The McDades, For Reel (self-produced, 2002)

The McDades? Who? This little CanCeltic band from Alberta has been flitting about musical Canada since their collective childhoods, first with their larger family as The McDade Family Band, and then during the nineties with Bill Bourne (fiddler Shannon Johnson's collaboration with Bourne, Victory Train, won a Juno nomination), Maria Dunn (their collaboration with Dunn in For A Song won another Juno nomination), Captain Tractor, Mad Pudding, and with David Wilkie's Cowboy Celtic, among others. For Reel is their first real album on their own.

The McDades bill themselves as one of the most innovative Celtic bands, and they are or they're not depending on who you've been listening to and what you consider innovative. They're not exactly the Gogol Bordello of the Irish Pub circuits, but they are a good, strong band which effectively and variously intermixes international instruments and jazz into their programme. If they didn't sound Canadian, they would sound like a spicy version of the better class of Irish bands, along the lines of Dervish and Altan.

For Reel contains some songs, more tunes, some traditionals and some originals. Some, like the perky penultimate "Riley's /The Primrose/'Neath the Moonlight," are typically contemporary versions of traditional sets: flute (Jeremiah McDade), rhythm guitar (Dave Merriman), fiddle (Shannon Johnson), and a subtle but conspicuous curvy art bass (Solon McDade). As another example, "Dunmore Lasses," is also fairly conventional. A relatively slow, serious piece, it in addition features adjunct family member Terry McDade on Celtic harp. Conversely, a jazzy melodic snap and a slinky jazz rhythm snakes into the structure of Jeremiah McDade's traditional Celtic-jazz fusion tune, "Mckinley Morgenfield's." The ambience is led by Jeremiah's own flute and by Solon McDade's bass, such common vehicles for the dark horse of jazz! Ojas Joshi uses the ghatam, a clay pot used in Indian classical music, to add a percussive third, worldly influence. On the one hand there are images from midnite in the rough, oily city streets, and on the other Indian peasants reaping grain, both stuck onto a body of a peat bog dance! Farther to the southeast, guest John Towill's digeridoo circles its menacing, intertwining way through a sunny dance set called "Over the Eight/Bog an Lochain."

Some will find the songs more interesting, as they always do. Perhaps the best of these is "V'La La Bon Vent," a French Canadian song that old folkies will remember as an Ian & Sylvia favorite. ("Wow! Blows the good wind! I can understand the title!" is my memory from high school...) This traditional song is relatively loaded with Asian instruments: the dulcimer-voiced santoor of Amir Amiri , played with Celtic sensibilities, and Uday Ramdas' tabla, played to sound like like a giant exotic bubble. Vocals by Jeremiah McDade and guest Jason Kodie are straightforward and, like the instrumentals, at times with contemporary chords. All this is well blended and sounds great! Burns' "Tae the Weavers" is sung by Johnson in a light alto. Although it's not the macho powerhouse song it can be, the track is pleasant enough. More original is "The Rocky Road To Dublin," also sung by Johnson and given the full..well, relatively full...night club jazz treatment...Johnson also shines here on the violin. Sung with equally light vocals by Jeremiah McDade, "The Linden Tree" is a composed song, with lyrics by Tad Williams and music by the band. With traditional-style lyrics but a more contemporary folk style, it seems to be the McDade's obligatory Canadian-style slow quasi-pop song, sung in difficult-to-understand Alberta-dialect. Zzzzz....

Johnson and Jeremiah McDade swap lead roles on fiddle and flute on many of the tracks, and their musicianship and interactive arrangement are excellent. The band blends influences well, and never goes overboard. Most of the tracks are fun and perky. So what's missing? For many listeners, nada. But in a sense, they play too well and leave behind the sense of rough, raw energy that some other Celtic bands have. This isn't so much of a fault as it could be, since many top bands seem to lack this sense of raw, brutal energy, like smashing your fist through a door, or your boot through a dance floor. There's a chance that they get crazier on stage, too, and maybe if I turned the stereo up the music would be louder!

Need a second opinion? As I finished this review, my teenaged son walked by and said: "If you want something else to say, just tell them ‘I liked it!'"

[Judith Gennett]

You can visit with the McDade family here