Kathleen Keane,
Kathleen Keane
(self-produced, 1999)

My only familiarity with Kathleen Keane prior to receiving a review copy of her self-titled CD was as the amazingly talented and beautiful fiddler with Gaelic Storm, where she burst from the stage (and the band's third CD, Tree) with electrified energy. So I was surprised when I first played this CD and the first track featured her, not on fiddle, but on pennywhistle.

Time to read the promotional materials, Tom. Turns out the Chicago-born Kathleen is something of a renaissance woman of Irish music. Initially a gifted and award-winning whistler (dubbed a "child prodigy" by Martin Hayes), she took up the fiddle "just to keep her edge" -- and became a phenomenon with that instrument, too. She's a singer and songwriter, a composer and, if that's not enough, she studied Irish stepdancing under Michael Flatley of Riverdance/Lord of the Dance fame. Before Gaelic Storm, she played with the Drovers and Wilding, and she has written for several movie scores.


Back to the CD, which is a revelation for anyone who came expecting this to be a spotlight on her fiddling skills. It keeps you guessing, as she juggles whistle, fiddle, low whistle and vocal tracks; kudos to her for not trading simply on what she's best known for, which is obviously what some people would have wanted from her. She no doubt could have filled a lively fiddle album with ease, but this CD gives a sampling of her much broader range of talent.

The album begins with a lively reel set featuring Kathleen on whistle backed by piano. There are slow fiddle tunes, as well as one that creeps up on you like an unexpected session discovered down the street. "Patiently Waiting," an original composition, has an infectious, loping pace to it. She also slows the fast reel "Sally Gardens" down to a snail's pace, playing both fiddle and low whistle, swapping instruments during an intricate, finger-picked solo by guitarist George Pace.

The first song is the traditional "A Bunch of Thyme," which uses a garden metaphor for keeping one's virginity intact. "Fairy Queen" is Keane's own composition, a mystical and atmospheric song that is a little unsettling as an old man is granted the chance to relive his last day. The third and final song is the old Scottish saw, "Wild Mountain Thyme."

No question, I underestimated Kathleen Keane when she sent it to me. I expected amazing fiddling and got so much more. Now the only question is what she will tackle -- and master -- next. I'll be watching.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 8 November 2003

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