Cuig, Prospect (Green Linnet Records, 2002)

"Cuig" is the Irish Gaelic for "five," which by some coincidence is the number of musicians on Prospect. The band derives from Northern English stock but takes on its Celtic heritage with originality and flair.

Cuig's frontsman is one Martin Matthews of Northumbria. He's played in a number of bands over the years. His skills have been tapped by many of the major Anglo-Celt pantheon, as the descriptions of the songs below bear out. Besides lead vocals, he's also responsible for cittern, dobro, guitars, banjos, and mandolin. Filling out the other four positions are Sean Taylor (bass, percussion, keyboards); Norman Holmes (flutes, whistles, bodhrans, percussion); Paul Ruane (fiddle); and Deirdre Ruane (accordion, whistles).

Ah, there's no better way to open a CD than with a brace of jigs, "Hall's Balls" in this case. Martin assures us that the title refers to the Newcastle United Football Club. A set of reels follows, "The Prospect," which, by their electric guitar work and sunny squeeze box lines, bring to mind Sharon Shannon. Going through the humorous story-songs "The Bachelor" and "The Pig" I was expecting Kate Rusby to join in at any second.

Several of the songs profit admirably from the group's encompassing knowledge of Celtic rhythms. From snatches of 12-bar jiggery to the 9/8, 10/8, 6/8 of the slig-jig set "The Peacock," it's evident this band likes to play tunes with time signatures that sound like football scores.

There are a few surprises that surmount the spirited technical delivery. "Bridget O'Malley" is a traditional song put forth with haunting vocals and arrangement combination with Martin's "Malley's Waltz". They even do a Bill Monroe tune, "Wheel Hoss," which they mix in with the "American Spire" reel set.

The prospects are bright indeed for Cuig. This is one group that will make you sit up and take notice of their fine choice of material, cross-over capabilities, and eloquent arrangements.

[Mike Stiles]

For more information about Cuig, check out their listing at Green Linnet