Raymond McCullough,
Into Jerusalem
(Precious Oil, 2005)

If you like a heavy dose of religion in your Celtic rock, I might have just the CD for you. Raymond McCullough released Into Jerusalem, a 12-track CD of Irish and Jewish songs of worship, back in 2005. The music ranges from lively jigs to some Celtic and bluegrass tunes and a few tracks that border on hymns. Much of the CD has a rock beat in the background, yet there are also some slower-paced, more solemn tracks.

"Battle Cry" starts up with an upbeat Celtic melody. The whistle and fiddle play really well with each other. The lyrics are sung within a minimal range, which fits Raymond's vocals perfectly. The "battle cry," by the way, is "Your kingdom come, Your will be done."

"Prayer for Ireland/Pipe Major's Jig" is one of the better tracks on the CD. The first part of the track focuses on the pain Ireland has gone through over the years. Raymond begs the Lord to break their chains and set them free. The reason this is one of the better tracks in my opinion, however, is due to the second part. "Pipe Major's Jig" is upbeat and if the entire CD was an instrumental collection of similar tracks, I would be recommending it without hesitation.

"Worship the Lord" is a slow-paced song that is almost painful to get through. Raymond almost whines "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness / worship the Lord and give thanks to His name" repeatedly. I think with the right singer, this could actually be a very beautiful piece. Unfortunately, Raymond isn't that person.

Raymond sings (but not very well) and plays acoustic guitar, mandolin and bodhran. Dave McCullough can be found on guitars, bass, banjo, keyboards, drum programming and background vocals. Connaire McCullough provides background vocals. Niall McClean fiddles. Davy Hamilton blows the whistles. George Eggleston handles the uilleann pipes and the accordion. John Walker also plays accordion.

Raymond has been a spirited worshiper for years. He has directed the Kingdom Come Trust and has edited the Irish Christian magazine Bread. For years he led "cell-based fellowship" in Belfast. Raymond has a background that explains the total religious emphasis of the lyrics on this CD.

For me, the best part of this CD is the music. I like how Raymond has combined the heavy Celtic influence with some modern rock. In general, I'm fine with the lyrics. I do listen to certain religious groups like Jars of Clay or Caedmon's Call, and they too focus their lyrics on religion. Where Raymond has lost me is with his vocals. These are exactly the kind of off-key vocals you so often hear at your local church service. Even with professional studio equipment and God at his back, he sounds terrible. He sings almost in a monotone except when his voice frequently cracks -- I guess you could say that gives him some range. In short, if you like good Celtic-based music, religious lyrics, or amateur vocals, then I recommend Into Jerusalem by Raymond McCullough.

review by
Wil Owen

20 December 2008

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