Trad & Folk
Artists and Albums
Hello! This page is part of an opinionated overview of Celtic and British folk music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... This is not meant to be taken as a "definitive" resource, but rather as a record of some of the music which has caught my interest. I am always looking for more good music to explore, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.
This is the first page covering the letter "C"
Originally a '50s skiffle band, this quintet shifted their emphasis towards a traditional English folk repertoire and, with the release of their first album in 1963, became one of the preeminent groups in the UK's folk revival. Oh sure, at the time there were some folkie purists who carped about the Campbell group's selling out by using (gasp!) stringed instruments to back these old folk songs, but when one of his band members is a young Dave Swarbrick, what's there to complain about, really? There's a hurly-burly, somewhat awkward, charm to their first few albums, similar to the enthusiastic clunkiness of the American folkies of the era. It's all great material; apparently other UK folkies routinely plundered Ian Campbell albums for song ideas. Cute stuff, also rather compelling. These two albums were recently re-released as a single CD.
On Contemporary Campbells, the group's sound is much more mannered and even a bit prissy -- influenced, apparently, by the more commercialized end of the American folk boom. This folkish flair is also seen in the prevalence of topical, as opposed to traditional, songs, ranging from a eulogy for Marilyn Monroe to some labor and civil rights ballads, and several war songs from the British ranks. One of the more traditional-sounding tunes on here is actually an early composition by Scottish folkster Owen Hand. Although there's good material on here, the performances are a bit thick, and casual listeners may find this slow going. By 1966, fiddler Dave Swarbrick had gone on to pursue his solo and Fairport-y careers, to be replaced by a flautist in the band's new lineup. The New Impressions album is more traditionally oriented, by a little shaky rhythmically, as if the group weren't quite meshing together yet. I enjoy Ian's vocals, although his sister Lorna sounds rather stuffy when singing apart from the ensemble. A mixed bag, but with some nice folkloric material. (By the way, here's a link to Brumbeat, which includes a well written, informative profile of the Ian Campbell group.)
Capercaillie "Sidewaulk" (Green Linnet, 1989)
Modernized Celtic music that follows in the path of early Clannad albums -- brisk instrumentals interspersed with glossier vocal numbers and a thumping electric bass or intrusive synthesizer here or there. Talented, it's true, but for the more traditionally-minded among us, this Scottish ensemble may be a hit-or-miss affair. They are more true to their roots on the instrumental numbers -- bad news for folk like me who prefer hearing songs. I'm also not terribly fond of vocalist Karen Matheson... I guess I just don't like the timbre of her voice, or perhaps I'm just used to hearing a Hebrides accent in a rougher context. This early album is perhaps your best shot to size them up as a proper "trad" band.
Egad, this is cheesy. I mean, sure, Karen Matheson has a pretty voice and all, but the oceanic synthesizers and babbling brook-y, Windham Hill-ish piano lines are just so goddawful sappy. Nothing on here for me, thank you very much.
Omigod. I mean, I like the sound of the Celtic language as much as anyone else, but sitting through this synth-heavy goopfest is a bit much to ask of anyone! To be fair, if you like this sort of world music-y mix of New Age and electronica, this is a skillfully produced album, and Matheson's voice is well suited to the material (or has grown into it...) But, still... honestly!
This glossy crossover material is too slick for me, but I guess if Celtic-pop fusion is the sound you're after, this is about as good as it gets. That concession being made, however, I gotta say that the songs with English lyrics are just godawful -- it's a miracle that after "Hope Springs Eternal" came on I didn't just stop listening, flee in horror and never look back. The Gaelic material is a bit more forgiving, since it's easier to just space out and listen to the pretty tone of Matheson's voice, a bit like a bird chirping, though with less of a sense of history behind it. I dunno. This just ain't my cup of tea. The funky electric bass lines just seem wrong, and the gooey, facile progressions don't help much.
Capercaillie "Dusk 'Til Dawn: The Best Of Capercaillie" (Valley, 2000)
A beautiful, lively set of fiddle-based instrumentals. Carroll is truly a soulful and inspired performer, equally able to dazzle with her technical prowess and to capture your imagination with a wistful, mist-covered aire. Seamus Egan, John Doyle and Winifred Horon (all from the band Solas) join in with warm, sympathetic backup; Egan also produced the album, giving it a smooth but not sugary feel. Nice stuff... highly recommended!
Another lovely, all-instrumental album by this outstanding Chicago-based Irish-American fiddler. This is one of those precious few albums that gets past my disinclination towards Celtic instrumentals -- leaning heavily towards the lighter, more lyrical melodic side, Carroll here concentrates on dreamy airs, waiting until the album's end to get into the more typical, bouncy jigs and reels. Fine by me; after the warmth and ease of the album's first half, I was totally sated, happy to hear something softer and easier on the ears than the usual manic breakdowns that fill the Irish soundscape. Gets a little bongo-y and ornate on a few tunes, but mostly this is pretty down to earth. Worth checking out.
A fantabulous two-person Celtic trad jam session featuring Chicago-based fiddler Liz Carroll (of Cherish The Ladies) and guitarist John Doyle (late of the band Solas). Carroll generally takes the lead, but Doyle's subtle, constantly shifting accompaniment is a tour-de-force in and of itself, contrasting the old-country sawing with a deft, pop-and-jazz inflected acoustic commentary. These are two top-flight Irish-American trad virtuosi, each performing at their absolute peak. I'm not generally that into all-instrumental trad albums, but this one's a doozy. Definitely worth checking out!
Eliza Carthy - see artist profile
Martin Carthy - see artist profile
A delightful all-instrumental set featuring the fiddling of London-born, Irish bred John Carty, who has the sprightly, crisp style of North Connaught down to a science. His fiddle will capture your imagination, with minimal accompaniment by bouzouki, piano and guitar, each mixed low so that it's the fiddle that really stands out. Lovely stuff.
Karan Casey "Songlines" (Shanachie, 1997)
A soft-edged, mostly traddish solo album by one of the featured performers in the much-vaunted American-Irish band, Solas. Co-produced by bandmate Seamus Egan, this disc is pretty easy on the ears, but best when it sticks to more traditional elements. Casey has a pretty voice, with classic lovely Irish tones, but somehow this album seemed a little too perfect and coy to really capture my imagination. Devoted Solas fans seem to love this album; I was a little nonplussed.
A very lovely album, wherein sparse arrangements softly frame Casey's gorgeous vocals. It's a mellow album, but it generally falls short of sounding syrupy. A couple of tracks are iffy -- transposing Billie Holiday's lynching ballad into a Celtic context is questionable, and I could live without the poppish arrangements on "Buile Mo Chroi," but other than that, this album is a real delight. Rich, beautiful, and very much in touch with traditional roots. Recommended!
Another fine solo album by this crystal-voiced singer, formerly of the Celtic trad band, Solas... Here, Casey pursues a more modern, folky singer-songwriter strain on many of these tunes, but also finds time for some lovely traditional material, and a little bit of elves-in-the-woods action as well. Her fans will not be disappointed, and those new to the fold should be intrigued. Definitely worth checking out!
Celtic/Brit Folk Albums - More Letter "C"
Main Celtic/Brit Index
Main World Music Index