Moidart to Mabou
(Goat Island Music, 2000)

Moidart to Mabou, the first release from Daimh (pronounced "Daav," for those who don't speak Gaelic) immediately won the honour of a spot in my travelling CD case. The band itself is an odd smattering of musicians from around the globe -- all were brought up playing in different styles and traditions, and yet they come together to produce a refreshing sound which is unique, but, at the same time, familiar.

Based on the west coast of Scotland, Daimh's members are from Ireland, Scotland, Cape Breton and California, and play an energetic mixture of tunes from each of their homelands. The band is comprised of Angus MacKenzie, who plays the Highland and Border pipes, Ross Martin on guitar, Colm O'Rua on banjo and mandola, Gabe McVarish on fiddle, and James Bremner on bodhran. Iain MacDonald makes a few appearances on this album, playing the Highland pipes, flute, whistle and jaw harp, Ingrid Henderson and John Pursor provide accompaniment on piano and cello, and Anne Martin joins Daimh for some vocals.

Without being a live recording, Moidart to Mabou has energy to boot! The band's tendency to begin a tune with as few instruments as possible -- adding tantalizing combinations of sounds throughout the piece -- and culminating in a sonorous finale definitely contributes to the energetic feeling of the album. "Welcome to Scotsville," the first set of reels on the album, "Go Jerry," a set of jigs and slip jigs from various parts of the world, "The Brown One" and "The Wise Maid," which ends the album, all exemplify this trait.

Anne Martin, with her clear, strong voice, joins Daimh on two tracks. "Oran Eile do'n Phrionnsa" is a Gaelic tune written after Culloden, inciting Jacobite soldiers to rise again. This song features a lovely fiddle solo, and the backing vocals of the Clachnabrochan Gaelic Choir for a rousing finale. "Nighean Bhan Ghulainn" is another Gaelic song. (I can't tell you what this one's about, however, as my Gaelic is too limited to decipher the liner notes!) Nevertheless, Martin's vocals are outstanding, and the pipe march played by Iain MacDonald complements the tune. The other slow track on the album, "Nighean Donn a Chuailein Riomhaich," is a gentle, soothing air, taken from an old Gaelic song originating on the mainland. The cello at the end adds a nice touch.

Gabe McVarish really shines on fiddle in two sets: "Goat Island," a set of reels (where Colm O'Rua's banjo is also quite impressive) and "The King," a set of jigs. McVarish has a very strong style of playing, with a lilting up-bow. I would not be the least bit surprised to find that McVarish has Shetland roots. The aptly named "Strathpeys and Reels," which (you guessed it!) is a set of strathspeys and reels commonly played at Cape Breton dances, certainly made me feel like dancing. The pipes in this set blended well with the other instruments, and were not overbearing as they sometimes can be.

Also found on the album is a fine set of polkas, one of which was written by Colm O'Rua, "The Vatersay Ambulance Polka," featuring some unique off-beat bowing and the country-like twang of the jaw harp. Apparently, the tune has something to do with "a wild session of music, dance and lobster pots in the back of an ambulance on the Isle of Vatersay, Outer Hebrides." I, for one, would really like to hear the rest of that story!

Moidart to Mabou is a wonderful first album for Daimh ... the tunes are well-arranged, ranging from poignant sets of strathspeys, jigs and reels, to Gaelic songs, marches, airs and polkas. Although the band members have very different backgrounds and playing styles, together they are able to grab and hold the attention of the listener. This unique Celtic blend makes for great toe-tapping tunes, surely to be enjoyed by a wide and varied audience.

[ by Cheryl Turner ]