Colcannon, Trad (Oxford Road, 2003)

Denver's Colcannon has a reputation for consistently putting out cohesive, skillful Celtic albums. Just look what great reviews GMR has given the previous five albums, Some Foreign Land, Athens Hotel, The Life of Riley's Brother, Saint Bartholemew's Feast, and Corvus! Colcannon's performances and albums feature a mix of traditional and original music, but Trad, as the name would imply, features their favorite traditional pieces.

Colcannon's most noticeable and perhaps greatest strength is in their songs; it is here that they are truly distiguishable from the fine crowd of good domestic Irish bands. Mick Bolger's authentically accented vocals are as drenched with emotion as a handkerchief at a Mayo wake! Sometimes it carries an uniquely stark and ominous ambience (somewhat analagous to a doom cello!) that I have not heard with any another singer. Years ago, when Life Of Riley's Brother came out, the combination of Bolger's vocals and digeridoo on "The Streets Of Forbes" set my three year old to screaming, "Turn that off, Mommy, I'm SCARED!" Luckily my three year old is now ten, and I can play Bolger's wonderful songs in peace!

The most interesting of these songs is what I originally thought to be an English nursery rhyme, "Benjamin Bowmaneer." The song is about a tailor who goes to war against a flea, and is obviously, say the liner notes, an anti-war satire. The low, slow vocals make half the song, but this is united with an imaginative and insistent "eccentric two on three rhythm" from the band, and the result is another ominous song! Only slightly less forboding is a Gaelic song, taken in part from La Lugh many years ago, "Mollai na gCuach Ni Cuilleanain" or "Curly-Haired Molly Hollywood," especially since most of us can't understand the words! They say that, "Curly haired Molly has gone away and the singer vows never to drink again."

For those who like the more chipper tracks, a second Gaelic song "Jimmy, mo Mhile Stor" is still poignant but has lighter and more youthful vocals. Yet a third, "Aililiu na Gamhna," is similar, yet there is no sadness in the lyrics; the minor key is just cultural prettiness deceiving the listener! Both the latter Gaelic songs are about young women, so perhaps Bolger suits his voice lightly to their age. "Alan Tyne of Harrow" is an English song with a familiar melody, perky in contrast with fast, driving frets behind. The backing instruments maintain an Irish arrangement, I suppose making the tune Celtic. Interestingly, though there's obviously a formulaic way of backing these songs that the band follows, it's not conspicuous as it is with some groups (musicians backing singer-songwriters are notorious for doing the expected!)

Separating these songs...and a couple more as well...are nice dance tunes. None truly stand out, since there arent any real gimmicks or star melodies here, but I should mention the mountain stream clarity of arrangements that have good madoline-bouzouki playing in them! Colcannon's bouzouki player is Brian Mullins, with plenty of outstanding violin by Jean Bolger and plenty of flute by Rod Garnett. There are no trick instruments or real fusions and the style hovers between strictly traditional and progressive. The tunes are just well-put-together, fluid and enthusiastic. Some, like the set "Aoibhneas Eilis Ni Cheallaigh/Droim Chonga/Ryant's Rant" are cheery, like big and little Irish birds hopping on the lawn (let's thank the flute!), some are a little sneaky, like "Julia Delaney/McFarleys," and yet another, the "sparse" O'Carolan lament "Young Terence MacDonough" is a slow and stately dirge on frets, violin, and flute.

Recommended for people who like Celtic music!

[Judith Gennett]

You can find Colcannon's upscale Web site here