Kevin Macleod
& Alec Finn,
Polbain to Oranmore
(Greentrax, 2003)

Take two top-class traditional groups. Extract an excellent instrumental player from each. Put them together with an array of fine stringed instruments. Add some of the best in Scottish and Irish tunes. The result is this master class in Celtic music.

Kevin Macleod is perhaps best known as a member of the Occassionals while the white-haired Alec Finn is instantly recognizable from De Danaan. Their joint CD, Polbain to Oranmore, is ambrosia for the ears and the Celtic heart. Over 15 tracks you can experience the talents of two people who combine an amazing musical ability with an obvious love for the music.

There is a lovely mixture of traditional and new music on the CD. "Highland Waltzes," featuring an amazing array of instruments -- including bouzouki, guitar and keyboard -- will draw in even the most casual of listeners. For those who need a known track to entice them, take a listen to "Slieve Gallen Braes." The hypnotic guitar, driving and reticent by turn, gives this classic piece a new lease of life.

The track "2/4 Pipe March and Pipe Jig" takes tunes composed for the Highland bagpipe and proves that reinterpreting great music with a real feeling for its soul can be done and done extremely well. "Miss Hamilton" is another case in point. Written for the harp but played here on bouzouki, guitar and mandolin, it retains an authenticity that is rare. Dating from around 1670, it feels old yet new.

I dare anyone to listen to "Scottish Reels" without tapping toes or fingers. Such is the infectious playing that it will melt the hardest heart. This is music as it should be. For mood and melancholy, you need only turn to "Slieve na Mban" -- mountain of the women.

"The Bloody Fields of Flanders" needs little explanation. The sad air recalls the sacrifices in the "war to end all wars." The tune will be more familiar as "Freedom Come All Ye" by Hamish Henderson, who set those words to it.

This is one of those CDs that will delight the purist as well as the casual listener. It is hard not to like great music played to perfection. For the musician, the listing of each instrument, including maker, will give an added interest. The insert includes background on the tunes.

- Rambles
written by Nicky Rossiter
published 28 June 2003