Martin Melhuish,
Celtic Tides: Traditional
Music in a New Age

(Quarry Press, 1998)

Written as an accompaniment to the television documentary Celtic Tides, Martin Melhuish's Celtic Tides: Traditional Music in a New Age attempts to describe and explain the renaissance in Celtic music in its various forms. Does he succeed? Absolutely!

Melhuish packs an encyclopedia's worth of information into 237 pages, 42 pages of which comprise a remarkably comprehensive Celtic music discography unlike anything I've ever seen. 40 more pages are filled with photographs, including a 16-page segment of color photographs. Melhuish also includes a world-wide list of Celtic music festivals with Web addresses where applicable, a guide to Celtic sites, pubs, museums and the like in Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton, and a bibliography.

With all this supplementary material, one might expect that the author would skimp on content, but Melhuish covers an incredible amount of territory in six chapters. Beginning with "Nashville Craic," he explores the general resurgence of Celtic music, incorporating commentaries from musicians such as Paddy Moloney, Mary Jane Lamond, Maireid Sullivan and Natalie MacMaster, among others. In the second chapter, "Keltoi: Celtic History and Mythology," he presents an overview which provides context for the roots of the music. Especially handy is "A Celtic Chronology," a timeline which succinctly summarizes Celtic history.

Chapter 3, "Celtic Soul: Ireland & the Chieftains," examines music coming out of Ireland and its roots. Melhuish does much the same for Scotland and Cape Breton in Chapter 4, "Scots Wha Ha'e: Scotland and Dougie MacLean," and Chapter 5 "Ceilidh Trail: Cape Breton and the Rankins." Chapter 6, "Beyond the Ninth Wave: World Music and Loreena McKennitt," focuses mainly on the Stratford, Ontario musician whose works have broadened the concept of Celtic music by re-establishing it in its traditional and far-reaching roots.

Melhuish has a talent for honing in on the essential; the musicians' comments get right to the point to illustrate and support the concept Melhuish is presenting. He constructs the chapters carefully, building one theme on the next to form a comprehensive and comprehensible progression. He is a master of the pithy comment as well, not to mention having a flair for the colorful turn of phrase, starting from the first sentence of the first chapter: "St. Patrick's Day, as the turn of the millennium approaches, and the world is greener than Kermit the Frog's buttocks." Throughout the book, he demonstrates both passion for and insight into his subject, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

My only grumble about the book is that it lacks an index. A table of contents would have been handy as well, but overall, Celtic Tides: Traditional Music in a New Age is more than worth the cover price. No one who professes to love Celtic music should be without it.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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