Simon Mayor,
New Celtic Mandolin
(Acoustics, 1998)

With a title like New Celtic Mandolin, you'd expect to find this CD in a Walmart bargain CD bin with other CDs like Rainforest Medley and Jazz Moods, or in some touristy "Celtic" shop where anything with a Celtic knot on it gets sold for twice it's actual value. If you passed on this CD for those reasons, you would be missing out on one of the most talented players I've heard in some time. Along with a small group of fellow musicians, Mayor set out on this album to take traditional Celtic tunes and pipe them through the mandolin, something he readily admits in the liner notes that the original songwriters probably never intended. It's an interesting experiment that leads to some pretty amazing results.

Throughout the CD, he keeps the tempo fairly steady, as only a few songs either pick you up to dance or bring you down to contemplate. He starts the CD with a traditional Scottish arrangement, "Mrs Murrary of Abercarney," sure to get your toes tapping. It's an intriguing mix of classical sounds with modern instruments (electric guitar), but makes a great intro to the CD. He brings us back down with a New England arrangement, "Waynesboro," which has some great fingerplay on the mandolin near the end. As he shows off in the traditional Irish arrangement "Little Molly-O," Mayor achieves some spectacular effects when he combines many different elements and sounds together, as this song has a great Old World feel.

He only shows off his own talents for songwriting on two songs, "Dance of the Water Boatmen" and "The Wasp Reel," which is a shame, as I would have liked to hear more (a sneaky trick to make you buy the next CD, but it works).

"Two Breton Tunes (Eliz Iza/Dérobée De Guincamp)" is a truly masterful display of the mando- family of instruments (mandolin, mandola, mandocello and mandobass). With traditional arrangements spanning the Celtic world (Scottish, Irish, Breton, Welsh, Galician and New England), Mayor gives you a sampling of the many different styles around the globe. In particular, the traditional Galician arrangement, "Aye La Le Lo," sets a completely different tone from the entire album -- dark, almost menacing. However, all the pieces come together on what may be the best song on the CD, "Neil Gow's Lament for Abercarney," which makes the perfect rainy day soundtrack to your life.

The only thing that kept this CD from being perfect, however, was the placement of the song after "Neil Gow," the Scottish "Mount and Go," for the simple reason it was the only piece on the entire CD with vocals. While Hilary James, who does multiple duties on the CD such as electric bass and mandobass, has a lovely voice, hearing spoken words jerked me out the good mood that "Neil Gow" put me in, and had me poring over the liner notes thinking "I didn't see vocals on this CD -- oh wait, there they are." It's such a disruption of the mood of the CD that I could never get back to enjoying the rest of the CD, all of which were good songs in the vein as the previous tracks. While an instrumental on a CD full of songs is OK, a vocal track on an instrumental CD just doesn't feel right. Personally, I would have put this song either first or last on the album, so the rest of the music could be enjoyed.

This is one of those almost perfect CDs that you can play nonstop -- you can either let it be the silent soundtrack to your daily life, or you can sit and truly listen to the music and get equal enjoyment from both. It's the kind of music that you'd expect to find at a good pub -- it creates the perfect atmosphere, and it's not so discordant as to break into your train of thought. Mayor has a great ear for combining various instruments together to create moods through his music. He has a good new age, Yanni-type sound, only not as pretentious as our favorite long-haired Greek pretty boy. Like I said, this CD would have been perfect except for that one song (a good song, just bad placement), so I would highly recommend this CD to anyone. It broadens your horizons for an hour, and that's what good music is supposed to do.

[ by Timothy Keene ]