Jennifer Licko,
Cave of Gold
(Solstice, 1999)

Sweet Highland melodies -- heard regularly from the great bens of Scotland to the Creignish Hills of Cape Breton and to the craggy rocks of the Carolinas in the U.S. -- have a way of touching the heart with a soulful call to home. Jennifer Licko's vocal renditions on this CD take you right back to the womb, and supposedly to the womb of Scottish music: that mythical Cave of Gold from which so many tunes reputedly flowed. This CD is more evidence of the strong ties to tradition that exist outside the motherland of Scotland.

Jennifer is a Celtic vocalist from the U.S., and her background no doubt extends to her the confidence to present the arrangements as she likes. A degree in music from East Carolina University, experience as a premier Highland dancer and a stint at Edinburgh University studying Scots Gaelic are on her list of achievements.

Though the tunes recorded here are often heard sung a cappella, Jennifer sings with accompaniment. Sparing but effective music from fiddle, pipes, guitar, whistles and drums accentuate the richness of Jennifer's voice. Traditional tunes such as "Buain na Rainach," "Fear a'Bhata" and "Uamh an Oir" she carries gracefully, her voice trilling with a long Gaelic drawl to the vowels.

A few English language traditionals -- "Lizzie Lindsay," "Peggy and the Soldier" and "Wild Mountain Thyme" -- are also perfect selections for her voice, which is sometimes husky and earthy, sometimes light and clear as mountain air.

A strong traditional sound to this CD is expressed not only in the older pieces, but also in the newer compositions. These are comfortably arranged by Bob Noble, an English keyboard player, arranger and producer who has many credits to his name.

Jennifer sings in a precise classical tone. This smooth and professional presentation allows one to recognize the beauty and appreciate the importance of this folk music at another level. (Get yourself up off the pub floor.) Here's a recording that's carefully produced and full of tradition. I enjoyed every selection.

[ by Virginia MacIsaac ]
Rambles: 21 December 2001