(Green Linnet, 1998)

After the first track of Riptide, I figured Anam was another traditional Irish band. The set of reels, also called "Riptide," was a lively bit featuring mandolin, bouzouki, button accordion, guitar, stick bass, fiddle, bodhran and other percussion, and it would fit well on any traditional recording.

But a few seconds into track two -- a band original called "This Time" -- I realized Anam was really a pop band -- and, like so many others (such as the Corrs, among others), they put their traditional upbringing to good use.

I love Irish traditional music, and I also enjoy a lot of the Celtic rock currently on the market. Celtic pop is more iffy for me -- somehow, it just doesn't scan quite so well. Be that as it may, Anam does a fine job in that genre, blending sweet vocals and complex instrumental arrangements to good effect.

The band is Brian O'hEadhra on vocals and acoustic guitar, Aimee Leonard on vocals and bodhran, Treasa Harkin on button accordion, and Neil Davey on mandolin and bouzouki. If that's not enough, they brought a large crew of guest musicians aboard: Conrad Ivitsky on double bass and stick bass, James Mackintosh on drums and percussion, Rory Campbell on whistles, John Martin on fiddle and viola, Rory McLeod on harmonica, Phil Bancroft on soprano and alto saxophones, and Calum Malcolm on keyboards.

Aimee Leonard and Brian O'hEadhra share vocal duties throughout the album, and their harmonies together work admirably well. One of my favorite vocal tracks is the traditional "Mary and the Soldier" -- Leonard leads with a lively vocal track and O'hEadhra provides strong support. Leonard also leads the way on a lovely rendition of the traditional "Westlin' Winds."

The band mixes traditionals with original material. "Kjetil's Song," an original song of seeking, is particularly nice, featuring Leonard on vocals. It also marks the first appearance of Phil Bancroft on soprano sax -- a nice "light pop" touch which fits in nicely with the more traditional instruments.

"Mo Chailin Donn (My Brown Haired Girl)" is an O'hEadhra original sung in Gaelic, as is "Aird a Chuamhaing" by Sean MacAmbrois. "Fourteen Days," also by O'hEadhra, is about a convict on the run and, until I checked the liner notes, I assumed was a much older song.

The album is sprinkled with instrumental tracks, including "Riptide," "House on the Hill" and "An Blew Treghys," an arrangement of Cornish gavottes. O'hEadhra wrote the gentle "Belgarth Waltz," and Neil Davey wrote "The Long Night," a set of slow slip jigs, and the brief but catchy final track, "The Way is Clear."

Anam has a strong vocal base and an excellent core of musicians to work with. This is a very good mellow album -- even the livelier instrumental sets are still somewhat mellow in tone -- and it's perfect background listening for a rainy afternoon at home. Still, I'd love to hear what these folks could do if someone set a little fire beneath them to pump up the energy.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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