The Barra MacNeils,
Rock in the Stream
(Polygram, 1989)

When choosing CDs to stock my car for the long drive from Lancaster, Pa., to Cape Breton, N.S., the Barra MacNeils were an obvious selection. For this trip I dipped into the band's rich past for Rock in the Stream. It was a good choice.

For anyone unfamiliar with this excellent Nova Scotia band, it features four talented siblings -- Kyle, Lucy, Sheumas and Stewart -- all of whom have vocal and multi-instrumental talents to spare.

The MacNeil siblings waste no time showing off their vocal skills on the first track, "Rattlin, Roarin Willie," followed closely by their instrumental chops on "Glenpark Medley." "The Island," written by Kenzie MacNeil, is a beautifully done anthem to Cape Breton pride (and the chorus provides this album with its title).

The band turns introspective for Lucy performing her own composition, "The Lone Harper," on the Celtic harp. "Red Ice," co-written by Stewart, maintains the mood with a song of simple springtime pleasures. "High Bass Tunes" picks up the pace with a dance set featuring Kyle and Lucy on fiddles and Sheumas on piano.

"Coaltown Road" is a great a cappella mining song. "Highland Exchange Medley" puts Kyle on fiddle, Stewart on tin whistle, Sheumas on piano and Lucy on bodhran. "Kitty Bawn O'Brien" is a song of love and longing. "Standing By the Subway" gives Lucy the vocal spotlight for a light folk-pop ballad about looking for love in a modern world. The album ends with "Beautiful Point Aconi," an absolutely gorgeous fiddle tune written by Lauchie Stubbert, played by Kyle on fiddle, with support from Sheumas on piano.

All in all, Rock in the Stream is an excellent album, well worth digging out of the racks even after all these years. It's great to know the Barra MacNeils have continued their musical endeavors so well.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 21 December 2001