Laura MacKenzie,
Laura & the Lads
(New Folk, 2003)

Laura MacKenzie is a very impressive musician. On Laura & the Lads, she plays an amazing array of instruments -- wooden flutes, whistles, concertina, Scottish smallpipes, border pipes -- and she provides vocals, too. Dirty Linen magazine has in my view quite rightly hailed her "a master of all things bellowed and blown."

Laura & the Lads is a really enjoyable listen, recorded with a lively "session" feel -- it gets your feet moving from the outset -- and, as with much great Celtic music, it makes you feel happy and uplifted. There are just a couple of vocal numbers ("The Corncrake," "Once I Loved"), with fine traditional vocals from MacKenzie. It's the instrumental tracks, however, that make the greatest impression on me.

This is an album of traditional and contemporary music from all four corners of the Celtic world, including Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain and Canada -- and a very fine collection, too. Traditional tunes blend very naturally with the newer material. The recording is satisfyingly acoustic (no strange electronic noises to jar on the ears!) and there's an incredibly upbeat feel throughout. The supporting team is very strong: Brian Miller (acoustic guitar), Michael Bissonnette (percussion), Django Amerson (fiddle), Sean Egan (clarinet) and John Wright (bass). The input of the "lads" really does reinforce the excellence of MacKenzie's musicianship.

As I listen, I'm truly impressed by MacKenzie's mastery of all the instruments she plays, from her jaunty whistle playing on the opening track, "The Clarke Tunes," and the evocative sound of the border pipes on "Grianach" right through to the album's closing number, "The Galician/Asturian Set," where she plays Scottish smallpipes and wooden flutes, effortlessly conveying a truly Spanish-Celtic ambience.

There's a superb clarinet improvisation on the jazzy "Bird's Hill," and the concertina is excellent on the well-paced "The Presbyterian." There's a fine and lively session feel on the excellent "Toss the Feathers," immediately followed by the rounded percussion and very lyrical wooden flute playing on "Dugan's Dream." This strong Irish feel is continued on the very lyrical "Piper on Horseback." There's a lovely Gallic feel to "Vive la l'Printemps" -- Amerson's fiddle playing is just wonderful here (this is my favourite track on the album). The album contains a total of 14 equally strong tracks.

This is one musician I'd love to go and see if she toured the UK ... along with her lads, of course!

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 12 June 2004

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