Tapestry I -- Ladies
(Castlebay Music, 1999)

A mystical, echoing voice, singing clear and true, calls the listener into this delightful collection of classic tunes celebrating the importance of the women in our lives. The choice of tunes is excellent, featuring melodies from the 1700s and 1800s, as well as a few modern tunes that fit right into the theme and overall atmosphere of the recording. From Bach's "Minuet for Anna Magdalena" to O'Carolan's "Bridget Cruise," the tunes take the listener on a musical journey, to a time when things were a bit simpler, and yet a bit more elegant as well.

Listening to this CD is like sitting in the front row of a small house concert, listening to the performers play. There is a sense of intimacy that permeates throughout, giving the listener the sense of a private audience with the musicians. Added to this is the clarity of the sound and the strength of the instrumentalists' fingers. The harp sounds distinct and clear, and there is no missing the sound of the bow moving across the fiddle's strings. This close, friendly sound gives the listener a strong connection with the performers, making the recording more inviting and compelling.

Castlebay is a collaboration between harper Julia Lane and multi-instrumentalist Fred Gosbee. Lane's harp takes center-stage throughout much of the recording, but Gosbee's fiddle and flute lines are found on many of the tunes.

Among the highlights of the recording is an original tune by Lane, "Bronwen's Dream," named for her daughter. Lane's tune has a definite courtly quality to it, making it fit perfectly with the surrounding tunes. The lilting, uplifting melody is dreamlike in quality, accented by Lane's superb playing. The addition of the Irish flute, played by Sharon Pyne, gives just the right touch to this charming tune.

There is also a beautifully rendered harp solo, "Annie Laurie," which delivers all of the emotion and passion this elegant and beautiful tune could possibly possess. The arrangement of "My Lagan Love" captures the mysterious elements of the tune, featuring ethereal harp sounds and soaring, lyricless vocals. The effect is like the wind capturing the lady's perfume and playing with it in the air before delivering it to her lover.

Gosbee's fiddle takes center stage on "Neil Gow's Lament on the Death of His 2nd Wife," drawing the bitter-sweet melody from the strings with passion, while the harp delicately backs the melody with a simple and moving accompaniment. Gosbee also plays viola, woodwinds and guitar at various points on the recording. There are also several guest instrumentalists, including Doreen Conboy on cello for "Minuet for Anna Magdalena" and George Haig featured heavily on autoharp on "Mary Queen of Scots."

The recording opens and closes in praise of different Morags. "Morag of Dunvegan" is a delightful traditional air from Scotland that successfully combines happy and sad elements in one simple melody. "Morag Henriksen" is a mournful, introspective tune by Gordon Bok, which ends the recording on a quiet note.

Overall, the choice of tunes is what makes this recording great. The playing is crisp and emotional, and the arrangements are well planned and choreographed as well, adding interest and variety to the recording. My main complaint would be about the sound of the harp itself. There is something a bit hollow and plunky about the sound. It is difficult to determine whether this is the sound of the instrument itself, or whether it is due to a poor choice of microphone or mike placement. Despite this shortcoming, however, these tunes will remain with the listener for many a delightful hour.

[ by Jo Morrison ]