Talitha MacKenzie,
Indian Summer
(SONAS, 2007)

Indian Summer is the second CD I've reviewed for Talitha MacKenzie. My first review of her work was her 1996 CD Spiorad, an album I liked fairly well. Indian Summer is this Scottish-American singer-songwriter's fourth solo album. This album melds together aspects of Talitha's heritage, including Celtic and Native American. The mix of English, Gaelic and Cherokee makes Indian Summer rather unique.

The first song of note has to be Talitha's take on "Amazing Grace." When done properly, this song can be quite powerful. In Cherokee -- "Unelanvhi Uwetsi," as it is called -- this piece can be downright haunting. Talitha explains in the liner notes that the hymn was sung by the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears. If there is one track on Indian Summer that will make you stop and take notice, this would be the one!

When I first heard "Family Tree," I wondered why Talitha would put this song on the CD. The lyrics are about her ancestry, and it sounded like a song best left for the immediate family. Why would the casual listener care, per say, about her ancestry? Somehow, however, this song was one that got stuck in my head. The pop-like beat is uptempo, and there is liberal use of piano with heavier bass than other tracks. Talitha also brings up a good point when she basically asks why, if the living are the leaves of the tree, isn't the tree upside down with the roots up top?

My favorite Gaelic track is actually a mix of English and Gaelic. "Eilean Fada" has a jazzy feel to it (the promo material calls it "Celtic jazz"). Talitha states that when she was a young girl growing up in New York, she longingly looked east thinking about Scotland.

Talitha may play several instruments in her own right, but she still has quite the group backing her up on the 11 tracks found on this CD. Rhiannon Giddens provides backing vocals on top of performing on the fiddle and 5-string banjo. Jon Bekoff also plays the fiddle. Nico Mirande plays contrabass and fretless electric bass guitar. Chris Birkett keeps time on the djembe, singing bowl, shakers, maracas, BT drum loop, military snares, drums and more. Mick Glossop controls the synth drones, programmed percussion and sound effects like crickets, crackling fire and rain. Bernie Krause handles the waves sound effects. Michael Laffan is on the honky-tonk piano. Sule Greg Wilson plays the washboard. Mathieu Lucas is on the electric bass guitar. Finally, Chrisophe Baillet plays drums.

Upon first listen, I did not care for Indian Summer as much as I enjoyed Spiorad. I thought it was decent, just not as good. Over several listens, however, I have really come to appreciate what she has to offer on this CD. I find the mix of languages and musical styles complementary. This CD provides an interesting peek into someone else's ancestry.

music review by
Wil Owen

31 July 2010

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