Mary Jane Lamond,
Lan Duil
(Wicklow Records, 2000)

Mary Jane Lamond's second album, Lan Duil, more than measures up to her stunning U.S. debut Suas e! and features Lamond's vibrant and thrilling voice and meticulous arrangements of mostly traditional Cape Breton material.

If you've hear the Chieftains' Fire in the Kitchen album, then you've heard the first track on Lan Duil, "A Mhairi Bhoidheach (Beautiful Mary)." The arrangement is different here, with a shimmering backdrop of accordion and delicately picked guitar underscoring the powerful vocals. A strong but non-intrusive percussion beat and bass line anchor and balance the song. Fiddler Wendy MacIsaac joins in on "Faill ill o ro," playing a tune called "The Orphan" as a bridge in this portrait of Highland life.

Lamond demonstrates her vocal range in "Mo Mhailli Bheag Og (My Little Young Molly)," shifting from the full-bodied sound in the first two tracks to a lighter, more fragile sound. MacIsaac again joins in with "Mutt's Favorite," her fiddling both passionate and precise. "An Nochd Is Trom Tha Mo Cheum (Tonight My Step is Heavy)" reflects a kind of wistfulness and loss, and the song leads gracefully into the gentle "Cha Tig Mor Mo Bhean Dhachaidh (The Widower's Lament)." This track features Lamond singing only with a guitar accompaniment, and the musical choice enhances the mood.

Next, she switches gears with "Mo Ghille Mor Foghain'each (Charles Street Reel)" a port-a-beul (mouth music) which starts out with an archival recording of seanchaidh Joe Neil MacNeil and rocks away from there. Ashley MacIsaac adds lively fiddling and Ravi Naimpally lends a multicultural touch with tabla and Bol, a kind of mouth music from India. The pace slows a little but does not lag with "A Mhorag 's na Horo Gheallaidh," a traditional milling song sung a cappella with Janet Buchanan, Michelle Smith and Bonnie Thompson and underscored with a beat provided by milling a piece of wool fabric on a wooden table.

"Nach Till Thu Dhomhnaill? (Will You Not Return Donald?)" has a sunny sound which belies the rather grimmer aspects of the song, since it's about a young woman flirting with a young man on the moor who then forces himself on her and leaves her. A lap steel guitar adds a somewhat mournful note to the song.

"Seallaibh Curraigh Eoghainn (The Drummer)" is another lively port-a-buel. Staccato percussion sets off the crisply sung words, and Wendy MacIsaac's tight fiddling of "Flora MacDonald's Reel" laces the textured elements together. The next track, "Crodh air a' Bhruaich (Cattle on the Hill)," begins with ethereal vocalization and a recitation by Jeff MacDonald, the poet who wrote the lyrics. Lamond composed music with a strong sense of the traditional; the melody sounds familiar but is, indeed, original. Tabla, bagpipes and vocals blend beautifully in this tribute to MacDonald's family lands. The final track, "Ill u ill o illean 's o," features a children's chorus, and the frank simplicity is a surprising but suitable finish to the CD.

Lan Duil is a thoughtfully and cohesively produced CD, a seamless tapestry of words and music. Lamond's voice has remarkable power, control and expressiveness, and while the arrangements are polished, they are not slick or glib. There are nuances which emerge with each playing, and Lamond bears the standard of Cape Breton music proudly and well.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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