David Davidson,
Celtic Fantasy
(Green Hill, 2000)

It would be very easy to dismiss David Davidson's CD Celtic Fantasy as another in a long line of "new age" recordings to capitalize on the Celtic music craze and relegate it to the background, where such recordings usually belong.

You'd be making a mistake. Ignore your initial impulse and listen for a moment longer. Focus not just on the overall sound -- which does, unfortunately, tend towards the wispy side of things -- but concentrate on the fiddle itself. Davidson, a popular Nashville violinist with a host of credits to his name for playing with various artists in the folk, pop and country fields, takes a classical approach to Celtic music with laudable results.

No, Davidson is no Johnny Cunningham, Kevin Burke, Natalie MacMaster or Eileen Ivers. And, given my choice, I'd much prefer to spend an hour with their music than his. But still, I can't deny his skill with a violin, and his interpretations of the music may win some converts from the ranks of die-hard classical and new age music fans.

There are no traditional tunes on Celtic Fantasy. Davidson composed most of the music on this album, and his style on most tracks evokes a mood more than it reflects a true familiarity with traditional fiddling. Still, he does launch into a few good jigs and reels, such as "Fairy Dance" (which sounds like a cross between a jig and Mason Williams' "Classical Gas"), "The Fianna Battle Song," "Myst on the Glen" and the middle portion of "Mo Cairenn."

For other tracks, Davidson employed the writing talents of backing musicians Larry Paxton (bass, guitars, sequencing), Mark Baldwin (guitars) and Kristin Wilkinson (sequencing). While he generally takes the lead on violin, Davidson's arrangements use a broad array of individuals (so far as I can tell, not a traditionalist in the bunch), as well as several small string ensembles.

At times, I couldn't help thinking the album sounded more like a soundtrack than an actual stand-alone recording. The tunes certainly suit a symphony better than a session band.

OK, I admit it, I'm too much of a purist to truly enjoy repeated playings of this CD. I enjoyed his arrangements and admired his skill, then slipped some Jerry Holland into the stereo instead. But, while it's not a direction I particularly like, I encourage talented musicians to take the traditional sounds of the various Celtic nations in new directions, stretching their boundaries and exposing them to new audiences.

Just don't file this one among your Irish or Scottish traditional albums. However, if you enjoy new age music or modern approaches to classical, this one has a place on your shelf.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.