Linn Barnes &
Allison Hampton,
The Dark Island
(Oak Leaf, 1989)

I generally prefer my Irish music a little more rollicking than this.

But Linn Barnes and Allison Hampton have joined forces for an exquisite recording of mostly traditional tunes, using a variety of stringed instruments to achieve the feel of a Renaissance court, not a pub or festival.

That's not to say they're not lively. The tunes are fast and danceable when appropriate. They're also stately and refined, well suited for an elegant dance.

Hampton plays lute and Celtic harp on this album, while Barnes plays lute, steel-stringed guitars, the bowed psaltry and, on one track only, the uillean pipes.

The duo has drawn from various points of the Celtic world for the music selection, including the traditional Scottish title track, "The Dark Island," the Welsh "The Ash Grove," and the Irish "The Road to Lisdoonvarna," "Down by the Salley Gardens," "The Battle of Aughrim," "The Drunken Gauger" and "Limerick's Lamentation." There's also a Breton tune, "Bale Kamp Fouesnant," and a French suite combining four dances from the Auvergne region. There are several from the Irish harper, Turlough O'Carolan, as well. An American blues tune, "Death Don't Have No Mercy," is a surprising twist, but it's artfully carried by the duo's lute and harp.

The single original work on the album, "Innisfree," is a haunting air featuring harp, bowed psaltry and uillean pipes.

If you enjoy Celtic tunes played masterfully in relaxing arrangements, this is an album for you.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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