Dàimh, Moidart to Mabou (Goat Island Music, 2000)

I first heard about this band through a bit of buzz that was coming out of Cape Breton a few years ago. I suppose that it was only a matter of time before the concept of a younger trans-Atlantic band combining Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and America came to pass. So much of the music has gone this way as it is. Dàimh remind me of a festival organiser's perfect day. Five young guys, all playing "hot" music, a blending of cultures, drinking beer and playing tunes kind of thing and that's pretty much what you've got here. A collection of bits and pieces falling into some semblance of Gaelic culture, as they put it; the result is not unpalatable.

I do have certain reservations though, and the opening track is no exception. "The Turtle" is the name of the first reel; fiddler Gabe McVarish approaches it with virtually the same bowing that Kevin Burke employs in the tune belying it's provenance except that the title for the reel is "Tuttle's" and has been known as such for quite some time. How the name change came about for a tune this well known I'm not sure, but this doesn't augur well for the rest of the CD. Gaelic culture has been slowly eroded by the very same subtle disregards to tradition that are evident here. However I won't let certain minor flaws get in the way of the overall feel of the album which is like a mix and match walk through the Celtic shop of delights. Influences abound both in choice of material and the execution of tunes. This is to be expected given the current trends toward the festival big sound: musicians are in constant contact and flux, adopting techniques that work. It's very difficult for bands to come up with new concepts that work given the constraints of "the tradition" so the trends are followed very closely, resulting in the universal sound.

Certain things about this recording really work. Ross Martin's guitar styles sit in a very cool space, combining several classic voicings that enhance and drive the music without overtaking it. Angus MacKenzie with his Highland and Border pipes combination displays deadly accuracy and an obvious regard for the tradition. James Bremner's percussion work is mixed well and he comes in in all the right places. Colm O'Rua's banjo and mandola parts are well received and he also contributes three newly composed tunes which are quite listenable. Gabe McVarish gets a lot of room to play on this CD but he really shines in the fiddle and pipe duets. Guest vocalist Anne Martin contributes two Gaelic songs with distinction.

Again though there are a couple of hiccups, the polka set contains two "unknown" tunes where a 30 second Google search with abc's would have revealed their true identities and the Irish tunes are a little too well known to excite the ear; also some of the arrangements are over-stylised. All in all it's a good effort from a relatively young band. Everything is in tune and in time which goes a long way these days.

Unfortunately their Web site is unfinished at time of review but I'm sure more information is there. Dàimh, by the way, means affinity. It also means Ox.

[Pat Simmonds]