various artists,
Transatlantic Sessions
(Ceili, 2000)

Since the folk music of the Appalachians sprang primarily from Irish, Scottish and English folk roots, it seems a natural idea for Celtic and old-time/bluegrass musicians to cross the oceans and record an album together. Such was apparently the thought behind this CD (as well as the TV series that inspired it), and for the most part it works well, with only a few exceptions. Two dozen Celtic and country musicians are listed on the front of the insert, but for the purposes of brevity, I'll mention them as I come to them.

"Waiting for the Federals" is a great way to start. It's a clean and crisp instrumental, with everyone playing superbly. Aly Bain and Michael Doucet trade fiddle honors, while Jerry Douglas contributes his distinctive dobro sound, with Russ Barenberg on guitar and Donald Shaw on accordion. Iain MacDonald's pipes add to the mix on "A Simple Life," making the song a little bit country, a little bit, um, Celtic-roll? Whatever you call it, it's a treat. The "Sanseptique Set" is almost pure Celtic, with Karen Matheson and Fiona Kennedy's voices blending perfectly in near-"mouth music." Tommy Hayes's grand percussion drives "Bachelor's Walk" along beautifully beneath Breda Smyth's lead whistle.

Husband-wife team Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White do a commendable job with Nancy Griffith's "Always Will," while Doucet and Bain make more beautiful fiddle music together in "La Danse de la Vie" (yeah, I know it's French, Rummy, and I like it!). Things go downhill with Radney Foster's "Nobody Wins," which is too mainstream country for my tastes. Also, why do new country songs have to perpetuate the old ignorant stereotypes by using flawed grammar: "this ain't over yet ... I won't play that game no more ... it don't matter whose (sic) wrong or right...." For pete's sake, take an English course.

Russ Barenberg's "Magic Foot" is a delightful little tune featuring Sharon Shannon's button accordion, while "Storms Are on the Ocean" displays the dual charms of Sharon White's lead vocal and Douglas's gloriously singing dobro. Maura O'Connell takes no prisoners in Nancy Griffith's "Trouble in the Fields." This woman's voice is iconic, like the singing of Mother Earth herself. "Hummingbird" is a fun little rocker, but seems somewhat out of place here. We get back on track with a tremendously moving Douglas showcase, "Tribute to Peadar O'Donnell," and Rosanne Cash follows it up with her ballad, "September When It Comes." Paul Brady is featured in his own composition, "Marriage Made in Hollywood," a fun but inconsequential song, and the album closes with "Puirt A Beul," featuring MacDonald on pipes. You can't help but be aware of how much better the instrumentals are here than the vocals (with the exception of the divine Maura O'Connell).

A good album, if not a great one, Transatlantic Sessions has a few sublime tracks, one or two clunkers and the rest is just good, solid music. It doesn't quite achieve its goal of combining the Celtic and the Appalachian into a true musical fusion, but the results are still rewarding enough that it makes one hopeful that the attempt will be made again.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 10 May 2003

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