Gaelic Storm,
Gaelic Storm
(Virgin Records, 1998)

OK, I'll admit it, I was skeptical.

Gaelic Storm had gone from relative obscurity to a high-profile debut release, all hinged on the band's lively, but brief appearance in the much-hyped blockbuster movie, Titanic. I never even saw the movie until late in 1998, refusing to give into the rabid craze until a copy of the video was pressed into my hands. (All right, I'll say it: it was a pretty good film.)

Still, it didn't seem enough to base a band's meteoric rise to fame, even though other bands had tried, and often failed, a similar feat. (How quickly did the Drovers fade from view after their startlingly good trombone-and-fiddle performance in Blink?)

Well, Titanic notwithstanding, Gaelic Storm deserves its new acclaim.

The band's first album is an energetic collection of traditional pub songs and dance tunes. They rip through sets with incredible vigor, and lead singer Patrick Murphy is, in a perfect world, exactly what you'd hear rising over the din of most Irish pubs, where you'd find him standing by a smoky corner booth, a pint of Guinness in his hand and several empties on the table where the musicians are ignoring their cramped surroundings.

One standout song on the album is the rarely heard "Johnny Jump Up," a cheerful repentance on the mind-altering effects of strong cider. The old saw, "Tell Me Ma," is a hasty ensemble tune punctuated with runs on the harmonica.

The instrumentals are equally well-presented. There is a handful of excellent medleys, including "Sight of Land" ("Julia Delaney/Mouth of the Tobique/Cooley's Reel") and "The Road to Liskeard" ("Dan O'Keefe/Cearc Agus Coillach"). "Tamlinn," a fiddler's favorite, is an understated tag-on to the whaling song "Bonny Ship the Diamond."

The album's only Gaelic Storm original, "The Storm," begins with a rumble of thunder, is alive with urgent minor progressions on the mandolin and subtle fiddle dissonances, and set me to wondering where I could find the sheet music.

The band itself is a mishmash of musicians who gathered in Santa Monica from diverse origins. Murphy, who sings lead and plays accordion, spoons and harmonica, is Gaelic Storm's sole native Irishman, hailing from Cork. Steve Twigger, on guitars, mandolin and vocals, is from Cornwall, England, and Shep Lonsdale, on djembe and tupan, is from London, England. Fiddler Samantha Hunt comes from Zambia, Africa. Stephen Wehmeyer, on bodhran and vocals, was born in Olean, New York.

Personally, I'm glad they all ran afoul of James Cameron and got their lucky break on a sinking ship.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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