Kirk S. McWhorter,
Eye of the Storm
(McWhorter, 2002)

It begins with the sounds of the sea, and of sailors at work on a tall-masted ship. That leads into "Spanish Ladies" -- but this isn't some hackneyed Renaissance Faire rendition of the old, traditional favorite. Kirk S. McWhorter has taken the heart of the sea and salted it heavily with the spirit of a rock musician. The combination, which works sometimes and all too often does not, is a no-holds-barred winner on McWhorter's new solo album, Eye of the Storm.

The album maintains its nautical theme throughout, approaching each track with varying degrees of traditional and modern arrangements. There's not a single bad track on the album, which includes original songs that stand shoulder to shoulder with time-tested shanties.

Take for instance "Bow to Stern," a phenomenally spirited song about a merchant ship in peril. Take for instance "Grannuaile," an earnest tribute to the Irish pirate/patriot Grace O'Malley. Take for instance "The Tale of Furgas McCabe," a deceptively cheerful song about a young lad too eager to prove his worth at sea. Take for instance "Old Spice," co-written by Tim Leonard, which explores the landlubber's conception of the sailor's life.

That's a fair number of instances, and believe me, I hope McWhorter is hard at work on material for the next album. These original songs are good, very good, and I fully expect a few to be adopted quickly into the fold of "new traditionals" circulating among Celtic and Maritimes bands.

Besides "Spanish Ladies," the album also includes the traditionals "High Barbary," "Skye Boat Song" and "Fiddler's Green," and the Robert Allan song "Put Off and Row w' Speed." Like "Ladies," these songs get the full McWhorter treatment; don't expect the expected when you spin this disc.

The album ends with "Eye of the Storm," another McWhorter original that left me with mixed feelings. Love the song, truly I do, but it seems out of place on this album. A bonus track is a mixed bag of studio outtakes at the end.

My only question is why McWhorter released the album under his own name. With eight musicians and nearly two dozen singers making appearances on this recording, it seems like McWhorter should have gone the extra step and adopted a band name -- or else recorded it with his other project, Kilbrannan. (His Kilbrannan compatriots, Tim Leonard, Paul Runfola and Glenn Bernardis, are among the musicians who lend him a hand, after all.) This isn't a singer's album with instrumental support; this is a full-fledged band production, with everyone contributing to the final product.

And what a product it is! Eye of the Storm is a blast of excellent music from beginning to end, and anyone who enjoys the sea or who likes the sound of Celtic songs with a hard edge should seek this out immediately. McWhorter is a talent I plan to keep my eyes on!

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002