Archive for category Music

Kate Rusby, Sleepless (Compass Records, 1999)

I must confess, that for quite some time, I was at a loss for words regarding this album. Several times, I started to form an opinion, and then found myself doing a complete about-face in terms of feelings and opinion. It took me half a dozen listenings at the very least before I felt confident enough to come right out and state my feelings here.

On one hand, I love Sleepless. On the other, I hate it. Sometimes it had me listening enraptured, and there were times when I had to lunge for the power switch to rid myself of the music. And that, my friends, is where the problem lies. It’s hard to remain ambivalent about Rusby’s latest CD. It will evoke a response of some sort, whether it’s fascination or disgust, or even frustration.

Let me make an aside for a moment. Sleepless has, according to my sources, won Best Album, -and- Folk Singer of the Year for Rusby, from the U.K. National Folk Awards for 1999. This means that someone out there honestly believes in Kate Rusby and her talent. However, I didn’t know this while listening to the album itself. So my opinions continue to remain unbiased by awards or accolades.

Kate Rusby, for those not in the know, is an up-and-coming English folk singer anbd songwriter, who’s taken the English folk scene by storm, starting with her debut album, Hourglass. She’s made a name for herself in only a few short years, helping found the band The Equation, working on an album with Kathryn Roberts (entitled Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts, it won Folk Roots Magazine’s Album of the Year Award), and touring with the group, The Poozies.

So what’s the buzz? I’ll tell you what’s the buzz. It’s her voice. Kate Rusby has the voice of an angel, as cliched a statement as that may be. It’s hypnotic, luxurious; and it caresses the listener like an familiar lover. It’s almost addictive in its own way, and, thank goodness, she knows how to use it. Instead of obscuring it with too many instrumentals, she’s accompanied by simple instruments, such as guitar, flute, mandolin and percussion. Most of the time, you’ll be so busy listening to the voice that you’ll barely notice the omnipresent background instruments — as well it should be.

Alas, strength is also weakness. For if the voice is what you notice the most, then occasionally it’s too strong, too present for its own good. When that happens, it becomes intrusive and even tiring. One can only take so much of a good thing.

Rusby’s songs are a mixture of traditional work and her own writing. As such, they reflect a mixture of old and new, then and now, yesterday and today. The first song, a traditional by the name of “The Cobbler’s Daughter,” is probably my hands-down favorite, a lively little tune that sounds so happy and innocent, until you listen to the lyrics a lot closer. Then it reveals a dark and twisted turn, a morbid ending that’s sure to shiver a few bones. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the lyrics in the liner booklet and realized just what I’d been listening to.

You’ll find that a lot in Sleepless. Take no surface appearances for granted. The more you make a first impression, the more it’ll get yanked out from underneath you. Take “All God’s Angels,” for example. On the surface, it is an absolutely stunning duet sung between Rusby and guest musician Tim O’Brian. Something of a love song, you’d think. Not so, but a heart-breaking tale of a man, his pregnant mistress, his wife, and suicide. Gee, thanks, Kate. Way to cheer us up.

Seriously, though. “Sweet Bride” ends happily ever after, with a man on a horse carrying off a woman to his castle under the sea. Now, I’ll take that as a happy ending. Ah, love. Unless, of course, there’s a twist I haven’t quite caught. Rusby’s songs are evocative, beautiful, speak of the traditional ballads and stories, and are surprisingly complex in some ways.

“The Duke and the Tinker,” for example, is about a duke who finds a tinker asleep by the side of the road, takes him home, cleans him up, and treats the befuddled man like a king. He gets the tinker drunk, and tosses him back to the side of the road, the whole experience to seem like the dream. Now, does this sound familiar? A-ha! Shakespeare. The prologue to Taming of the Shrew. I got you this time, Kate. I’m on to your sneaky tricks.

Yes, I enjoyed this album. I enjoyed it a great deal. As I’ve said, I’m fascinated by Rusby’s voice. Unfortunately, not every song is a winner. “Sho Heen,” which appears to be cast as something of a quiet lullaby, only serves to grate against my nerves and give me a headache. It’s at least three minutes too long, and I found myself wanting to forward past it after one listening.

The good songs are very good, and the bad songs are equally bad. At least Rusby doesn’t do anything in half-measures. I can certainly respect that.

Also appearing on this album are the aforementioned Tim O’Brien (vocals, mandolin), Roger Wilson (vocals, guitar), Dave Burland (vocals), Ian Carr (guitar), John McCusker (fiddles, banjo) and others. However, Rusby provides the majority of the vocals, as well as acoustic guitar, and piano.

Is this good? Yes. Is it worthy of the awards it’s garnered? I’m not going to argue. Sleepless is worth a look and a listen. Just don’t get too complacent while listening to it, and you’ll be fine.


