Beyond the Pale,
Hill of Sallows
(self-produced, 2002)

In the heart of the ancient city of Armagh, Ireland, on a hill known as Druim Saileach (Hill of Sallows), is a church. Tradition has it that St. Patrick built his first church there, a simple construction of timber walls and straw roof, in 455 AD. A church has stood on this site for more than 1,500 years. The church was attacked and destroyed more than 16 times by various invaders over the years, but today it survives still, a testament to the courage and perseverance of the faithful in Ireland.

So read the liner notes for Hill of Sallows by Beyond the Pale, who use Christian imagery of endurance and faith as it relates to the story of sacred sites and the people who live among them, and the lessons to be learned from them.

Traditional instrumental selections like "Toss the Feathers," "Captain O'Kane" and "Morning Dew" nestle in with Matthew Burke's fiddle tunes (for instance, a lively set that includes "The Agreement/Mary Jane of Thistle Lane/Trip to Rhode Island" played on fiddle and banjo.)

The title song of the recording, "Hill of Sallows" (with tune by Burke and lyrics by band member Stephen Dowdall) is a song of affirmation, fast-paced and rooted in Irish history. The listener is carried into a sense of being part of a community that gains strength through faith. "Skellig Michael" is a more personal vision of the individual bearing witness; one becomes aware that the words could be coming from a modern pilgrim or a medieval monk.

"Take Away" is simply arranged with guitar and fiddle, it speaks about the futility of materialism, both in religion and in earthly relationships. Essentially a love song, the lyrics in this context also speak to the imperative of understanding what is (and is not) important in life. "Come to the Bower," a song of homecoming for expatriates, takes on new meaning in this context -- it becomes a song of welcome and invitation to Christ.

"Winter" is a reworking of a Robert Burns dirge. With a few lines added, and the whole thing put to a driving fiddle, guitar and flute accompaniment, it becomes another successful blending of old and new. Or perhaps the secret is that the group has tapped into the universal yearnings of us all. That certainly is evident in the concluding track, "Foggy Dew Reflections," which uses verses from Psalms, Lamentations and Isaiah accompanied by banjo and voices.

I particularly liked the way that Christianity is embraced as part of a national and cultural heritage. The listener gets a real sense of connectedness that I very much enjoyed. The music is professional and heartfelt, and in keeping with its themes of "truth above all," is not over-mixed and over-engineered; it sounds more like a live than a studio recording. Besides providing good music, Hill of Sallows has a great deal of spiritual depth, and I found myself listening to it again and again.

- Rambles
written by Joyce Rankin
published 12 April 2003