs sung with just the right blend of angst and innocent self-awareness. Tanner does the vocals on his own songs, with Light backing him. His songwriting is original and slightly loopy, but endearing in a strange kind of way. The bouncy rhythms of the music belie the despair and cynicism of the lyrics. It almost makes a kind of sense. Can you imagine any other situation where one would find oneself sympathizing with the stalker as one does in "Pretty Too?"

"Called you up on my digital phone
Your machine said you weren't home
But that was a lie, 'cause I was stalking you outside of your house...."

There's a good mixture of modern compositions and adapted Celtic-folk. The "Lonesome Boatman" set is lovely and haunting, and the fresh treatment given it makes me hear it with new attention.

One caveat, though. The listing of titles on the back of the CD doesn't match the listing inside (which isn't numbered). It's not a big problem but it is a little annoying and does sell the collection short. There are also, unfortunately, some spelling and grammatical errors in the liner notes.

- Rambles
written by Joyce Rankin
published 10 January 2004