Cris and Tret, Radio Quiet (Goldenrod Records, 1998)

Cris Williamson and Tret Fure are an interesting pair of female musicians, best known for the feminist/healing/spiritual niche they’ve carved out for themselves in the alternative musical arena, both as individuals, and together. Their Web site goes into some details regarding the two, which was a blessing, as it satisfied my curiosity. Essentially, the two (described as musical and life partners) act as musical healers, using word and rhythm to sooth the spirit and ease the heart.

Cris Williamson is described as a pioneer of women’s music, a spirit healer, and a teacher of the “art of possible,” who’s been performing since the Seventies, and who has no less than 17 albums to her name. Her work has almost uniformly been independent, overlooked by the major labels and spread through word of mouth and the luck of the draw. She’s a champion for the environment, human rights, and anything that makes the world a better place.

Tret Fure, on the other hand, is noted best for her songwriting abilities, her grasp of musical technology, her wit, and her “intrinsic sense of musicality.” She first began working with Williamson in 1981, when she engineered a children’s record for her, and they’ve been partners ever since.

That’s the biographical aspect out of the way. Frankly, I’d never heard of Cris and Tret before I picked up Radio Quiet, and I went in without any real preconceived notions. So let me tell you a secret.

You don’t have to be a fan to appreciate Radio Quiet. Admittedly, it’s not the best album I’ve ever run across, but it does succeed and entertain in its own way. It’s hard to truly describe the tone of the songs within, because every time I try to nail them down, something changes, and I’m back where I started, unable to label or define. I have a feeling that that’s the intention.

The tone of the album is one of positive thinking, optimism, hope, and energy. There’s a very strong feminine/feminist aspect to the music, and I can very easily see some of the songs appealing to both a feminist and a lesbian sensibility. Those songs which don’t carry a positive note to them act in different ways, alerting us to the plight of the world around us, subtly encouraging the listener to make a difference.

From what I can tell, and going by the liner notes, the vocals are split between Williamson and Fure, with instruments (piano, guitar, harp, banjo, bass, accordion, mandolin, drums, fiddle, and harmonica) played by both Williamson and Fure as needed, or by accompanying artists (such as Leo Adamian, Jean Millington, Michelle Goerlitz, Janelle Burdell, and June Millington).

Half the beauty of Radio Quiet lies in the liner notes, for it’s there that the lyrics to the songs are contained. And I’ll confess that frankly, some of those lyrics are touching, and downright beautiful. Take, for instance, these lines from the title track:

There are places on the earth that are so quiet

You can hear the whispers of space

We stand beneath the stars and the heavens

And we search the Chaos for a face

We listen to the Matter for voices

From another time, another place

We’re a dim and lonely star, and it’s so lonely,

And it’s so lonely…

My favorite song, hands down, has to be the upbeat “Tomboy Girl,” which is, quite simply, an anthem for every girl who’s wanted to defy the rules and expectations and gender biases that society insists upon laying on them. Not because I’m a secret tomboy, mind you, but because it’s a really good song. (I’m not a tomboy. And the fact that I get mistaken for a woman at least twice a month by short-sighted cashiers and drive-through fast-food employees is a mystery that has my wife and me completely baffled…)

Ahem. Getting back to the topic at hand. Is this a good album? Yes. Is it great? Well, the jury is still out. When I started this review, I was all set to give Radio Quiet something of a pass, but strangely enough, it grew on me during the latest listening. Something finally clicked, and I was able to appreciate the tone and sentiment. No song truly disappoints, and at least one or two stand out as above average. I’m going to have to give this one a thumbs up, especially if you happen to like feminist/healing independent/alternative music.


Terry Radigan, Radigan (Vanguard Records, 2000)

Wow. Where do I start? I’ve had the hardest time trying to find the words to describe Terry Radigan’s self-titled solo debut album. Known for her contributions to the New York City-based group, Grace Pool, and for co-writing “Love Wouldn’t Lie To Me,” which was made popular by Trisha Yearwood, Nashville’s Terry Radigan finally breaks out on her own with this energetic, talented album, which captures the spirit from the very first song and doesn’t let go until the last moment of the last song.

I’m not kidding. “My Love Is Real,” the first track, is also the most powerful, and most attention-grabbing song on the album, and it was the one that hooked me quite thoroughly. It’s got a certain beat, energetic and demanding, the sort of song that just urges one to move to it, to dance and surrender to the music. It’s a ballad of true love versus false love, a cry for belief and trust, and words just can’t do it justice. This song alone is worth the price of admission, and deserves to be played as loud as possible, somewhere where you can thoroughly enjoy it.

“G-O-O-D-B-Y-E” is a slower, less frantic song, solemn and sorrowful, heralding the end of a relationship. It’s about love and loss, and moving on.

“Blink” revs up the engines again after the quiet interlude of the previous song, and it sums up Radigan herself perfectly. “Blink and there’s no telling what you’ll miss / Think how foolish to let the moment slip / Slip by with your eyes closed / By with your heart so cold / When all you need is that girl.”

