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Music Reviews
Celtic Music

Irish-Influenced Music reviewed with a discerning ear.

Boiled in Lead, Alloy

Despite its "career-spanning collection" status, Alloy can hardly be called a "greatest hits" album, or even a "best of." Its origins are likely more similar to those of the Saw Doctors' Play it again, Sham!--a selection of the band's favorite tracks along with outtakes and alternate versions. However, it still remains an excellent introduction to the music of Boiled in Lead (along with being currently the only album available in stores).

"Arpad's Guz" is a terrific way to start off. With a lively rock beat enhanced by Celtic and klezmer influences, it lets you know right away the kind of music to expect. My favorite track is next, the band's take on the traditional "House-Husband's Lament" (recorded under their Hotheads incarnation). Not only does it have bitterly funny lyrics, but also a catchy chorus that leaves me humming long after the final listen.

"The Dreadnaught" focuses on founding member Jane Dauphin's haunting vocals and "The MicroOrganism" is a cleverly funny song about an unnamed disease. Other highlights include "Newry Highwayman" and "Army (Dream Song)." In general, I like the instrumentals better than the songs, but nearly all the tracks on here are worth multiple listens. The only drawbacks are the bombastic "Fück the Circus" and the two live cuts at the end, "Puking in the Heather" and "Jamie Across the Water." (I suppose it's only a coincidence that these two follow the clunky naming convention of Noun-Preposition-the-Noun.) All in all, Alloy is a solid collection from the Minneapolis Celtic rock band Boiled in Lead, and one that, at this bargain price, should be a purchase for everyone even slightly curious about their music.

The Chieftains, The Chieftains 9: Boil the Breakfast Early

Boil the Breakfast Early was a landmark in the career of the Chieftains. Two longstanding members had just left, but coming onboard is fiery flautist Matt Malloy, ready to breathe some new life into their typically staid traditional music. This album was also one of the last to feature only the band without all of the "special guest stars" that they would collaborate with over the next couple of decades (see The Chieftains: An Irish Evening for an example).

Legacy Recordings released this remastered version of Boil the Breakfast Early as part of their Sounds of Ireland series (along with Chieftains 7, Chieftains 8, and The Best of the Chieftains, which is primarily a compilation of tracks from 7, 8, and 9) and the sound has never been crisper. Not one instrument overpowers another, even though Kevin Conneff's bodhrán playing is often hearty.

Highlights are many on this album, but I especially enjoyed the tracks that feature guest appearances from cellist Jolyon Jackson on "Bealach An Doirin" and the Rathcoole Pipe Band Drum Corps on the "March from Oscar and Malvina," as well as Kevin Conneff's always beautiful voice in an a capella performance of "When a Man's in Love." My education of Celtic music is minimal so sometimes the instrumentals can run together, but this is a perfect background music album for the uninitiated--something to listen to in the kitchen while cooking or doing dishes. Put Boil the Breakfast Early on your changer with Lúnasa's Redwood for a taste of the older and newer generations of Celtic traditionalists.

Lúnasa, Redwood

The main claim to fame of Irish traditional band Lúnasa is their ability to blend traditional Irish songs with their own compositions so that the average listener cannot tell the difference between the two. Their success as this continues on their 2003 release, Redwood (their last for the Green Linnet label after a long struggle).

Lúnasa say in the liner notes of the CD that their intention was to capture the live experience of their tour onto disc, so they took some time off in February, 2002, to record these tracks. I have to say they've done the job because I can feel the gasp for life in each breath taken between flute blows on "Harp and Shamrock." Ten of the eleven tracks on Redwood (with the sole exception of "Two-Fifty to Vigo" are composed of medleys of multiple reels--which compositions by the band members blended in inconspicuously--and the arrangements make for cohesive listening, with each track seeming like one song.

Now I have to admit here my minimal education in Celtic music--I'm generally more acquainted with Celtic rock like Boiled in Lead or the Saw Doctors. However, Lúnasa's Redwood makes me want to increase my knowledge--at the very least of their music. Their virtuosity and their ability to blend their instruments into one sound, make for a fascinating experience that simply makes me want to get up and dance--or, if that's not appropriate, at least to tap my foot.

The Saw Doctors now have their own page.

  • ...more to come...