Jody Marshall,
Cottage in the Glen
(Maggie's Music, 2005)

Regardless of whether you have any prior experience with either cottages or glens, Jody Marshall's Cottage in the Glen is a warm, cozy listening experience that conjures up images of blazing hearths, flowing ale and hearty friendships. Recognizably Celtic, yet quirkily individualistic, these 12 sprightly tracks are never too concerned with their own dignity and may even cost you yours: just try to keep your foot from tapping or your head from nodding along to the beat of the opening track, "Three Sisters of Erin/Little Martha"!

The idea behind this CD of upbeat, mostly instrumental music is of a place where, according to the liner notes, "friends can drop by and share tunes around the hearth." Appropriately enough, guest musicians abound: Marshall is variously accompanied by her ensemble MoonFire, vocalist Grace Griffith, talented multi-instrumentalists Al Petteway and Amy White (also on the Maggie's Music label) and quite a number of others. The traditional, bright sounds of Marshall's hammered dulcimer remain in the foreground, but other instruments include the djembe, mandolin, flute, guitar and piano. Traditional Celtic music lovers may find the unorthodox elements of Cottage in the Glen distracting; everyone else is likely to appreciate the fresh, vibrant sound they create.

Like the instrumentation, the compositions adroitly blend the traditional and contemporary. O'Carolan's harp tune, "Mrs. Anne McDermott Rowe," has a lovely crispness when translated into solo hammered dulcimer, and the use of piano in "Ross' Reel, No. 4/Robertson's Hornpipe/Banks Hornpipe" works surprisingly well. Without losing sight of their roots, however, most of the tracks have newer origins. Original compositions from Marshall include the sparkling "Three Sisters of Erin," easily my favorite track on the CD for its infectious beat and lighthearted melody, the mischievous polka, "Ragtime Tabby/Catnip Fling/Scattercat Polka," and the one slightly melancholy track, "Words Unspoken/Labyrinth."

Cottage in the Glen offers some fine instrumentals, but doesn't do quite as well with vocals. The first of its two vocals, "The Brandy Tree," strikes the only sour note on a CD that is otherwise a pleasure to listen to. The vocals by Grace Griffith, whom I was surprised to learn was an award-winning vocalist, are audibly off-key, affected and amateurish. Oddly enough, she sounds fine singing in Gaelic on the other vocal piece, "Miss Stewart of Grantully/Half-Past Three/The High Road to Linton." Perhaps the insipidity of the lyrics on "The Brandy Tree" can explain her inconsistency, but whatever the cause, the skip button comes in handy at this point.

Happily, it's unnecessary everywhere else. Apart from the one track, Cottage in the Glen is an inviting, cheery place to spend an hour, especially for fans of hammered dulcimer and contemporary Celtic music.

by Jennifer Mo
25 November 2006

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