various artists,
The Celtic Lounge II
(Sequoia, 2007)

Curiously enough, the music on Celtic Lounge II is neither really Celtic nor lounge.

Ignore the hypnotic green CD art. It's attractive but misleading, and as it turns out, the liner notes offer little information about artists or instrumentation anyway. Neither of these things are necessarily deal breakers, but those looking for Celtic-flavored electronica may well be disappointed by this collection of soft-spoken new age. Although two tracks claim traditional origins, the 11 selections that make up Sequoia's compilation are Celtic primarily in the modern sense of adhering to a certain misty-eyed, new age sensibility -- a sensibility, whether musical or philosophical, that I seem to be too cynical to appreciate fully.

A majority of the tracks feature breathy female vocals, generally accompanied by the inevitable synthesizers and saccharine lyrics that characterize new age music. The quality of the vocals determines whether a track is arresting, quietly pretty or borderline skippable. "Fairy Ring," the opening track of the CD and one of three Gary Stadler selections, falls into the quietly pretty, if slightly twee, category. Accompanied by a soft, plaintive melody on keyboard and strings, the lyrics are full of magic, fairies, feelings and souls. Singh Kaur's voice is pleasantly silvery, if a little uncertain on the high notes -- but the song's repetitive melody (the real ring!) and lyrics (e.g. "And I found a loving comfort there / The love that I had sought") make it seem longer than its seven-and-a-half minutes.

Kaur appears in another almost-lullaby on "Spark in the Night," which suffers from the addition of synthesized chimes and "magical" sound effects to a likable melody. Gary Stadler and Stephannie's "Faraway" is more of the same. However, Alquimia's tremulous duet on "The Lass of Glanshee" and Sharon Knight's husky twang on the otherwise appealingly rhythmic, flute- and guitar-backed "Song of the Sea" suggest that more distinctive voices are not necessarily better ones.

The instrumentals are pleasant but unmemorable. Steve Gorden's crisp guitar on "The Secret Rose" is a welcome change from the synthesised instruments of other tracks, and David Gordon's "The Foggy Dew" is fluidly arranged for piano. However, when they work together as EverStar on "Land of the Star," the result is a prematurely aged, clunky mass of synthesizers.

Just two tracks merit the repeat button: Tina Malia's "Lilac Blooms" and Achillea's "Ragnarok: Twilight of the Gods." Tina Malia's ethereal vocals float above gentle, upbeat percussion, and both melody and lyrics are fresh and unpretentious. In "Ragnarok," Achillea -- audibly related to Enigma (and in fact produced by one of its co-founders, Jens Gad) -- offers a chilled, trippy piece of electronica that merges female vocals with a sophisticated beat and densely layered soundscape. This is the one track on the compilation that approaches lounge music.

To be fair, Celtic Lounge II is pleasantly ambient (in a psychic fair sort of way) and makes for fairly unintrusive background music. It's unlikely to win any converts to new age music, but is well suited for those who already enjoy it. For a more authentic blend of Celtic and electronic music, try Putumayo's Celtic Crossroads instead.

review by
Jennifer Mo

11 August 2007

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