Beth May,
Ciuin Ceol (Peaceful Music)
(self-produced, 2001)

I have a long-standing policy of not reviewing albums recorded by folks I know well. It's with a sense of regret that I write this one; while I have met Beth May on several occasions, our interaction has been sadly minimal.

A delightful young musician, Beth has been a featured performer at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire for the past few years. Her instrument is the hammered dulcimer, and she typically performs solo. I met Beth at the faire when my own band was hired to play there on several "theme" weekends and, while our schedules kept us from crossing paths often, I found her to be a charming, friendly performer refreshingly eager to share her music with as many people as possible, to chat with any passing patron who shows an interest in her instrument and to give an enthusiastic ear to other musicians.

I jumped at the chance to hear her CD, which offers 12 tracks of solo dulcimer tunes.

I'll admit, I don't usually count the solo dulcimer among my favorite instruments. Beautiful in small doses and a wonderful addition to a larger arrangement, the dulcimer alone generally won't hold my attention for long. Not so Beth's album, which is clear, fresh and oh-so precise. Recorded by Chris Laughery, another local musician, the album has the sound of a great hall, pure notes resounding through the room.

The only disappointment is the tempo, which keeps to a fairly slow and steady pace for much of the album. From what I heard at the Pennsylvania faire, Beth can wield those fragile hammers at lightning-fast speed without losing a bit of accuracy -- I would have liked to hear a bit of that on this recording.

Well, maybe next time. And maybe Beth, who is leaving the faire after the 2001 season because of conflicts with college, will be back someday to impress us with more of her nimble dexterity.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 24 November 2001