The McDades,
For Reel
(Free Radio, 2002)

This is not your ordinary Celtic CD. From the very start of For Reel, the debut recording by the McDades, the smooth jazz influences are very apparent.

The band is a trio of siblings: Shannon Johnson on fiddle and vocals, Jeremiah McDade on whistles, bamboo flute, soprano saxophone and vocals, and Solon McDade on electric and upright bass. Guitarist Dave Merriman, no relation, comes along for the ride. The McDades have written a fair number of the tunes on this disc, while the traditional numbers have their own artful spin.

The first track, "McKinley Morganfield's" by Jeremiah, pits fiddle against whistle for a very exciting, kinetic sound. The whistle provides a wonderfully atmospheric backdrop to Shannon's swinging fiddle on their dual composition "Valley of a Thousand Tears/Hotel de Ville." There's a more traditional feel to tracks like "Jonny's Flush/The Boiling Hen," "Floating Stone/A Minor Skirmish" and "Billy's Kitchen Polkas" -- all of which were penned by Shannon.

In a recent interview, Shannon said she plays fairly traditional fiddle while her brothers add the jazz. I hate to disagree, but she can conjure a very jazzy touch when she wants!

Shannon shows off some very nice vocals on a lounge interpretation of "The Rocky Road to Dublin." Jeremiah's voice is pleasant, but less distinctive, on "The Linden Tree," on which he adds a great sax background. His vocals are much more interesting on the fast-paced French song "V'la l'Bon Vent." Shannon returns as the lead singer on "Tae the Weavers" -- and I confess, I'm torn. I'd like to hear more vocals, but I'd hate to see them sacrifice the band's heavy emphasis on instrumentals.

With more and more Celtic musicians entering the field these days, the mark of a good band depends on more than just the ability to play well. The ability to arrange music distinctively is vital -- and I like these arrangements and their playing quite a lot!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 15 November 2003

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