After that comes the slower, jazzy, smoky feel of “The Things You’ll Do,” which explores the real ranges of Radigan’s voice, something I’ll come back to in a moment. This is a slow, sensual song, serene and and sly, and it’s not until you look at the lyrics that you realize that it’s not as happy a song as it could be.

Then you get a song like “So What,” which opens as an unearthly intrumental solo, and then segues into a powerful love song. It’s possessed of a quiet energy, subtle with a hard-to-define electricity and jazz to it.

“Happiness” is perhaps the strangest song of the album, a crooning anthem to booze and cigarettes and sorrow, the title something of a mocking regret. It’s slow, and comes off almost as a love song, when it’s much more of a tragedy. Radigan approaches it with smoke and tears in her voice, and the image of her singing this in a dark nightclub just can’t escape my mind. The lyrics are short, but extremely evocative: “Whiskey bottles like candles on a cake / There is one for every one of your mistakes / Party lights of glowing cigarettes / Surrounded by a few of your closest regrets”

Luckily, “When I Get Around You” speeds up again after the almost sorrowful pacing of the previous song, and things liven up once more.

Then, just when you’ve been lulled back into the warm happy places, “Let Him Go” comes out of nowhere, slowing down to a crawl, another one of those thoughtful, mournful ballads dealing with life, love, loss, and moving on.

The last song on the album, “50 Kisses,” changes tone and style to something almost challenging and demanding, strident and self-assured. It’s a strong, passionate, and definately upbeat way to end things, with its playful claiming of a man who’s stolen a woman’s heart.

Quite frankly, I know I’m not doing this particular album justice with my words. It’s the sort of thing where you need to hear it for yourself. Radigan is a talented performer, whose voice ranges across the spectrum, containing smoke and whiskey, love and loss, joy and regret, blues and country, and so much more. It’s like a long-lost lover, both welcoming you back into the fold, and chiding you for your absence. She’ll make you feel right at home, just before kicking you out the door and dangling the key in front of your nose.

Radigan itself is thoughtful, fun, sensual, and multi-genred, speaking of country, pop, blues, and more. I highly recommend it.

You can find lyrics and audio samples at This site also goes into details about news, reviews, tours, and the plethora of talented musicians who back Radigan up on this, such as Kenny Greenberg (electric guitar and drums), Michael Rhodes (Bass), Chad Cromwell (drums), David Davidson (violin), Kris Wilkinson (viola) and more. And for those keeping score, Radigan herself sings, and plays piano, guitar, banjo, mandolin and autoharp.

Don’t blink, or you may miss this one.


Reptile Palace Orchestra, Iguana Iguana (Omnium, 1999)

There is just something mind-bogglingly unreal about the Reptile Palace Orchestra. Unreal, surreal, and captivating. I can honestly say that I’ve never heard anything quite like them before. And I’ve listened to a wide range of styles, thanks to Green Man.

These guys are a breed all unto themselves. Every time I thought I’d found a way to nail down just what this group was about, they’d switch tracks completely, hopping from one train of thought to the next like musical hobos. Part Bulgarian, part Colombian, part swing, part Balkan, part guy-with-an-iguana-head-riding-in-a-motorboat-with-three-kids, the Reptile Palace Orchestra certainly can’t have any rivals for whatever the heck it is they do. For one thing, I don’t know if the world’s big enough to support more than one of them!

I’ll say this, they play more instruments than I ever dreamed existed. The liner notes’ listing of the musicians that make up the RPO, and the instruments they play, runs like this:

Siggi Baldursson: drumkit, dumbek, surdo, shakers, percussion, vocals

Seth Blair: Jenson 6-string electric cello, vocals

Doug Code: clarinets, saxophone, accordion

Bill Feeny: guitar, vocals, Arp Odyssey

Anna Purnell: lead vocals, trumpet

Robert Schoville: surdo, bells, shaker, cajon, other percussion

Biff Uranus: electric and acoustic violins, Mandoblaster, Stratocaster, Therolin, balalaika, vocals

Now, the reason I went to the trouble of listing all of those is because you have to comprehend the sheer range of instruments utilized in turning out the music that the RPO does. (Biff Uranus? Do I even dare wonder?)

Now, curiosity took me to the RPO’s Web site, located just off of the Omnium Web site. Fascination made me stay. I just have to share this blurb from their site, as it sums up the RPO in less words than I can:
“RPO delight concertgoers with their original mixing of East and West, Funk and Folk and skin-shedding torch tunes. Gypsy Rock? Traditional toe-twisters? Balkan Lounge Funk? There’s a lizard trying to fit into a pigeonhole. Elvis + Armenia + Funkadelic + Bulgaria = RPO.”

