various artists,
The Ceilidh Collection
(NoJo Music, 1999)

Compilation albums can be a great way to discover new bands. They are generally strung together with some sort of loose theme and give a sampling of music from a variety of backgrounds. I find that in most cases compilations have a few bands or songs that I really enjoy, others I can only muster a vague indifference for and one or two I grow to detest. For this reason, I give a compilation a few chances, go out and buy the CDs of the worthy bands, and never listen to it again. The Ceilidh Collection fits this formula rather perfectly.

The Ceilidh Collection contains a few gems, and a few real duds. The theme is that of the ceilidh, a very broad idea to base a collection on. In this case there is a very eclectic mix of modern pop/Celtic songs, traditional songs, Acadian songs and some instrumental sets.

The strong numbers on The Ceilidh Collection are definitely the more modern songs. Rawlin's Cross is featured on the second track with "Reel 'n' Roll," which has a great pipe line under a very rock-style voice. The Fables perform a song to which I have become very strongly attached (very long story involving a road trip), and could say nothing bad about even if I wanted to. Alliances aside, "Heave Away" is one of those immensely catchy, repetitive songs which requires very enthusiastic bouncing from any listener. The next on the more rockin' list is Kilt and their song "Wrecker's Den," which also scores high on the catchy list, and the lead singer has a very striking voice which makes this song stand out from the rest on the album.

The last really great song on the album is the classic MacKeel rendition of "Star of the County Down." If you have never heard this, find it at once. This is one of the greatest modernizations of a traditional tune since Thin Lizzy's "Whisky in the Jar."

Celtic Connection's "Raise the Roof" is the only one of this grouping that I didn't really like. The song isn't great, the lyrics are very trite, and they have a very annoying habit of shouting the word "beer" in the chorus. Frankly, I don't want a drink, I just want them to stop.

The next distinct grouping are the more traditional tunes and songs, which fall into the middle ground of the album. Technically great, just not on the same level as some of the others. They don't make me want to bounce around like Kilt and The Fables do. The Barra MacNeils do a nice set on the first track, "The Clumsy Lovers Set," but this is what I have come to expect from the Barra MacNeils. I know that "nice" is an awful word for descriptions, but the tune is nice in that sort of aesthetically pleasing, yet not breathtaking sort of way. "Running the Goat" by Kelly Russell and The Planks is a good set -- until the group starts singing. The words are incredibly muffled, and not mixed in well. The last piece by "special guest" (how can you have a special guest on a compilation CD?) Sharon Shannon, "Mouth of the Tobique," is another "nice" set, with some good playing, but again it's not very catchy. The last traditional-style track is "Rattlin' Bog" by the Irish Descendants. I remember that I liked this song once. I think it was sometime before this song had appeared on every Celtic compilation in existence (OK, only one or two). The Irish Descendants are wonderful, but if I ever have to listen to that song again, nasty things might happen.

Things are generally pretty good up until the point that the Acadian songs begin to play. Part of my problem is that this really isn't my style of music, but if this is true, then what is it doing on an album with genres of music that I like? This is really the fundamental problem of the album; the genres don't really mesh together well. There is simply too much variety. I won't go into great detail with the Acadian tracks, as I just don't like this style. The tracks include Blou's "Acadico," Les Merchants Maquereaux with "Beau Gallant" and Barachois with "J'aurais Quelque Chose a Dire." Besides being a completely different style than the rest of the CD (and really, really twangy), I had another big problem worth mentioning. I consider myself to be fairly good at understanding French, and I don't understand most of these songs. "Acadico" is fairly repetitive, so I have pieced some of it together. "Beau Gallant" makes no sense no matter how hard I have tried (even with other French speakers) and "J'aurais Quelque Chose a Dire" concentrates more on the whining tone in which they sing than their enunciation.

Overall, this is not a great album. There are some very good songs and some very good groups, and I am glad I bought it because it led me to groups like Kilt and The Fables, whom I wouldn't otherwise have heard of. But if you're considering buying this album to discover new groups, don't bother; I have already done the dirty work. Skip this and check out albums by Kilt, The Fables, Rawlin's Cross, The Punters and MacKeel. I'm working my way down the list, and I have been much happier with the individual albums than with this one.

[ by Kristy Tait ]