By Jack Baker
Well, I did it again. One of the finest recordings of the last 10 years and I totally forgot to write the review and let you know about it. I am sorry, but I will now attempt to rectify this colossal goof and tip you to one of the best CDs in recent history. Jiggernaut is a band out of Houston Texas. The members of the band are Garren Bagley, on guitar, keyboard, djembe, vocals; Rodger Harrison on bass and vocals; Richard Kean, a fine, fine piper who also plays a mean whistle; Matthew Williams on drums, djembe, cajon and vocals; Mark Kenneth on accordion and Deanna Smith Scotland, guitar, percussion and vocals—oh baby, what vocals! Let me expound a bit on Deanna Smith Scotland’s vocals. Singing comes to Deanna like breathing does to the rest of us. Her voice enfolds my ears like a warm comfy blanket and lulls me off to where ever she wants to take me. Added to this supernatural singing ability is the ability to write songs that are destined to become classics. On Jiggernaut’s third CD, The Well, are two songs of Deanna’s composing that you will agree are sure to become classics in traditional Celtic music. The first is a wonderful ballad she wrote in memory of Tommy Makem called, “The Man Who Dug the Well,” and the second piece is a song for all of us who have lost someone near, called “Absent Friends.” I have trouble keeping a dry eye during both of these. In addition to these gems, they perform stunning versions of Richard Thompson’s “Galway to Graceland,” Brian McNeill’s “Two Minute Silence” and a bunch of other great songs. Richard Kean cooks on his pipes in a cut called “MacFurley’s Rant.” The boy can darn sure play. Jiggernaut is coming thru this way in May to play a short tour in Chicago and Milwaukee, if you can make it out to see them, you won’t be disappointed. In the meantime, get a copy of this CD and let the music take you away.
One of my personal guilty pleasures is listening to good hammer dulcimer and we’re lucky in the Chicago area to have one of the best hammer dulcimer players, Andy Young. Andy has just released a lovely CD featuring him burning up the dulcimer along with some of the finest talents in the Chicago music scene, Mike O’Regan, guitar; Alfonso Ponticelli, guitar; John Williams, concertina; Jonathan Whitall, piano and fiddle and Erin Scott-Haines, Irish step dancing. His CD is called L’Accroche-Pieds. Very traditional, very captivating, this CD can never be simply background music. It takes your attention and demands that you listen and rewards you with some of the most intricate, fascinating melodies. A local independent production, this CD is top class all the way.
Back in February we worked the Midwinter music festival in Valley Forge, PA. I love that show because there’s always loads of good music and always a performance by the MacLeod Fiddlers. Ian MacLeod is a dairy farmer in Dalkeith, Ontario and teaches fiddle to local kids in his front room. His students perform together as the MacLeod Fiddlers and, in addition to being a cute bunch of kids, they’re darn good. This year the school released their second CD called Glengarry Roots. If you like good traditional Scots fiddle, this one’s for you. Loaded with fine renditions of traditional tunes, the CD also has one of the best versions of “MacPherson’s Lament” that I’ve ever heard. Sales of the CD benefit the school and help Ian MacLeod keep passing on the fiddle traditions. Here’s your chance to help keep traditional music alive and strong.
Speaking of Pennsylvania and traditional fiddle and good music provides an appropriate intro for my next CD, Burning Bridget Cleary’s third release Totes for Goats. With great glee I have followed the success of this novel group (named for the last woman burned as a witch in Ireland). The first time I saw them perform I knew that they were destined for greatness, and they haven’t disappointed me. Each new CD is better than the last and their live performances sparkle with energy. Their new CD, with Moses the goat on the cover, has a fine mix of trad pieces, great vocals and risks well taken. An original tune, “Lament for Emil,” written by Rose Baldino, is beautifully sad and sweet, a fine lament and a fine example of Rose’s talent. The whole album is a joy to listen to. There’s one tune that Steeleye Span used to do and I like Burning Bridget Cleary’s version better. Here’s another Philadelphia based group that I’d love to see get booked into the Chicago area. I had a fellow in the shop recently who bemoaned the “fact” that “young people today just aren’t interested in traditional music.” I played him this CD and the previous one by the MacLeod Fiddlers. It shut him right up.
A few years ago, while working the Hawaiian Scottish Festival in Honolulu, we ran into the west coast group Molly’s Revenge and I’ve been a big fan of theirs ever since. They’ve just released a new CD to celebrate their 10th anniversary titled Aged 10 Years. Certainly not a “best of” but for sure a “best yet” collection, it features David Brewer on pipes, whistles, bodhran and vocals; John Weed, fiddle and vocals; Pete Haworth, bouzouki and vocals, Stuart Mason, guitar, mandola and vocals; Moira Smiley, vocals and accordion. Sound-wise they have always reminded me of early Battlefield Band, blending fiddle and pipes expertly with good solid vocals. Their music choices are solidly traditional but with novel arrangements that give them a distinctive sound. I wrote a bit in last month’s column about the piper, David Brewer and his solo recordings. Molly’s Revenge has an enjoyable sound as well as a great stage presence, fun to listen to and fun to watch. The cover art to this new CD was done by good friend and great Celtic artist, Hamish Burgess of Maui Celtic in Hawaii. This is Hamish’s third CD cover. He also did last year’s Finn McCoul (another Hawaii group) and the latest new release from the Irish Rovers.
It wouldn’t be a column without taking note of Compass Records latest release. All the other recordings mentioned this month are independent productions but one label continues to release consistently great Celtic music and that’s Compass. I note now that Compass is advertising in the Irish American News and, for me that just highlights their commitment to the culture. This month they’ve got a real winner, T With The Maggies.
I hardly know where to begin talking about this one but I’ll start with the performers—Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill, Mairé Ní Mhaonaigh and Moya Brennan. How’s that for a lineup? Manus Lunny also lent his considerable talent on guitar and bouzouki. Four queens and a king comes up aces in my book—that line was so corny I had to share it. Anyway, corn aside, this classic CD is one that people will be pulling out years from now to demonstrate what trad singing should sound like. Just listen to it and find the truest example of the most beautiful Irish singing you’ve ever heard. Can’t wait to hear what Bill Margeson has to say about this one. I do know I didn’t get any work done in the store on the day the promo came, but I certainly did enjoy myself listening to it, you will too. Way to go Compass for bringing us such fine music and having the courage to continue recording such wonderful stuff as T With The Maggies.