Macedonian guitar jock? Scientist turned Turkmanistani cello star? Grapelli-cum-Zappa? These guys really do have it all. And I haven’t even gotten to the music.

By the eternal lateness of Godot, the music. Compelling, haunting, jaunty, personal, demanding, and devouring. I’ve wrestled with this CD for months, trying to find a way to do it justice.

Where do I start? At the beginning, with “El Pescador,” a charming little classic Colombian tune about a fisherman? As the notes say, “If it’s Colombian and it’s about a pescador, it’s going to be good.” Seriously, it’s the perfect introduction for the band that can’t be introduced. Cue rain forest, enter foreign-language singing (always a treat at parties!), bring up the instruments stage right, and straight on until morning.

How about the semi-title track, “Enchanted Reptile Palace?” It’s a swing tune about Cowboy John, his dream, and a tacky roadside attraction out in the Badlands, a place we just had to call the “one true Enchanted Reptile Palace.” The RPO completely changes styles to handle this one.

Up next is “Sombre Reptiles,” which resembles the previous song in the same way that rain resembles a hail of frogs. No singing this time, but plenty of haunting, luring music.

“Gankino Horo” is described as a classic Bulgarian kopanica. I have no idea what that means, but it seems to be an invitation to dance wildly, most likely flailing about with a partner. Lord knows, it feels like a dance tune! Well, for the first few minutes. Then it suddenly takes a left turn into a more discordant, unharmonious, downright hostile field, becoming a cacophony of music that is nevertheless compelling, and even frightening in its intensity. And wait, there’s more. I have to admit that the latter half of this selection is one of the most disturbing, mindblowing, soul-shivering songs I’ve ever heard. It has to be heard to be believed, but any selection that can chill me to the bones is hard to ignore. Wow. Just … wow. Turn the volume up, and the lights down, and experience it for yourself.

“Speak Softly Love” brings back the vocals for some fun in the sun, a bastard blend of croon, ballad, and swing that I can’t quite put my finger on.

“Small Horizons” is yet another departure from what’s gone before, this time with more of a lovesong feel, but without the lovesong reality.

With each subsequent track, RPO seems to reinvent itself, leaving me unable to define them as anything else besides “immensely talented and a little insane.” “Lupita” is as different from “Catwoman” as the London Symphony is from Metallica, and all of those are different from any of the other songs.


And guess what? The ten tracks you hear on your CD are just the beginning. Iguana Iguana also comes with ten more bonus tracks recorded in MP3-HTML format, which you can listen to on your computer. If you have a CD-ROM device, of course. It’s double your pleasure, double your fun, for everyone. It’s not often you get this sort of value for your money, in terms of quantity and quality.

And yes, the ten MP3 tracks are all as diverse and fascinating as the regular ones. Drawn from assorted RPO CDs and performances, they’re a nice sampler of what else you can expect from the unexpected. “Sex and Death” has an almost-jazzy feel, while “Are You Satisfied” feels almost techno-pop-something in its atmosphere.

Two thumbs up. Highly recommended. I’m serious. Any more talking on my part would be wasted. Buy this one. Buy copies for your friends. Catch them in concert. They’re a Wisconsin-based group (of all places!) which means that you’ll most likely run into them in Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Michigan.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some CDs to hunt down.


Kilt, Four In The Crib (Oh Ha Music/Kilt Music Group Inc, 1999)

“Kilt: From Cape Breton and Newfoundland come four fun-loving musicians with one purpose in mind … to make you dance.”
-From the Kilt Web site.

Canadian Folk/Celtic. That’s the best way to describe this particular group. It’s a very interesting mix of Celtic and North American folk music, with a good blend of vocals and instrumentals to keep it from getting too lively.

A visit to their Web site turned up the following information on them. Kilt is composed of Tony Ronalds (lead vocals), Bonny Jean MacDonald (fiddle, vocals), Brennan MacDonald (guitars, vocals), Brian Buckle (drums, percussion, vocals), and Scott MacFarlane (bass, vegetables(!) and vocals). They hail from Cape Breton and Newfoundland. Originally a group performing with other, better-known artists like Great Big Sea and Bruce Guthro, they broke out on their own with their 1997 debut album, Kilt, which immediately soared to the top of the HMV Halifax’s Maritime Music chart. Two years later, they’ve followed that effort with Four In The Crib, which further showcases their variety of talents.

There’s something different about Kilt, that I can’t quite put into words. They’ve got a lively beat and a slightly off-kilter (no pun intended) style that stirs the body even when you’re not completely listening. They switch from Celtic to folk without even breathing hard, and yet you can actually feel the switch, like walking from a sauna into a refrigerator. It’s not bad, it’s just profound, and fun at the same time.

