Totally Hammered
(Wragg, 2003)

Getting "totally hammered" is not a unique experience in Cape Breton, where I live. You might actually call it a rite of passage. But once is usually enough and after that, one is more careful. So actually, with a title like this, I expected something a bit wild from the United Kingdom's young queen of the hammered dulcimer. It turned out Kerensa's version of being Totally Hammered is much more genteel and I had no problem trying it more than once.

Truly, I'll never get tired of hearing this CD. Just like a new friend, it grew more pleasurable and familiar to my heart every time I slid it in the player drawer. This, her debut album, should be the beginning of a fruitful recording career.

She's paid her dues with more than nine years of public performance at festivals and clubs across the UK. Though she's more than adept with the whistle, guitar and mandola, the hammered dulcimer is her specialty and is the instrument focused on for this album. (Although the notes mention that she's also a vocalist she doesn't offer us a taste of that on this CD.) Eleanor James joins her as guest musician on three of the tracks and it's a good blend of talents.

Nevertheless, at first thought, I wasn't sure what the player of a hammered dulcimer could offer me. Quickly, I discovered what an extraordinary pleasure this instrument was to listen to. I was exquisitely tickled by the feathery sound of traditional fiddle tunes even though this was a marked contrast to hard-driving Celtic fiddle and guitar sounds I often enjoy. Kerensa had the needed lift and a solid upper hand on the beat and rhythm of the traditional pieces she chose.

If you take a listen to track number seven, it holds traditionals "Morrison's Jig" and "Over the Hill." Another familiar tune is "Frieze Britches" played with "Banish Misfortune" on track two. Track six gives us three Cornish tunes, and eight is the very familiar "Scarborough Fair." A few other arrangements include "Plaanxty Howard Glasser" by Jim Couza and there are others by Frederick Paris, Neil Davey and Maclaine Colston. All good choices that rightly molded the sound of the album and they fit together like fingers of a well-made glove.

I'm hard pressed to find something I didn't like on this album. The worst I can say is that the cover was understated and totally unassuming, which quietly belied the excellence of the musicianship and the joyous experience this CD creates for the listener. I don't have any hesitation suggesting that this is a CD most Celtic fans would appreciate. It leans toward traditional sound, but Kerensa's playing is like a crystal bridge between fiddle and guitar that takes these tunes and us to a new place.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 20 March 2004