Eye of the Hurricane
From the glowering, shipwrecked artwork and title of ClanTerra's Eye of the Hurricane, I was braced a rollicking storm of fiddles and accordions, maybe with some hard gusts of percussion thrown in. I was braced and ready to be shaken.
So I was almost thrown out of my chair by the soft, cheery notes of "Rastiferret." Lightly playing along a calypso beat, it left me stunned for "The Hurricane." Usually a fast reel, ClanTerra had muted it and, by their own admission, turned it into a "tropical depression." Fortunately I soon recovered from my shock, and was able to relax into the calming harbor in the Eye of the Hurricane.
ClanTerra seem to take special delight in domesticating wild tunes. "Maudabawn"is played slowly, for the sheer challenge of it, before being unleashed to be its usual self. "Cold Water," written in homage of that most basic pleasure, constantly threatens to spill past its boundaries and become a torrent. And there are a few truly wild pieces. My favorite is the piratical "Balandran," though the psychedelic fiddles of "Spinning Reel" are surprisingly toe tapping. But for the most part, this is a gentle, controlled album. It's a good thing, for there are fine offerings here that might not have survived on a rougher album. The delicate "Maggie West's Waltz," one of the sweetest dance tunes I've heard, is matched in lightness only by the ethereal "Scotia's Dream."
These carefully arranged tunes are presented by some unexpected instruments. Besides the more usual fiddles and bodhran, Robin Tufts adds some sadly rare congas, and JP Cormier contributes a strangely comfortable banjo. Barbara Rose and Aaron Young's mandolins become the soul of every song they appear in, even substituting for the accordion in the final "Music Box." A true accordion is provided by Adrian Dolan, and enlivens every tune it meets. Pianos and fiddles take an unaccustomed place in the background, providing the needed stability for the occasional leaps of musical faith. All the instruments play well together, creating a ClanTerra sound that surpasses the skill of any one musician.
ClanTerra moves away from their merry playing for three songs, "Ready for the Storm," "Leaving Home" and "Forever Last." Barbara Rose and Matt Woodward are fine players and songwriters. But their greatest efforts have clearly gone into their instrumental abilities, and neither has the vocals to really drive home or inspire a tune. Despite that, these are insidiously memorable tunes, and "Leaving Home" will soon be drifting its way across your own tongue.
Eye of the Hurricane is never unpleasant. It's calm and warming, a friendly port in a stormy day. And it does earn its name, for the eye of a hurricane usually has a certain anticipatory calm, whispering of energies just spent and still to come. ClanTerra has captured that fragile moment of peace, and the energy surrounding it.