Finn MacCool,
Sherdhana's Hand
(Emerald Tablet, 2000)

According to their t-shirts, it's "not just cool ... it's Finn MacCool!" Sherdhana's Hand not only lives up to the slogan, but the fusion of Celtic and rock music is so well done, and yes, I must say, cool, that this disc is a joy from beginning to end. Think Capercaillie or Altan crossed with Jethro Tull and an occasional dash of the Strawbs, acoustic Led Zeppelin and even Santana.

"Listen to the Sky" leads off the disc with an infectious, rhythmically melodic song that has a vocal finish that can't help but remind me of "Sandman" by America; there is also an alternate version, perhaps a single mix, provided as a bonus track. "Flying With the Spirits" is a mostly instrumental track that evokes Santana in numerous ways. The song contains a section with chanted vocals sounding like a Celtic version of "Jingo" from the first Santana album, which leads into some searing lead guitar work that would do Carlos proud. After the high-energy finish, a fiddle gives way to wind chimes that would segue perfectly into "Spirits Dancing in the Flesh" or any number of other Santana songs.

The title track is superbly constructed; it's got beautiful acoustic guitar work, great transitions, and it rocks with a song structure that recalls the best attributes of the progressive rock era. Lyrically, it's all about Celtic myth and legend. Although there is no obvious musical reference, "The Dream of the Moonstone" is a eulogy for Jerry Garcia, written on the day after his death. "His loss was felt like a tremor in the Force," as it is so nicely put in the liner notes. The track starts out with what sounds like a reel (or is it a jig) well played on electric guitar. "The Celts March On" has another chanted vocal section with the Celtic instruments providing lots of atmosphere, followed by a really neat call-and-response dialogue between fiddle and electric guitar that leads into a high-energy band finish. "The Dragon" nicely concludes the disc with a beautiful soft acoustic guitar, flute and vocal combination that provides the perfect counterpoint to the rave-up on the previous track.

The primary members of Finn MacCool are Peter McGowan and Marta Collier, who did the majority of the instrumental and vocal work on this disc, with guest musicians contributing as well. The performances are all first rate, as are the recording quality and production. Peter, who was born in Ireland and now lives in California, wrote all of the music and produced the recording, while his wife, Kathleen McGowan, wrote the lyrics, which all drip with Celtic authenticity. The McGowans seem to be very well read with a deep knowledge and appreciation of the Celtic heritage. (The group is named Finn MacCool after a legendary leader of ancient Ireland.) Sherdhana's Hand is a beautifully crafted recording that is well worth seeking out.

[ by William Kates ]
Rambles: 4 May 2002

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