Carol Barney
& John Sherman,
Ceol Anam
(Folk Legacy, 1999)

Ceol Anam means "music soul" in Gaelic, and guitarists Carol Barney and John Sherman have infused both soul and heart into this album. There's very little in the way of pretention or pyrotechnics here -- just simple, honest acoustic music.

If you're the sort who simply must have your Irish music rowdy and foot-stomping, then Ceol Anam isn't for you. Even the heartiest jigs and reels sound somewhat delicate with this instrumentation. Yet the intricacy and precision of the guitars gives the tunes a surprisingly rich texture and rewards repeated listening. Airs and waltzes such as "Inisheer," "A Week in January" and "The Mist-Covered Mountains" lend themselves particularly well to this style of playing.

Most selections are traditional, with a sprinkling of more recent compositions nicely blended into the mix. The instrumentation is kept fresh through the judicious use of guest artists, including singer Bridget Fitzgerald and fiddler Roger Burridge. Burridge plays on several tracks, including a reel of his own composition. The album closes with a wistful song titled "So Here's to You," in which Sue Mogan-Mattison is joined by Barney and Sherman themselves on harmony vocals.

The album is attractively packaged, and the liner notes deserve special mention. Entertaining and informative without being long-winded, they provide background information on the music, the performers, and the album project itself. Why are liner notes of this caliber so rare?

Ceol Anam wins the listener over with its quiet sincerity. It's an album to soothe a spirit too much jangled by the pressures of life.

[ by Juliet Youngren ]

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