Beyond the Pale,
The Music Plays Me
(Ceol na Feinne, 2006)

Do a web search, as I just did, and you'll be shocked and bewildered to learn that there are three -- count 'em, three -- bands that go by the handle of Beyond the Pale. All are Celtic outfits, and all are American. One is from Boston, another from the Philadelphia area and the third from Texas. (There's a Canadian klezmer band with the same name, too.) Is Beyond the Pale a franchise? I kid, but I wonder, too. Surely, Celtic-American musicians can't be less imaginative than other musicians, can they? Jeez. It's hard enough to contemplate the existence of both the Dubliners and the Young Dubliners.

Well, anyway, this is the Texas BTP, and The Music Plays Me is an enjoyable recording, with a warm, organic sound and an affable, relaxed way with songs and tunes. The traditionals -- mostly, not exclusively, instrumentals here -- are especially strong. The multi-instrumentalist Gordon McLeod, also the producer, is a splendid fiddler though he is, as well, perfectly capable on mandolin, whistle, bodhran and other instruments. McLeod also sings, as does everybody else: Christy McLeod (guitar and percussion), Betsy Cummings (accordion, bodhran) and John Delaney (flute, hammered dulcimer, saxophones, whistles, concertina).

BTP has a keen ear for out-of-the-ordinary material. Most of it will be fresh even to informed folk fans. And when it's something familiar, such as "Red Wing," it's done in an innovative arrangement. In fact, the medley of which that tune is a part (the other parts are "Cuckoo's Nest" and "Old French"), the 12th and last cut, is to my hearing the best of them all. Which is not to say anything on this amiable outing is ever less than satisfying and pleasurable.

Though all the material is played in Celtic style, some of the songs are from well outside the tradition. The most unusual of these is Keith Grimwood and Ezra Idlet's odd and lovably cranky "Who Are These People," an exasperated (albeit tuneful) rant -- I am confident the only song ever devoted to the subject -- set off by the stupefyingly unrealistic depiction of human beings in popular fiction, movies and television shows. Well, somebody had to put those sentiments to music. And about time, I say.

by Jerome Clark
9 September 2006

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