James Galway,
The Celtic Minstrel
(RCA, 1996)

All of his fans can't be wrong. And there's no denying that James Galway can play an excellent flute. But, well, I can't help it. I find him boring. His technical skill with the instrument notwithstanding, it seems to lack passion to my ears. It's good but without feeling.

So why does he continue to sell so well? Well, not everyone's tastes are the same. Easy listening and Muzak, for instance, are quite popular in some demographics. And that, I suppose, is what James Galway boils down to -- a Muzak version of Irish music.

When I was lent a copy of his album The Celtic Minstrel, I listened to it with an open mind. I wanted to like it, because it's a good thing when Irish musicians make it big in the mainstream market. But, unfortunately, there's just no spark there. Even performances by the Chieftains on several tracks failed to make me like this album, and I usually like the Chieftains a lot.

On the other hand, anyone who enjoys "symphonic" interpretations of music and who likes easy listening music in the background will probably find a lot to like in The Celtic Minstrel. As I said, the playing is quite proficient all around; you certainly can't complain about technique. You'll find a lot of the "old favorites" which Irish musicians usually play for American audiences who aren't too familiar with real Irish culture: "She Moved Through the Fair," "Carrickfergus" and, of course, "Danny Boy." There's nothing here to startle anyone, nothing to make anyone sit up and take notice. It's just there, played well but played lifelessly, too.

If you want background music with an Irish flavor to it, this could fit the bill. Anyone searching for real Irish music should look elsewhere.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy The Celtic Minstrel from Amazon.com.