Gaelic Storm,
Herding Cats
(Omtown Records, 1999)

Gaelic Storm has proven itself not to be a one-hit wonder.

The band achieved fame solely on the basis of its short performance in the blockbuster Titanic. Their subsequent self-titled album was excellent, proving that sometimes fortune does favor those who really deserve the break. But here's the proof in the pudding -- could they do it a second time?


Gaelic Storm is Stephen Wehmeyer on bodhran, vocals and didjeridoo, Patrick Murphy on vocals, harmonica, accordion and spoons, Samantha Hunt on fiddle, Steve Twigger on guitar, mandolin and vocals, and Shep Lonsdale on various percussion. They've retained the same lineup as they had on their debut, which is a good thing. Joining them on this recording are guests John Whelan on button accordion, Eric Rigler on uillean pipes and low D whistle, and Marie Reilly on fiddle.

Herding Cats begins with the lively "Drink the Night Away," a pub song of the American wake variety which, until I checked the notes, I assumed was a traditional. Nope, credit goes to Gaelic Storm's pair o' Steves, Twigger and Wehmeyer. Next, the band gives its own stamp to a nigh-traditional song, "The Ferryman," by Pete St. John. While the chorus and instrumental portions are steeped in true Irish stylings, the muttered verses are a unique, effective approach.

"South Australia" gets a melancholy introduction on harmonica, but the song picks up with a lively nautical flair. The energy gets even higher for "After Hours at McGann's," a set of traditional reels inspired by a hot session in Doolin, County Clare. (There are three pubs in the tiny Irish coastal town of Doolin, and to my mind McGann's has the best instrumental sessions.) "Heart of the Ocean" is another fine Twigger/Wehmeyer original, a slower song of sadness on the sea, "loosely inspired by a certain film with which we're sure you're all familiar." The uillean pipe here adds a nice, eerie undercurrent to the melody.

Just in case that one left you feeling down, the band kicks in the energy again for "Breakfast at Lady A.'s," a set of driving jigs owed to a session in Tarves, Scotland. Proving that this band gets around, "The Park East Polkas" is tied to yet another session, this time following the Milwaukee Irish Festival. The traditional song "Spanish Lady" gets another Gaelic Storm touch in its arrangement; the vocals are strong and straightforward in style, the instrumental harmonies are dazzlingly intricate and the choral "hey hey hey" is just plain odd.

Then it's back to the Irish coast for "The Devil Went Down to Doolin," another traditional set arranged and played to leave listeners breathless. "The Barnyards of Delgaty," a Scottish hiring fair song, maintains the fast pace. I figured "The Broken Promise" would slow things down a bit, and indeed these jigs take the pace down a notch or two -- not that the music suffers at an amblin' pace. Twigger shows his skill as a solo songwriter on "She was the Prize," a lovely love song, laid-back and infectious, which sticks in your head long after the song is done. The album ends with "Titanic Set," a final medley with proves they all still have vigor to spare.

This band should be on your watch-list. Don't even think about it, just buy every CD they put out -- they're among the freshest of the young bands proving to the world that Irish music is here to stay, and their musicianship is among the best on the market.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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