Celtic Soul,
Wee Blue Man
(Lost Resort, 2001)

When I first heard Jana Light's vocals, I pictured her in a cowboy hat. And when I opened the case for the album Wee Blue Man, there she was on the back of the liner notes. It's black.

Light is the singer for Celtic Soul, a Florida-based band which adds a heavy dose of western swing to its traditional Irish base. Light sings with a delicate, babydoll voice and adds tin whistle to the proceedings. She's joined by Kevin Breslin (keyboards), Sandy Herrault (fiddle), Nick Watson (percussion) and Andy King (upright bass), plus guests Hugh Lowry (guitar), Spade McQuade (mandolin) and Joe Adragna (backing vocals). The end product is a pleasant mix of Irish, rock and country styles.

Light leads the way with her Nashville-inflected singing -- it's a style that's not high on my favored list, and yet Light manages to keep it fresh and quite infectious. She does quite well on traditional songs, such as "Rocks of Bawn" and, my favorite on this album, the spritely, lilting "Molly Brannigan" -- this one should be getting tons of radio airplay. Another traditional song, the hackneyed "She Moves Through the Fair," gets a much-needed shot in the arm when you combine Light's husky vocals with Watson's driving drum line. And wait 'til you get an earful of her original song, "Saints of Belfast." Light has written a few tunes for this album, but the soaring power of "Saints" really stands out from the crowd.

Herrault, too, deserves special note. Her fiddle soars above the album's arrangement, be it the focus of a tune or a backdrop to the vocals. She, too, owes more of her style to Nashville than to Donegal or Clare, but she provides a great edge to the music. A prime example of her talent is on "The Mills Are Grinding/Jenny's Chickens," a high-energy set which shows Herrault's amazing chops. She slows things down for a lovely air called "Half Moon Bay," co-written by Herrault and Breslin, before kicking things back into action for the traditionals "Rakes of Clonmel" and "Cup of Tea."

The heavy synthesizer on the final track, "Bridget O'Malley/Cliffs of Moher," is a bit of a shock, but it's an effective sound nonetheless, providing a lush backdrop, first to Light's brief vocals and then to Herrault's grand fiddling.

Wee Blue Man is a successful blend of styles, and the talent of Celtic Soul's members makes the album a delight from start to finish. While not a suitable recording for dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists, anyone with an open mind and a love for good music will find plenty to enjoy here.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 22 September 2001

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