Kilt deftly handles traditional reels (“Prince Albert’s Reel / Drowsy Maggie / Jenny Dang the Weaver / Lord Kinnaird”), jigs (“Lads of Duns / Dan the Cobbler / Shins Around the Fireside / The Beauties of Ireland”), traditional songs (“Lift Up Your Glass”) and their own material (“Dylan’s Ghost,” “Sight,”) and more. They finish with the unusual “(Dirty) Dinky Dorrian’s Reel,” described as a “bonus for traditional screaming guitar fans.”

So, are they any good? I’d say so. Kilt’s not my first choice for whiling away the night hours, but they provided me with several hours’ worth of enjoyment. I can see how they got their reputation and strong fanbase, and I look forward to seeing what they’ll do in the future. I recommend them as something a little new and different, a keen blending of Celtic and Canadian folk with a decidedly Newfoundland twist on the matter. If you’re tired of the same old same, Kilt definitely isn’t it.


Alison Krauss, Forget About It (Rounder Records, 1999)

Honesty time. I really wanted to like this one. After all, I have a soft spot for female singer-songwriters. On the whole, my experiences with them have been pleasant. (Let me rephrase. My experiences with their music. At no time have I been er, associated with female singer-songwriters in any real capacity. Now get your minds out of the gutter, I’m trying to review here!) As a sidenote, Alison Krauss was one of the various musicians to make an appearance on the recently-released soundtrack for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed her contribution to that particular album (“Forget About It,” which also appears in a slightly different version on this likewise-named CD.)

Sadly, despite my attempts to go in with an open mind, I found myself gradually growing bored, and even a little bit frustrated with the songs on Forget About It. Not, mind you, because they’re bad. On the contrary, it’s because they’re good. Just not good enough. Does that make sense? It felt like Krauss was reaching for something and just not quite breaking through the final obstacles. As though she wasn’t quite living up to the potential I could sense. And after a while, the songs all started to sound fairly alike, falling into a certain range, without any one song truly standing out.

Thus, on the whole, I’d have to call this an average effort. Technically competent, and any one song on its own would be quite acceptable. An entire CD managed to grate on my nerves just a little.

But let me point out some of the other aspects of Forget About It before I make my final call. First off, we have Alison Krauss herself, providing lead vocals, occasional harmony vocals, fiddle, and strings where appropriate. Joining her are musicians Ron Block (acoustic guitar), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Barry Bales (acoustic bass, electric bass, harmony vocals), Sam Bush (mandolin), Jim Keltner (drums), and Viktor Krauss (acoustic guitar). That’s not all, but it’s most of the musicians listed as appearing on the majority of the tracks. Working as a unit, they manage to put together a run of rather nice, if not outstanding, songs.

If I had to sum up this album in a word, I’d call it mellow. A second word would be sentimental. It’s a very … nice album. I have no trouble seeing Alison Krauss and her guitar singing at Open Mic Night in a coffeehouse somewhere. However, I’m afraid that as nice an album as it is, I wasn’t impressed by Forget About It. I’m sure it’s to someone’s tastes, but it didn’t quite hit mine. As always, though, you’re the master of your own destiny. Give it a listen before buying, and see if maybe you have better luck.


Rook, C’mon (EP) (Fucking Kid Records, 1999)

Rook is another one of those fascinating little discoveries that I love to spot and single out for attention. In this case, they came to me by way of Folk Tales’ publisher, who sent C’mon to me with a side note stating that he thought I’d enjoy them.

To my pleasant surprise, he was right. I didn’t just like Rook, I loved them. And coming from me, that’s high praise indeed. You see, I have a somewhat unfortunate flaw. I don’t like Celtic music on the whole. Oh, sure, I’ve been known to enjoy specific bands, or certain songs, or some styles. But on the whole, I’m not really a Celtic music fan. I don’t know why, but after a while, it all starts sounding the same to me.

Rook, on the other hand, is a refreshing breath of difference in a great many ways. For one thing, they satisfy my FHL rule about music.


Faster. Harder. Louder. Yup, that’s right, I’m actually a rock ‘n’ roll fan.

Anyway, I learned this about Rook from the liner notes: They’re a Tacoma, Washington based group, formed in 1996 by Shane Scot (guitars and lead vocals), and Tim McCarthy (bagpipes, backing vocals). They stayed a duo for several years, working as a studio band. They picked up several more musicians in early 1999, in the form of John Rice (drums, percussion), Sarah Roark (fiddle, backing vocals), and Gary Thompson (bass). Once they worked the kinks out, Rook as we know it was born, “a five-piece band ready to play live, record albums, and establish a fan base.” C’mon is their first album.

Unfortunately, while everything on C’mon is original to Rook’s repertoire, it’s a short album, consisting of a mere five songs and a bonus … er, track that has to be heard to be believed. Also, unfortunately, they’re noted as being released on the dubiously-named “Fucking Kid Records.”

Don’t let either of those facts worry you. Rook has some serious potential, and a good future ahead of them, if they can maintain the quality I detected in what I’ve heard.

