Christina Harrison,
Bonnie Scotland I Adore Thee
(Glenanne, 1996)

There are certain songs that many Scottish and Irish musicians will refuse to perform -- unless they're entertaining a crowd of Americans, who typically believe these to be the cream of Celtic folk music. Christina Harrison, on her album Bonnie Scotland I Adore Thee, does a lot of them: "Come By the Hills," "Flower of Scotland," "Carrickfergus," "Scotland the Brave," "Danny Boy," "Amazing Grace," "Wild Mountain Thyme" and more. It's a monument to Celtic kitsch -- or, it would be if she wasn't so good at the task.

Harrison, a native of Scotland who moved to Maryland via London, has produced an album which would no doubt be a big seller in any Edinburgh or Glasgow gift shop frequented by American tourists who'd rather hear those old familiar favorites instead of delving into Scotland's living, thriving musical heritage. Certainly, this is an easy album to sing along with.

But, ultimately, these overdone songs can be quite beautiful in the right hands, and Harrison is well-suited to the task. Her vocals are absolutely gorgeous, strong and smooth and clear, and filled with love for her homeland. It's easy to recall, while listening to this album, why these songs became popular in the first place, back before they joined the Celtic Hit Parade and were battered into the ground by a host of well-meaning but mediocre singers. Harrison's voice is a powerful instrument, deftly infusing each with new power and spirit.

Harrison also plays a subtle, but gifted guitar throughout, and she employs several backing musicians, including Mary Kay Mann (flute) and Tom O'Carroll (guitar, mandolin, banjo and more) to fill out the sound. On one track, she even pulls herself into the background to let piper Douglas McConnell bask in the spotlight for a bit.

Glancing over the track list, I expected to listen to this album once and be done with it. The high quality of Harrison's singing, however, pulled me back to listen a few times more. Perhaps these songs needn't be relegated to dusty shelves after all. If Harrison is performing, I'll gladly hear them again and again.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Visit Christina Harrison's website.

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