Cheyenne Brown,
Parallel Latitudes
(Bird Creek, 2011)

Parallel Latitudes is a CD featuring Cheyenne Brown on the Scottish harp. She is supported by Seylan Baxter on cello, Jon Bews on fiddle, Dave Currie on dobro, Dave Boyd on percussion, Anna Massie on banjo and Hardeep Deerhe on tabla.

There is a fine line betwixt mellow and soporific, and many musicians shoot for the first and end up with the second for many listeners. Harp music, for me, oft crosses that line and I end up dozing when I aimed for enjoying. I was hoping that the Celtic nature of this album would save it from being competition for Ambien. This pattern is especially true when the music is completely instrumental, which this album is. Was that hope for an exception in vain, or did I enjoy the experience provided by this Alaskan harper?

Ah, it is so nice to find a beautiful exception! This album is a wonderful collection of varied pieces, all of which featured fantastic instrumentals that blend in perfect harmony. While Brown's harp is omnipresent, it never overwhelms the other performers, and we are treated to an excellent definition of what a group should be: different musicians all on the same page in showcasing their skills, resulting in a chance for the listener to simply sit back and enjoy proof that music is truly a form of art.

Another good aspect of this fine album was learning a bit about musical instruments with which I had been unfamiliar. The dobro resembles a flattened guitar with a metal resonator, and it is often played laying flat. Tabla are a special form of drums that are originally from India and are very old in their lineage.

Now that I have the general statements of praise made, let us take a look at some of the tracks.

"Funny Jigs" starts with what must be the tabla drums, with the harp quickly jumping in. The result is an upbeat, cheerful tune that moves along more quickly than most harp music I've heard before. "Cold Frosty Morning" starts slowly, with the harp truly at center stage, although it is not alone. As other instruments join in, the pace quickens, mimicking how the sun rises slowly before shining down over all in its purview. After a start that is almost too sedate, this piece ends up as a toe-tapper and is fun.

"Ruairi Dubh" is a traditional Scottish piece, but the instrumental combination used in this album makes it feel more contemporary. The harp is dominant on "Parallel Latitudes," which is mellow and very relaxing. "Seals at Rhu" features a nice blend of harp, cello and fiddle. "Arthur & Isobel's Trip to Brittany" is fun, conjuring images of a Renaissance fair. This might be my favorite of the album.

"Mo Charaid," or "my friend," starts quietly and in a very mellow mood, brightening a bit as it moves on. "Raigmore" ends the album on an up-note, with a good blend of harp, dobro, fiddle and some light percussion. The pace of the piece builds as it progresses.

Overall, this album did not sound as Celtic as I had expected, as there few pieces that I recognized as recognizably Irish or Scottish. I still enjoyed it because of the harmony and the fine instrumentals. Parallel Latitudes is excellent at creating a mellow mood without putting me to sleep.

music review by
Chris McCallister

14 January 2012

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