Ken Kolodner,
Walking Stones: A Celtic Sojourn
(Dorian, 1997)

Ken Kolodner,
Walking Stones: Music
from A Celtic Sojourn
for Hammered Dulcimer

(Mel Bay, 2001)

Walking Stones is a delightful collection of 31 traditional Celtic tunes not only from Ireland, but also Scotland, Quebec, the Shetlands, Canada and America. Hammered dulcimer player Ken Kolodner enlists the help of fiddler Laura Risk and guitarist Robin Bullock for this musical journey through the lands of Celtic music.

The hammered dulcimer is a stringed instrument with a unique sound that lends itself nicely to the traditional Celtic tunes and gives them new life.

Although it is hard to keep still, Walking Stones is a nice CD for sitting back to relax -- with or without the pint -- or for a gathering. Given Dorian Record's format of recording the music with the dynamics left intact (not mucking with the volume), listening to Walking Stones is almost like being there.

Tracks include Kolodner's original composition, "Caspian Lake," as well as "The Queen's Polka/The Bornish Polka," "The Bee's Wing Hornpipe," "Kevin Keegan's Waltz," "The Green Gates/Tam Lin/The Silver Spire" and "Carolan's Draught."

This album is a must-have for any traditional Celtic music fan or hammered dulcimer enthusiast.

by Sherrill Fulghum
8 July 2006

(Read on for Jamie O'Brien's detailed review of this CD as well as its companion book.)

In any conversation about hammered dulcimer players, the name Ken Kolodner has to feature prominently. He is one of a select group that has taken the dulcimer to new heights, reestablishing the long-out-of-favor instrument to its rightful, legitimate place. It combines melody with rhythm; it is perfect as a solo instrument, but also in an ensemble; and, as the name suggests, it sounds sweet.

As with Bela Fleck and the banjo or Eileen Ivers and the fiddle, Kolodner succeeds in applying the dulcimer to exciting new situations. He plays Celtic music, but the boundaries at times are blurred as he introduces unexpected elements and interpretations. He plays Celtic music in his own distinctive style.

The album Walking Stones has long been a favorite of mine, so the notation of the tracks proves a welcome addition to my sheet music collection, hopefully providing clues to awkward passages and hints on ornamentation and more. As a bad reader of music, I always have a handicap with the written note. But as a guitarist who enjoys playing dulcimer for relaxation and pleasure, application and dedication is no problem.

Firstly, the book should be used in conjunction with the album, which features Kolodner along with fiddler Laura Risk and guitarist Robin Bullock. That indeed is a pleasing introduction as the trio are tight in their playing, inventive in their arrangements and faithful to the spirit of the music. And the album is thoughtfully catalogued by track as well as by tune.

(You want to learn "Tam Lin"? Put track 25 on repeat. You want to hear it in context or learn the turnovers? Play track 24 and you hear the complete set with "The Green Gates/Tam Lin/The Silver Spire.")

The album, and therefore the book, contains a healthy selection of Irish and Scottish tunes, with a sprinkling of Quebecois, Shetland and O'Carolan pieces and some of Kolodner's own compositions. The selection ranges from driving reels to dancing polkas, from swirling waltzes to hoppity hornpipes. (Interestingly, only one set of jigs is featured.) There are commonly found tunes (like "Home Ruler" and "Reel Beatrice") along with rarities (like "Kevin Keegan's Waltz" and "Richard Dwyer's"). Walking Stones is a tremendous album.

Now for the book.

As traditional music, it should really be heard and played, rather than read. The essence of the style cannot truly be captured on paper. And Kolodner acknowledges this as he explains why he has transcribed only simple melodic lines along with suggested accompanying chords. This gives a visual advantage to those not fluent in reading music. The pages are not scarily "covered with notes."

In fact, the layout of the book is to be recommended. Tunes fit comfortably onto sometimes four lines and never on more than a whole page. Accordingly, approaching a new tune is less than a monumental task. In fact, the three minutes it took this near-dyslexic music reader to stumble through the first tune, "Father Kelly's," meant that I was close to sight-reading a tune for the first time in my life.

OK, it was the basic tune, but I was playing it -- and pretty quickly, I was playing it fluently along with the album. Since then, I've returned to it a number of times and find that I am automatically embellishing the piece. "Father Kelly" (and Ken Kolodner) would be proud of me.

By the end of my first session, I was actually playing the first set from the album, almost up to speed. Kolodner uses great skill in putting down the bare bones of the melody, thereby allowing the reader/player to concentrate on the ornamentation and stylistic approach once the tune is properly in the head.

All the pieces are strongly melodious, atmospheric and involving. It's easy to delve into the character of the tunes to find more ways of expressing the emotions. Instead of trying to lead, Kolodner cleverly suggests the way to go.

Only one tune really created problems -- "The Border Crossing," which uses 6/8, 4/4, 7/8 and 3/4 timing. (It also seems to be a crooked tune and it gives me nightmares.) And the "Rakes of Kildare" set is the only one that necessitates a turning of the page, which made it difficult to play along with the CD.

But those two things apart, I found the book has a refreshing approach to the music. On the one hand it instructs, but on the other it encourages. It is a way of learning traditional music when no teacher is present, but it does not leave you dependent on the written note. This is especially true when you use the book in conjunction with the album.

by Jamie O'Brien
4 May 2002

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