The first song, “Christine’s Troubles,” has a story to go with it, with the Christine of the title being Rook’s original fiddler, a lady who, shortly after being recruited, was evicted, engaged, and laid off, in that order. The song itself is a lively, fast-paced bagpipe-and-others tune that fully conveys the feeling of events spiraling out of control. It starts off quietly, with the bagpipes bringing us into the song slowly, setting up the anticipation. Then, after a suitable pause, it launches into a much less restrained attitude, the other instruments joining in. Round and round it goes, getting louder, faster, and harder with each moment, until finally, it pauses for another bagpipe solo, and then the other instruments come crashing back in, faster and faster, harder and harder, slamming home with a final push and crash.

Lord, but I’d hate to try and dance to it. I can’t even begin to convey the power of the song. On the basis of that song alone, I’m a fan.

Rook doesn’t slack off, either. The second song, “Look So Long” is a demented little tale of a man who leaves a woman, and then tries to convince her to take him back. Can we say, “Ooops?” This song introduces the talented vocals section of Rook’s abilities. You know how some bands can’t sing, and shouldn’t be allowed to? Well, Rook can sing. This tune’s lively in an entirely different way, and they manage to make their instruments speak for them. And trust me, anyone who’s ever been jilted by a capricious love will applaud the way this song turns out.

The third song is “Ironman,” named after the traditional J. Scott Skinner strathspey, but with Rook’s unique flavor added to it. It’s mainly notable for being the first collaboration between McCarthy and Scot. It’s something of a letdown compared to the first two songs, until you get about a minute into the bagpipe opening and the guitar tears in with a bass roar to undercut the traditional atmosphere with a modern feel. Not so disappointing now, if you ask me.

Next up is “Gypsy Charm,” described as a love-sick song with a pipe solo worth checking out. Rook slows down for this one, reintroducing us to their vocals, and their sense of humor. This is another one to dance to, as long as you can keep up.

The last song is “Dreaming of Spain.” The liner notes state that the first two songs in the set were inspired by the music of Galicia (described as a Celtic region at the northwest tip of Spain), while the song ends with a traditional Scottish jig, “Atholl Highlanders”. Like other Rook songs, it starts slowly, focusing on bagpipes, and then opens up with energy and enthusiasm. Ah, percussion. There is a drum solo nearly four minutes into the set that simply kicks ass, and it’s immediately followed with a powerful followup into a strong finish.

The bonus track has no name that I can tell, but if I was to name it, I’d call it “Messing Around,” since that’s basically what they do for about thirty seconds. It fades in some seconds after the previous song fades out, messes around, introduces us to the possible origins of “Fucking Kid,” and then dances on out the door.

Would I recommend Rook? Oh, in a heartbeat. They’re a rare cut above the best, one I thoroughly enjoyed, and one I’ll listen to again quite happily in the future.

You can check them out at their Web site. Now, the site wasn’t accessible when I tried, but you may have better luck. If not, I’m sure someone here at Folk Tales knows how to find more Rook CDs. It’s worth the effort, in my book.


Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Beethoven’s Last Night (Atlantic, 2000)

It’s the spring of 1827, and in Vienna, Ludvig von Beethoven has just completed his Tenth Symphony, which is to stand forever as his masterpiece, his last and greatest work. As he revels in the triumph of such an accomplishment, he’s visited by two spirits, named Fate and Twist. This, they say, is his last night of life.

As midnight strikes, Mephistopheles appears, ready to claim Beethoven’s soul as his own. The composer objects, desperate to avoid eternal damnation. And thus begins the final, frantic battle between Beethoven and Mephistopheles to determine the fate of a soul….

That’s the plotline of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s latest release, their first album to depart from the Christmas theme the previous two (Christmas Eve and Other Stories and Christmas Attic) both shared. Now, for those not in the know, the New York based Trans-Siberian Orchestra is an unusual group. They manage to blend hard rock, Broadway, and classical into a symphonic whole, creating spectacular music tapestries. As I explained to one friend, “they Do Things to Beethoven’s music.” To be more specific, they take the old and familiar, be it Christmas carols, or classical music, they then apply a modern rock sensibility and energy, and tie it all together with Broadway style to generate something between rock opera and musical journey.

The primary members of the TSO come from the rock group Savatage. However, for this work, they were joined by members of the New York classical scene, as well as a children’s choir, making this a truly multi-genre experience. The inspiration behind the TSO is Paul O’Neill, a longtime producer and Broadway musician.

Trying to describe the TSO is like trying to explain dancing in an earthquake. They blend genres that should be blended, and as a result, turn out a truly unique sound. Beethoven’s Last Night is a prime example of that. They take such familiar works as Fur Elise and Beethoven’s Fifth, and throw them into a blender with electric instruments, and two decades worth of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s influence, and turn out…. Well, I don’t honestly think there’s any way to adequately describe the result. This is the part where you go to their Web site and listen to some of the excerpts from the album for yourself.

