Rita MacNeil, with
the Men of the Deeps,
Mining the Soul
(Luprock, 2000)

What do you get when you combine the bountiful beautiful sound of Rita MacNeil with the sinewy vocal strength of the Men of the Deeps? You get Mining the Soul, a CD that is just about as close to heaven as you can get and still be alive.

From the opening track, "Working Man," with its sunny whistling and strong backbeat, to the soulful closing track "I Shall Not Walk Alone," MacNeil and the Men of the Deeps put on a powerful performance. The selections range from pop to country to traditional to gospel, and the musicians excel on every one. Many are mining songs such as "Plain Ole Miner Boy," "Working in a Coal Mine" and "Dark as a Dungeon," but the themes extend to faith and family as in "Emigrant Eyes," a gentle song reflecting on a man who could be anyone's grandfather from any country.

Their interpretation of "We Rise Again" never fails to raise a lump in my throat, with MacNeil's rich voice backed with the warm, strong voices of the miners. "Farewell to Nova Scotia" is also emotionally rich, a traditional song with a gripping minor melody underscored with a wooden flute (or recorder), piano and percussion. The mood lifts and lilts with two of MacNeil's compositions: the celebratory "Sweet Jesus" and "Home I'll Be," an exquisite song of praise to Cape Breton that blends a mechanical percussive undertone with acoustic guitar and paints a musical picture.

MacNeil sings lead for most of the songs, but she also shares the spotlight with soloists from the Men of the Deeps. Even backing her up, the Men are a wall of strength and their power balances MacNeil's voice elegantly. This is especially evident in "Dark as a Dungeon," sung in resonating a cappella.

The quality is consistently high in this blending of powerful musical talent from Cape Breton. Dig deep if you need to and find yourself a copy of Mining the Soul.

- Rambles
written by Donna Scanlon
published 24 January 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.