Jim Hancock & Friends
with the Gypsy Guerrilla Band,
Good Companions
(Jimusic, 1992)

Concieved and arranged by former Gypsy Guerrilla Band guitarist Jim Hancock (before he left the band), Good Companions features the hammered dulcimer talents of Jim Lillquist and the autoharp skills of Joyce Lillquist, as well as non-Gypsy Guerrillas Bob Bielefeld on flute, recorder and jew harp, and Malcolm Smith on violin. An impressive effort, the album is built around Lillquist's dulcimer, and conveys a unique, fey sound to all the selections.

The album opens with the classic "Irish Washerwoman," a version that succeeds in every sense of the word, to the point you expect to see a leprechaun pop out of the speakers and torment poor Porky Pig with a pair of cursed dancing shoes. Other instrumental pieces such as "The Maid Behind the Bar" and "Whiskey Before Breakfast" jump with a boundless sense of energy seldom found in most traditional music renditions.

Hancock's arrangement of "All For Me Grog" does a brilliant dovetail into "Loch Lomond," and the medley of "Drops O" Brandy/Little Beggarman/Red Haired Boy" throws off sparks. "Rothsay-O" is another highlight, transporting the listener back to that romanticized time that never existed somewhere between Chaucer and Shakespeare. Changing the pace, smooth, suitably emotional performances of "Molly Malone," "Farewell Tae Tarwathie" and "Wild Mountain Thyme" are included which equal or better any other recorded versions already available on the market.

Still, there are a few flaws here. The version of "Good Companions" here drags a bit, and "Wearin' o' the Green" and "Danny Boy" are so over-played that it borders on just the other side of impossible to get a fresh take on them.

Nevertheless, this is an album worth having even for someone who already has other versions of the songs by other artists. The reason is the dulcimer. One of the most entertaining instruments to watch being played, so some reason it just sounds Irish. With all the resurgent popularity of Irish and Celtic-inspired music, it's amazing that so few band incorporate the instrument. But then that's why the Gypsy Guerrilla Band is so unique, and why Hancock, when he decided to put out an album himself, made sure to include his old mates.

[ by Jayme Lynn Blaschke ]

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