The music is powerful, evocative, and vibrant, reinventing the old and stagnant for a new era. Backed up with a strong story and fascinating lyrics, as well as a talented cast, it becomes more than the sum of its parts. Jody Ashworth turns in a strong performance as the tormented and driven Beethoven, while Patti Russo stars as Theresa, his lost love. Jon Oliva is a properly manipulative and devilish Mephistopheles, and Sylvia Tosun does a great job as Fate.

Beethoven’s Last Night is part Dr. Faustus and part A Christmas Carol, with Beethoven taking the place both of Faust and Scrooge in his own way. It’s not giving away the story to state that Fate indeed takes Beethoven on a tour of his life, and he has to do some heavy thinking about what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to avoid Mephistopheles, and, for that matter, what he’s willing to sacrifice for other people. And since, to my recollection, Beethoven’s Tenth doesn’t exist in this day and age (does it? Correct me if wrong….), something obviously happens to it in this story.

This is a very strong album, especially for a conceptual rock opera. Normally, I wouldn’t review something so rock-influenced for Green Man Review, but frankly, its take on classical music is special enough, and its value as something you just don’t see enough of is great enough, that I convinced my editor to accept it. Yes, Beethoven’s Last Night is that strong. It resonates in just the right manner. So hey, if any of the above happens to catch your fancy, give this one a shot. If we encourage them, they’ll keep experimenting.

The liner booklet for this album is worth the price of admission alone, containing a thorough story summary, as well as lyrics to many of the songs. There’s no doubt that you’ll know what’s going on with this as your guide. And that’s definitely a nice touch.

So yes, I highly recommend the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and Beethoven’s Last Night. It’s something new and energetic, and is bound to catch on.


Kila, Tog E Go Bog E (Green Linnet, 1999)

I’ve had this particular album sitting on my shelf and in my CD player for several months now. This is a lot longer than I usually let things sit, but it couldn’t be helped. You see, I couldn’t write any other reviews until I took care of this one, and I just couldn’t figure out what to say about Kila’s new release, Tog E Go Bog E.

Mind you, that’s not because it’s bad. In fact, I’ve enjoyed this album a great deal, and I must have listened to it at least a dozen times by now, letting it run in the background as I mulled over just how to phrase the review. It’s not easy, let me tell you. Tog, as I call it for short, is a fascinatingly mixed bag of talented music that seems to encompass a wide range of what the Celtic world has to offer.

When I was offered this album, it was described as “Feral Irish” to me. [Editors note: Dirty Linen in a review of Mind the Gap (their first album ) that Kila was "a more feral Moving Hearts." One must admit that it is a catchy phrase.] That alone left me puzzling over the meaning for hours. You hear the word feral, and what comes to mind? Formerly domesticated animals, gone wild, but possessing all of the intelligence and knowledge they picked up when they still associated with civilization. Feral implies dangerous, and alien, set apart from society but not completely different. Tarzan’s a feral kind of creature, going by that image. So here I was, envisioning a group of wild-eyed, tooth-gnashing Irishmen who’d wandered away from civilization, and were now playing music on the outskirts of society.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating. But the fact is, Tog E Go Bog E really is quite alien to what the average person is used to. For one thing, don’t expect to actually understand the words. All of the songs are either instrumentals, or sung in Gaelic, thus reducing the possibility that you’ll understand what’s being said. Only one song “Tip Toe” is sung in English; and by that point, after listening to the rest of the album, you might very well mistake it for Gaelic.

How’s the music, you ask? Beautiful. Fluid. Haunting. Each song is different from the last. Bodhran, bouzaki, whistles, congas, flute, fiddle, dulcimer, guitar, saxophone, bagpipes, accordeon, cymbals, ulilleann pipes and more weave together from song to song in a rich and varied tapestry. One song might be nothing but a solo for the ulilleann pipes, the next a spotlight on the bagpipes, the next a capella, and then all of a sudden, a dozen instruments at once will explode into a celebration of harmony.

Kila is made up of seven core musicians: Ronan O Snodaigh, Rossa O Snodaigh, Colm O Snodaigh, Eoin Dillon, Dee Armstrong, Lance Hogan, and Brian Hogan. Between them, they manage to field all of the instruments listed above and several more to boot, not to mention vocals as appropriate. For this album, they were joined by several other musicians, including Breda Mayock (fiddle), Hugh O’ Neill (trumpet), and Pete Ruotolo (electric guitar). The group, as a whole, is a greatly talented one.

Luckily, the liner notes are remarkably thorough, listing who did what for each song, and giving the lyrics (in Gaelic) for the songs that had a vocal component. The English translations of the songs and more information about Kila can be found at Kila’s Web site.

