(Turtlemusik, 1997)

This isn't your father's "Star of the County Down."

Right out of the gate, Canadian band MacKeel makes it clear that its traditional Scots-Irish roots aren't going to interfere with some serious rockin'. It begins with a moment of moaning fiddle before Kevin Brennan comes crashing in with an electric guitar that would sit well with any mainstream rock band. Likewise, lead singer Glenn Gordon has the sort of gravelly voice that sells plenty of records on the alternative rock circuit.

But add in some kickin' fiddle (acoustic and electric, played by Fleur Mainville) and tin whistles (Dane Grant), and you never forget that the members of MacKeel have a passion for their roots music.

Track two, the traditional instrumental "Cranntara," gives the lead spot to Grant on the Highland pipes, but he's playing with powerful electric guitars and Randy MacDonald's pulse-pounding percussion -- a mix of old and new sounds and styles which easily hits the same heights as more established rock 'n' reelers like Seven Nations, Wolfstone and Black 47.

"On That Day" is a MacKeel original which would fit easily on the playlist of any hard-rockin' radio station -- and the bagpipes which take the place of a lead guitar would certainly make listeners sit up and notice. That leads straight into the rollicking traditional song "Haul Away Joe" that will quickly have listeners singing along with the chorus. Next, another traditional instrumental, "In and Out of the Harbour," blasts from the speakers with driving intensity.

Another original, "Fisherman's Brew," is a grand addition to the seafaring songs of Canada's Maritime region. Then the very traditional "Drunken Sailor," kicked off with a very untraditional electric violin, takes us back to the seafaring roots, but the raucous instrumental frenzy which follows reminds us that MacKeel got its start as a hard rock cover band -- but, at the same time, the dominence of fiddle and bagpipe is delicious.

The band slows it down a bit for another coastal original, "Heaved Away." And then a fast coastal original, "Nova Scotia's Hands." Then a slow-fast instrumental/Gaelic song original, "Thaining I Anall." And, to end the album, a blistering set called "Beer Goggles" which practically set my stereo afire.

And not a throw-away track to be heard in the whole bloody bunch.

MacKeel definitely deserves a place among the finest Celtic rock musicians Canada's Atlantic coast has to offer, standing tall among the likes of Great Big Sea and Ashley MacIsaac. I can only hope their next album meets or exceeds the high standards set by Plaid.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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If you like this band, be sure to check out:
Great Big Sea
Seven Nations
Spirit of the West