Snakes in Exile,
Second Skin
(Wild Boar, 1998)

The music is fresh, lively and exciting, steeped in Celtic roots and folk-rock stylings. And the band, Snakes in Exile, is Belgian.

Belgium isn't a country we hear much from here at Rambles, but if Snakes in Exile is representative of the music they're producing there, we need to hear more!! The album Second Skin is a hoot from the start, and the band's energy never falters as the musicians plow through a battery of Celtic and folk traditions, pop influences and even a hint or two of gospel.

The band is Gert Meulemans (vocals, bass, mandolin), Peter Van Aken (vocals, accordion, piano, whistling) and Luc Baillieul (vocals, guitars, bodhran). Guests on the album are Guy Fletcher, Peter Van Woensel, Bartje Guyvers, Pol Van Laere and Rohal de Ridder on a variety of instruments. They didn't start out as a Celtic band, according to details on their website, but grew into it gradually.

Whatever they did, it worked.

The CD features a fun, varied mix of traditional songs, including "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy," "South Australia," "The Lord of the Dance" and "The Parting Glass," and original material such as "Taboo or Not Taboo," "The Fiddler's Tale," "Young Master Dribble" and "Imaginary Stairs." To keep listeners guessing, they toss in a few unusual choices such as a blue-eyed soul interpretation of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and an energetic, infectious gospel song, "Goodnight, the Lord is Coming," both performed a cappella. Peter Van Aken demonstrates amazing breath control on the "Lakewood/The Triepmuir Hornpipe/Royal Belfast" set, on which he carries the entire melody by whistling. (No, there's no tin whistle involved here, just his natural talent!) The flow between tracks and styles is natural and entertaining.

Snakes in Exile has awakened my interest in another part of the world. Belgium, let's hear you!

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 13 April 2002