Overall, I really enjoyed this album. Some songs fell flat, like the a capella song “Bi Ann,” which was hard to enjoy because I couldn’t understand the lyrics. However, the songs that took full advantage of Kila’s instrumental talents, like “Dusty Wine Bottle,” “Oh To Kiss Katie” or even the unusual “Siege of Carrickfinn National Airport” truly caught my attention.

Kila flies in Tog E Go Bog E. Not always smoothly, but they do manage to catch the air and soar quite high in this endeavor. They’re worth paying attention to. True, you might not know what to make of them at first, but in this case, any effort expended in trying to understand is indeed rewarded.


David Olney, Through A Glass Darkly (Rounder Records, 1999)

In the 1990 Dudley Moore movie, Crazy People, an ad executive goes nuts and is consigned to a mental hospital after he starts writing “truthful” slogans, like “Volvo: Boxy but good.” In that vein, and hoping that I won’t end up the same way, I present the three word summary of David Olney’s newest album, Through A Glass Darkly.

Gloomy but good.

Alternatively: Solemn but superb.

However, you didn’t come here to get the short version. You want details. Well, then… David Olney has the very special talent of “inhabitating” the characters he sings about. He doesn’t just tell their stories, he becomes them. This would be impressive under normal circumstances, but Olney doesn’t settle for comfortable characters. No, his “cast” includes a French protitute during World War I, John Dillinger (an Old West outlaw), an obsessive lover, a gambler, a homicidal loner and more.

That’s why I have to call this one “gloomy” or “solemn,” since for the most part, Olney’s subjects are very serious, and he approaches each one from that viewpoint. Each is a unique story and a special case, and he takes them on one by one. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this CD depressing. Far from it. But it’s not exactly the sort of music you’ll want to put on if you have a date over. And it’s not exactly relaxing music, either.

What is it? It’s sung stories, plain and simple. As the album liner states, it’s about “sometimes old, sometimes vicious, sometimes tragic, and above all, always fascinating people, real and imagined.” Frankly, that sums it up as well as I ever could.

Olney’s voice is cool and refreshing, luring the listener into a strange sense of security even as he spins forth these tales of lovers, madmen, criminals, and legends. His talent is unmistakeable, as is the guitar he plays by way of accompaniment. It’s clear from this one album (Olney’s sixth, but the first he’s produced himself), that this is no fly-by-night one hit wonder. This is a seasoned veteran, who’s managed to convey a sense of maturity, experience, and weathered accomplishment.

Olney isn’t alone on this album, either. He’s joined in places by assorted friends, all picked to give Through A Glass Darkly a very specific Thirties string-band/country/blues feel. Names to note are A.C. Bushnell on fiddle, Mike Fleming on banjo, Forrest Rose on bass, Deanie Richardson on fiddle and mandolin, and Pat McInerney on drums.

The first song, “1917″ (about a World War I French prostitute and her doomed English soldier client), sports no less than four Davids! (Olney, Pomeroy, Davidson and Angell.) And I must say that the band does well with the material, giving it a unique feel, and that sense of Thirties string band, at least as far as I’ve always imagined such a creature sounding. “1917″ is a very sad song, and fits the gloomy aspect as well as any.

“JT’s Escape,” a rolicking tale about an escaped Old West outlaw, is a toe-tapping, lively affair that brightens the spirit after the seriousness of Dillinger’s bleak adventures. However, songs like “Little Bit of Poison” and “The Suicide Kid” probably won’t make it onto your wedding playlist.

However, “Barabbas”(about the man who was set free in Jesus’ place before the Crucifixion), conveys a sense of wonder and surprise. The self-admitted thief and murderer finds a curious kind of freedom in another man’s sacrifice, and vows to spread the word and the mystery in exchange for his new life. The final song is a quieter, wistful almost-love song entitled “Dogwoods.”

For those completists out there, it’s worth noting that among Olney’s own songs are several that were written by Tom House (“C’Mon Through Carolina”) and Townes Van Zandt (“Snowin’ On Raton”).

On the whole, I’d have to say that Through A Glass Darkly is engaging, interesting, and worthwhile. As a pleasant addition, the liner booklet contains complete lyrics to all of the songs, proving that every one is a story unto itself. An introduction by Dave Ferman (Pop Music Critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) goes into details about the album and is a must-read if you plan to listen to the music. Ferman’s able to sum up the depth and breadth of Olney’s work with a certain poetic appreciativeness that enlightens the casual listener.

In short, it’s a good album. Introspective and intelligent, but most assuredly not the most cheerful of topics. It requires attention and concentration, and it probably won’t do well for background noise. But if ballad-style songs are what you like, then just maybe this CD is for you.

Sadly, I was unable to find a website devoted to David Olney, but you can always check the Rounder Web site, which contains details on Olney and his albums, allows you to purchase online, and contains a wealth of details on the other artists produced by Rounder Records.