Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Capercaillie: Roses & Tears

The eight musicians who make up the band Capercaillie come originally from the Atlantic fringes of Ireland and Scotland, and it’s to the music of those places that they’ve returned to source the ideas for the album Roses and Tears.. It is not an album of traditional music. exactly. Nothing Capercaille does ever is quite that. It is, however, adventurous, creative, and well in the spirit of traditional music as connection, celebration, and telling memorable stories.

The first track, Him Bo, is a groove based song which finds Karen Matheson singing in Scots Gaelic. It’s the sort of song that draws you right into the music, whether or capercaillie roses and tears albumcvrnot you understand Scots Gaelic or have even heard it before. Matheson has; she’s from a Gaelic speaking area of Argyllshire in the southwest of Scotland. She’s won recognition and awards for her Gaelic singing, and she sings in English as well. Her skill there is in evidence on several cuts on Roses & Tears, including the haunting Soldier Boy, composed Donald Shaw. Shaw is a keyboard and accordion player as well as composer, and it one of the most prolific and widely respected of Scottish musicians, having worked on projects with more than fifty artists, composed music for several films, and in 2008, helming the artistic side of Celtic Connections, one of the largest Celtic music festivals in the world.

The heart of it all for Shaw is still writing and playing music. He too is from Argyllshire, and founded Capercaillie more than twenty years ago while at high school in Oban. Several of the instrumental sets on Roses & Tears pair Shaw’s original work with traditional music. The members of Capercaillie went looking for traditional music that’s rarely been played ot recorded to challenge themselves of this project and they came up with some gems, many from the archives of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh. These include An Turas an Anraidh/The Stormy Voyage, which is paired in a set with an original tune from flute player Michael McGoldrick. McGoldrick is from Manchester, the son of Irish parents . By the age of fifteen he had had already won several prestigious All Ireland championships, and he’s played with the rock band Toss the Feathers, Brit folk artist Kate Rusby, Irish trad music powerhouse band Lunasa and the non trad powerhouse Afro Celt Sound System.

One aspect of Capercaillie that underpins all the music on Roses & Tears is that it really is a band, with the musicians collaborating and connecting to offer an engaging and clear vision of music that’s rooted in tradition and extends the traditional elements of song and story into the twenty first century. David Robertson on percussion, Che Beresford on drums, and Ewan Vernal; on bass, have m musical resumes that include folk, rock, jazz, and world music. Fiddler Charlie McKerron is steeped in traditional music and has worked with other modern day musical adventurers including Aidan O’Rourke and the Finlay MacDonald Band. Manus Lunny, on guitar, bouzouki, and vocals, is a respected composer who hails from Donegal in Ireland's northwest and has worked with The Wild Geese, Phil Cunningham, and others.

What comes through clearly here: the musicians and really passionate and engaged in what they do; they have a fresh vision for sharing an extending Celtic tradition, and they are just plain fun to listen to. The album itself is a fine balance of the fast paced and quiet, the upbeat and reflective. Outstanding tracks include that opener, Him Bo, a set which includes a clapping song from the isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides and a tune called My New Silk Gown; a haunting cover of John Martyn’s powerful ballad Don’t You Go, and the reflective closer Loedhasach an tir chein/ Lewisman in a Foreign Country.

you may also wish to see
The Highland Sessions: Mo Ghile Mear
Julie Fowlis:Uam
Celtic Connections coming up

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Vera said...

I am in awe of your ability to dig beneath the surface of the albums you review. You're teaching me how to listen more closely.

6:17 PM  

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