Lalla Rookh,
Do You Want Kilts with That?
(Magophonic, 2000)

One of the greatest joys of writing for Rambles is the opportunity to hear music I might otherwise never have stumbled upon. A perfect example of this is Do You Want Kilts with That? by the Colorado Celtic band Lalla Rookh.

Lalla Rookh is Paul Honeycutt on mandolin and bodhran, Kay Williams on violin, Jim Abraham on electric bass, Mary Whalen on bodhran and percussion, and Charley Gannon on guitar. All five provide vocals as well. Guesting on two tracks is Eric Olson on uilleann pipes.

The CD cover -- a plaid pattern and kilt pin on the front, a tartan overlaid with a photo of the five band members in kilts and cloaks on the back -- doesn't really let you know what to expect. Still, I was surprised at the delicate rendition of "Connemara," a Gannon original, which started things off with a surprisingly light touch. Just in case that got me thinking this was going to be an all-mellow recording, the band switches gears immediately for the vigorous set "Smash the Windows/Munster Buttermilk/Banish Misfortune."

And then the band starts to sing.

The women take vocal lead on track 3, "Two Sisters," an old tale about a jealous girl who drowns her younger sister so she can steal her beau. While some versions of the tale end with a mystical transformation into a swan or justice from beyond the grave in the form of a singing harp, this one sticks to the basics, including a cruel miller who pulls the drowning girl from the water to steal her gold ring only to throw her back in again. (The fate of the elder sister, murderess though she be, is also particularly heinous in this version.) Whalen and Williams handle the song neatly, with excellent vocal harmonies throughout.

Other songs include "Newry Highwayman," performed with an appropriately raspy voice (considering the singer is about to be hanged); the cheerful "Marrowbones," about an adulteress woman who plots her husband's blindness and death; "Siuil a Run," a song of longing which has seemingly cropped up everywhere since its inclusion on Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance soundtrack; and "Irish Ballad," which details in gruesome detail the murder of an entire family by a gleeful matron. The only song which falls flat for me is "Blood Wedding," primarily because Lalla Rookh's version seems too similar to that by the song's originator, the Oysterband -- and the Oysterband did it better.

There are additional tune sets as well: "Cuckoo's Nest/Maid Behind the Bar/Nixon's Farewell," "Geese in the Bog/Get Your Crap Off the Stage" (the latter a fine Honeycutt composition) and my favorite, the excellent "Hoodoo Hoedown/Jump at the Sun."

The album ends with a laugh-aloud seduction song, "Cuckoo's Nest," recorded live at Avogadro's Number in Fort Collins, Colo., with enough funk and groovin' to have you reaching for the repeat button -- several times at least.

Lalla Rookh is more than the sum of its parts. All five band members have good, strong voices, and each is an accomplished musician. Their arrangements are well-conceived, and the few original tunes on the album had me hoping for more. Combined, they make up a band you should be sure to hear.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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