Lalla Rookh,
Book One -- Tales and Tradition
(Magophonic, 1998)

Lalla Rookh's first album, Book One -- Tales and Tradition, is a good debut recording. It only pales slightly when compared to the band's follow-up, Do You Want Kilts with That? -- which I heard first.

The Colorado quintet serves up a nice mix of songs and tunes, beginning with the choral "A-Calling-On Song," an Ashley Hutchings composition which works well as an introduction to the CD and gives you a hint of the group's vocal power.

Everyone in Lalla Rookh sings, and they handle their vocal duties well. In addition, the band features Paul Honeycutt on mandolin, bodhran and 6- and 12-string guitars, Kay Williams on violin, Jim Abraham on electric bass, Mary Whalen on bodhran and percussion, and Charley Gannon on guitar.

Book One (which begs the question, why wasn't the second album called Book Two?) includes well-rendered traditional songs like "The Blacksmith," a song of betrayed love; "Lord Franklin," about a lost explorer and crew; and "Susanna Martin," which tells of a tried and convicted witch.

There are also several good instrumental tracks, including "The Wolfshead/The Road to Lisdoonvarna," "Frosty Morning/Coleraine/The Kesh Jig" and "The Rights of Man/Sally in the Garden/The Ashplant."

There are some failings here, too. For instance, "Matty Groves" is a powerful, tragic tale, but the conversational style of singing employed here makes it sound like we're being set up for a punchline somewhere ... but there's nothing funny about it. The electric bass solo is also somewhat distracting. "The Star of the County Down" is nicely sung, but the slow tempo and depressing vocal style don't suit the upbeat lyrics.

The two-page insert provides little in the way of liner notes; instead, the band expends three-fourths of the space on thanks and dedications. For people who are curious about the music being performed, the lack of documentation is disappointing.

I encourage Celtic music fans to check out the music of Lalla Rookh, and this is a good album for showcasing the band's talents. However, if your funds are limited and you can only choose one CD, I'd suggest picking up Do You Want Kilts with That? first. Book One doesn't quite measure up to its successor.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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