Glen Road,
Round the Bend
(Big Plain, 2003)

Glen Road has left me astonished. Mike Dugger, Turlach Boylan and Greg Brown present themselves as a fairly straightforward folk group, loaded with the usual arsenal of instruments. So I was expecting Round the Bend to be a pleasant collection of folk music, little more.

In many ways Glen Road are what they promise, a simple folk group. Jigs like "Ship in Full Sail/Pay the Reckoning/Scatter the Mud" benefit from Boylan's sharp flute, and Dugger's guitar lends an unexpected body to Brown's expected fiddle and viola for traditional pieces like "Rakish Paddy/Toss the Feathers/Langton's." The teamwork is unobtrusive, the tunes are well chosen (I'm especially fond of the several reel medleys) and the occasional assists from Joe Root's piano are considered deviances that pay off well. On the surface, it's a straightforward presentation of traditional tunes and a few nice new contributions to tradition.

But Glen Road is more than the sum of their parts. There is more to the band than fine playing or clever arrangements, an intangible effect not created with fiddle or flute or vocals alone. In truth, while the trio are each skilled at what they do, they are not individually brilliant. Together, they're riveting. I have yet to hear "Rosemary's Sister," a quiet song of wartime grief, without welling up with tears, and "The Queen Amongst the Heather" carries a thick misty haze of romance with it despite the simplicity of the tune. Since both of these tracks are among the album's rare songs, the effect might be pinned on Dugger's vocals. Dugger has a pleasant, friendly voice to be sure, but he's not that awesome a singer. Besides, the effect is in play for non-vocal tracks from the opening "Father's Jig" on. The consistently evocative power of their music is a subtle thing, understated enough to escape notice for the first few listenings. For myself, it wasn't until I tried to play Round the Bend in the background while I worked that I realized that it couldn't be ignored. While the effect is subtle, it's insistent, and while you can work with "The Rollicking Skipper" swinging your mind up in the air, you can't avoid some sort or response to each track.

So it's not the best album to play while you're on hold with the bank, lest they answer during "Tender Mercies" and judge you an emotionally unstable weeper not fit to be trusted with a loan. Those who pride themselves on being sensible adults may be embarrassed to find a simple tune hijacking their emotions and that's the best reason to pick up Round the Bend. When the phone calls are done, or the drive home has stalled, or any other time when life has become a bit numbing, Glen Road can still knock loose the emotional calluses and add a soft wash of feeling to the day.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 4 September 2004

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