Shawn Prescott Haussler,
Taking the Air
(Flying Whale, 2005)

San Francisco area musician Shawn Prescott Haussler has released a Celtic music CD, Taking the Air. She is proficient on multiple instruments including the silver flute, high and low whistles, folk harp, tenor guitar, djembe and dumbek. Considering that she is self-taught, that is pretty impressive! Most of the music consists of traditional English or Irish tunes. What makes this CD a little different is that Shawn has put a jazz twist on a few tracks.

The first track, "An Raibh Tu ar an gCarraig?/The Trip to Sligo," is the most jazzed-up selection. This instrumental starts off slow as Shawn plays the low whistle. Eventually she is joined by guitar and the piece really takes a sharp turn. The mix of Celtic and jazz is an area that really intrigues Shawn and, according to what I read on her website, I would not be surprised if her next CD is dominated by the combined genres.

Shawn's version of the oft-played "Shule Aroon" is very beautiful. It is true that I've never heard a version I did not like, but I found this one particularly touching. She accompanies her vocals with the tenor guitar to create a very simple rendition. Shawn's vocals are a little husky for a female (she might be a smoker). It is not what I would normally expect when I listen to Celtic music. Added to the touch of jazz and this CD becomes that much more unique despite the fact that there will be few selections, if any, that Celtic lovers have not heard before.

"Come Live With Me" is over 400 years old. Shawn tweaked the chord structure and vocal line to make the song a bit more otherworldly. I think she succeeded. The slight echo and vocal harmony she added can send a tingle up your spine. The original poem was penned by Christopher Marlowe; the tune is attributed to an old English Broadside. This track is definitely worth a listen.

Most of the work on Taking the Air was done by Shawn. However, she was joined on a few tunes by John Pellizzer on guitar, Murray Campbell on fiddle and Douglas Haussler on harmonica.

I really like this CD. Taking the Air does not have the spit and polish you might get out of fancy recording studios, but that does not diminish the appeal. I tend to be more partial to the tracks more true to the Celtic tradition. For me, the Celtic jazz might take a bit more time to grow on me. With Shawn's musical talent, however, I would be willing to give it further consideration.

by Wil Owen
24 June 2006

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