(Oh Ha Music, 1997)
I dare anyone to listen to "Wrecker's Den," the first track on Kilt's self-titled album, and not get the chorus stuck in your head. Then listen to the rest and try to maintain some degree of stoicism. Don't tap your feet. Don't sing along to the old standards and not-so-familiar versions of familiar songs. These are virtually impossible commands if you have been listening to the same CD that hasn't made it to the storage rack since I bought it. If you think that you can resist this fun, lively Celtic/pop group (who sends thanks to Great Big Sea and Rawlins Cross in their liner notes) then go away. If you enjoy entertaining, toe-tapping tunes and songs, then read on.
Kilt provides a mix of traditional tunes, old songs, unusual covers and a few original pieces. Kilt is another east coast Canadian group, not unlike Great Big Sea. Tony Ronalds, who provides the lead vocals and whistles, has a very distinct, full voice which carries all of the songs well, though strains occasionally in the higher register. Justin Stewart on mandolin, vocals and electric guitar is certainly most noticeable on the mandolin line in "Fisherman's Blues," but what would that song be without the mandolin?
Bonny Jean MacDonald plays the fiddle and provides a great instrumental line behind the vocals in the songs; she plays really well when the fiddle stands out on the tunes as well. Andy Gallant on the bass and vocals is not really noticeable unless you're looking for the bass, but adds a bit of fullness to the sound. Brian Buckle does percussion and vocals, providing both the more contemporary drum kit sound for the songs with more of a pop sound, and a nice bodhran beat for the traditional tunes and a few songs. Last but not least is Brennan MacDonald, who plays guitar and sings. MacDonald uses the guitar almost exclusively as percussion and gives many of the tracks the nice light sound which plays through the whole album.
The familiar sets that pop up throughout the album include standards like "Speed the Plow," "Sleepy Maggie" and others that you won't necessarily know by the names provided, but you probably have heard. None of the tunes are much better or especially different from other available arrangements, but they are easily as good as a lot of the other Celtic groups around. The sets do stand out in that they do have really nice, smooth transitions from one to the next, and tend to be jazzed up with a bit on the bodhran or fiddle.
Kilt performs a few originals, but most of the songs are covers. Of the originals, "Wreckers Den" stands out above the rest and is, in fact, the highlight of the album. "Dream of Death" has some rather interesting lyrics, but a song with so morbid a title probably shouldn't sound quite so cheerful. This includes a great bit on the fiddle, though, even if it doesn't match up to the lyrics. "Dylan's Ghost" is one of those songs that every album has that isn't great, but isn't bad, it just sort of is.
Ronalds does a wonderful job on "Fisherman's Blues," but I am little biased because I love this song. Kilt really makes it swing really nicely. "South Australia" is an old song with a nice new touch, and as with a few other tracks (like "Honest Gamble" by Spirit of the West and Stan Rogers' "Plenty of Hornpipe") blends the song nicely into a tune.
The two tracks that really can't be left off a discussion of this album are definitely the oddest choices. The first is "I Was Made For Loving You" by heavy metal band Kiss. I think you really have to give points to a fundamentally Celtic group who performs Kiss; you can imagine this idea coming out of some odd sessions in someone's basement. The second is "Come On Eileen" by Irish rockers Dexy's Midnight Runners. Both of these are great fun, and you can tell that the group is having a lot of fun playing them.
The last song, an original aptly named "Last Call," sums things up well as an amusing final bit.
It goes without saying, I hope, that I think this is a great album, but there are a few weak spots to mention. The tone is nice and light and fun, but the entire CD remains on one level. While that does make it perfect for background music, it can be repetitious -- the guitars play almost the exact same thing in every song. There is variety in melody, but not much variety in strumming patterns. None of what the group does indicates a phenomenal level of talent. This is not to say that they are not very good, they're just not great. They are well-rehearsed and perform quite competently, but they lack some of the fullness that you find in more established groups.
That said, I think this is a very good first album. The band has a lot of potential -- just think back to Great Big Sea's first CD and compare it to the last. Kilt is technically better than Great Big Sea's self-titled first debut album, which indicates that there may be some greater things to come from Kilt.
Overall, my recommendation to anyone who enjoys fun, pop-oriented Celtic music is to pick this album up. More importantly, keep your eyes open for the next installment from this group.
[ by Kristy Tait ]