Al Petteway & Amy White,
Land of the Sky
(Maggie's Music, 2005)

Put in Al Petteway and Amy White's Land of the Sky, and you might find yourself wondering how they managed to pack so much fresh mountain air in with their CD. It really is that evocative.

A collection of Celtic, traditional folk and original compositions inspired by and invoking the Southern Appalachians, Land of the Sky sings of forests, wood smoke and wide open skies. A primarily instrumental CD, it features a wide range of skillfully played acoustic instruments, ranging from the twangy banjo to the crystalline harp and soulful acoustic guitar. The resulting sound retains its Celtic roots, but is infused with a vigor, rhythm and folksiness that are unmistakably American. It is an engaging blend indeed: both folk and Celtic music lovers should be pleased at the seamlessness and melody with which the two are fused.

Over the course of the CD's 14 tracks, no one mood is prevalent. The wistfulness of the opening track, "Land of the Sky," gives way to a sunny, unconventional jig in "Black Bear's Picnic." The nimble banjo picking of "Bobcat in the Brambles" is especially fun to listen to because the musicians are obviously having a great time. "A Walk in the Woods" is a mellow guitar duet that, as the liner notes suggest, sounds remarkably like the musical form of a conversation. Serene or lively, the instrumentals are, without exception, well arranged and executed.

The two vocals, arrangements of the traditional "Across the Blue Mountains" and "Wayfaring Stranger," feature White's low, clear voice with Petteway on harmony. They are pleasant, though not extraordinary or particularly necessary -- any more than two vocals might have proved disruptive. As it is, however, the CD makes for beautifully easy listening, yet rewards closer attention to meter, instrumentation and mood.

The diversity of the tracks can be subtle and requires a few listens to appreciate, but it is immediately clear that the songs fit well together; they might each describe a slightly different aspect of the Southern Appalachians, but together they form a cohesive, intimate and highly evocative soundtrack of the place, even to someone who has never been there. In addition to the music, the liner notes, with Petteway and White's comments on each track, invite listeners into the artists' personal music and lives in the Appalachians. Everything about Land of the Sky speaks of care, skill and genuine warmth.

Maggie's Music puts out consistently listenable, pleasantly off-the-beaten-track CDs, and Land of the Sky is no exception. Its remarkable ability to transport its listeners makes it the perfect rush hour commute CD: turn it up and leave brake lights and smog behind for an hour.

by Jennifer Mo
23 September 2006

Buy it from