Rambling House

Stephen Hunt wrote this review a decade ago but it’s well worth your time as it involves a certain writer and musician…

An unassuming little CD that (unusually) came my way by direct courtesy of Green Man‘s Chief Editor, Cat Eldridge. It’s a four-track ‘demo’ CD by an Australian band called Rambling House, whose membership (according to the booklet) comprises: Paul (guitars, bodhrán), Sarah (vocals, flutes, whistles) and Mannie (bouzouki, mandolin, vocal). Normally, we don’t review ‘demo’ CDs, but both Cat and I were sufficiently excited to make an exception in this case. Why so? Well, ‘Paul,’ it transpires, is none other than Paul Brandon, author of Swim the Moon, a novel that’s very highly regarded at Green Man!

The first track, ‘Deeper Well’ (written by Daniel Lanois, Emmylou Harris & Dave Ohey), is ushered in by Brandon’s mightily effective bodhrán playing and features stridently confident lead vocals, spot-on harmony vocals and an insistent bouzouki riff. A marvelous performance which grabs the attention of the listener. Another contemporary song follows, The Cranberries’ ‘Linger’. This is an ambitious selection for any singer, in so much as it inevitably invites comparisons with Dolores O’Riordan. While Sarah doesn’t quite have a voice of O’Riordan’s range, she soars convincingly in the higher reaches of the melody. There’s an occasional slight suspicion concerning the pitching in her lower register, but it’s no more than slight. I doubt that it’d even be an issue in live performance, or, come to that, if she’d been afforded the luxury of a few more ‘takes’ and bigger production. This ‘demo’ (to the band’s credit) sounds like a very ‘live’, very honest recording. The track is beautifully arranged with some neat interplay between guitar, ‘zouk and flute.

Track three showcases the traditional, instrumental leanings of the band on a set comprising three of my favourite Irish tunes — the jig ‘Out on the Ocean’ and the reels ‘Over the Moor to Maggie’ and ‘The Bucks of Oranmore’. The first tune is taken at a slow, stately pace, initially on mandolin with appropriately subtle guitar accompaniment. While the tempo shift in ‘Ocean’ is, to use the Australian vernacular, a bit ‘shonky’, the shift from jig to reels is executed with seamless aplomb, and ‘Maggie’ shows the band really hitting their stride. The band’s version of ‘The Bucks’ is pretty impressive too, and motors along nicely, without being rushed. The CD’s closing track is a cover of The Rankin Family’s ‘Turn That Boat Around’, an excellent performance which features some memorable bouzouki and whistle.

Overall, this is a fine piece of work from a talented, versatile and engaging group. The CD isn’t commercially available, and the criticisms expressed are almost certainly associated with recording on a ‘shoestring’ budget, rather than with musicianship. Rambling House should get lots of bookings on the strength of this demo. Hopefully, Mr. Brandon will still find the time to write a book or two!

(self released, 2003)

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