Beer, Bawd & Ballads
(Rockville Records, 2000)
Clannamore's sophomore effort, Beer, Bawd & Ballads, is a live recording of (as the name suggests) drinking songs, story songs and instrumental tunes. The CD provides a collection of great music, and features some really excellent pieces to sing or simply tap along to.
Clannamore is Alanna Berger and Blaise Liffick. Both sing, while Berger plays hammered dulcimer beautifully and Liffick provides the guitar backing to most of the songs. The sound resulting from the combination is quite varied, and their success is varied as well.
The best pieces on the album fall into three categories: instrumentals, those on which Liffick sings alone, and those on which Liffick sings with Berger providing backing or harmony vocals. Liffick has a very enjoyable voice which is quite well suited to boisterous songs like "Whiskey, You're the Divil" and "Ode to Evansville," as well as the softer "Nightingale." Most of the songs are familiar, although the couple has added a few original verses to some of the songs. These familiar songs are accompanied by guitar and are quite entertaining and simple in their arrangements.
These are the songs that translate especially well to this CD, but like most of the pieces on the album, they are most likely much improved by hearing them in person since, like the work of many small groups, they sound a little sparse when recorded.
As mentioned before, however, the songs that Clannamore has chosen are really great. Two tracks I really enjoyed were the instrumentals where Berger shows off her talent on the hammered dulcimer. "Ger the Rigger/Maggie in the Wood/Bill Sullivan's Polka" and "Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre/Tobin's Favorite/Trip to the Cottage/Trippin' Upstairs," both lively tune sets, also serve as a break to change the pace which keeps the album from falling victim to the lull common on albums where the songs are all similar in style.
The low points of the album lie in two areas. The first problem is Berger's singing. Berger has a lovely voice for harmony and backing vocals, and can carry a tune well in these situations. On her own, however, Berger seems to sing an octave too high for her vocal range -- or perhaps she just doesn't have a very strong voice. Either way, it comes across as fairly thin when she sings solo. Once Liffick joins in with her, however, this is no longer noticeable, and Berger doesn't sing solo often.
The other flaw in the CD is minor, but must be mentioned. Beer, Bawd & Ballads is a live recording. In many cases for groups that perform traditional music, a live performance captures the energy and spirit of the music through the audience reaction. Clannamore's audience on this CD, unfortunately, sounds like it's made up of about three people. When the songs end the clapping is more embarrassed than energetic, and the restaurant noise is audible over the people.
Largely, this album comes across very well. Clannamore is clearly talented, and if I am ever in their area, I would certainly make an effort to see them. I would also keep my ears open for another album; if they worked out some of these minor problems, they could be excellent.
[ by Kristy Tait ]