Maggie Carchrie
& Thomas Leigh,
(Mermaid, 2000)

Ru-Ra is one of the proponents of the sweeping trend toward the fusion of studio electronics and traditional folk music -- in particular, music from the Gaelic tradition of Cape Breton and the Scottish Isles. The problem with such groups is that they tread a fine line between techno-pop and trad. With Ru-Ra, thankfully, there is no such problem. Nice job, guys!

The group consists of Maggie Carchrie and Thomas Leigh. Maggie sings and Thomas plays various instruments including synthesizers and percussion, including the djembe, dumbek, bongos, long yaw and shaker, to name a few. "Ru-Ra" means "ruckus" in Scots.

To kick off, a techno club "you can dance to it beat" is established before Maggie becomes immediately engaging, with her textbook-perfect Gaelic and truly charming voice in a song called "The Kissing Reel."

Speaking of that language. the liner notes consist mostly of first lines or a word or two about the song and the entire song in Gaelic. There's a reason for this. Maggie runs the Callanish School of Scottish Dance in Sandwich, Mass. Her singing in Gaelic is authentic and charming. She has a really nice voice.

Followed by "1,000 Deathshrouds Upon Love," a waulking song, Thomas adds the right touch of Celtic mystic and magic with the perfect wail of a synthesized waveshape and droning monotones with just enough change to keep it interesting in the background. It is hard to get this stuff right. Even the "blat, blat" part is cool! So often it sounds -- well ... I kinda wish it wasn't there interrupting the wonderful traditional music. But that's what is great about a folk tradition -- adaptation. They'll be saying the same thing about new music in the year 2366. "Oh, I wish it were like the music of 2312," or something.

While most of the CD is in Gaelic, there are some tunes in English such as "Two Sisters," the duet so well memorialized in British and continental folk tunes. It is by far my favorite tune on the collection, lilting, hypnotic and charming, simple, rhythmic and well executed by the performers. Thomas sets the rhythm with competent drumming, giving it a Latin or Afro- beat topped off by the whipped cream of Maggie's voice. Here is where fusion doesn't have to mean warpout.

Track 5 walks a fine line with its quasi-wah-wah intro and backbone riff. Is this trip really necessary, guys? Especially when the melody electronics that follow it are so catchy. And as ever, Maggie remains indomitable in her pursuit of an almost trance inducing mantralike repetition.

"The Selchie (The Silkie)" is billed as a "braid Scots version of a well-known traditional Scottish song, courtesy of Dr. Davie Horsburgh." Its melody bears a strange resemblance to "I Come and Stand at Every Door," the one about the Hiroshima kid's ghost brought to popularity by an early Byrds album. (Just an observation; the two songs are in no way related.) "Two Pence Worth" displays Tom's prowess with his equipment as he dots Maggie's highly authentic voice with bits of ornamentation and backdrop.

"A Restless Night," the liner notes tells us, is one of the "first Gaelic songs Maggie ever learned, on her first visit to Cape Breton." That surely was a fateful trip if Ru-Ra is the result. To boot, those notes say she is aided on some songs by the vocal delights of her Gaelic singings students from the New Hampshire School of Scottish Arts. Lovely voices all. That Maggie -- she do get around.

The rest you will enjoy as much as those mentioned here. All lyrics and melodies are traditional, although music for them has been composed and programmed by Thomas Leigh. Ru-Ra, give us more! Raise the ruckus again!

- Rambles
written by John Cross
published 2 August 2003

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