Will Millar,
Celtic Seasons of Enchantment
(Chacra Alternative, 1998)

This is a lovely album and one I've enjoyed hearing repeatedly over the course of several days now. It's contemporary Celtic, with a certain new-age feel (rather like some of Windham Hill's offerings), and the blend of traditional Celtic instruments with piano works beautifully in setting and keeping a serene and hopeful mood. Even the accordion and the pipes are mellow here, but without losing all of their edge and becoming bland. This is one of the most skillfully arranged and played albums I've heard recently, and it complements perfectly the late-autumn weather as I write this.

The music is all instrumental, and combines original pieces with arrangements of traditional tunes. Each track flows smoothly into the next, making it a delightful accompaniment to a day's activities. For this reason I can't pick out particular pieces to mention; each is nice in itself, but their full charm appears in context.

The packaging is attractive, too. I particularly like the insert dividing the year into its seasons and tree-months; while the content is a bit iffy, the art is lovely. The Celtic eagle done in American red, white and blue is a favorite of mine! The liner gives evocative comments on each piece that seem to complement them very well.

I do have a few quibbles, though not with the music. While the ordering of the individual pieces works well musically, it was quite a surprise to see songs about Lughnasah -- a harvest festival -- following immediately after Yule! I would have appreciated more information in the liner about the music itself, and more accurate and coherent accounts of the Celtic year. While this is music, not instruction, I believe that if instruction is included it should be both clear and accurate. The association of lunar months with different trees -- the Celtic tree calendar -- is generally attributed to author Robert Graves rather than the ancient Celts; there's little evidence that the Celts celebrated the solar holidays like the solstices and equinoxes; solstices and equinoxes are different events; and generally the dark half of the year is considered to start at Samhain (Halloween) and extend through the dark winter to Beltaine (May Day), with the light half extending through the summer. Fortunately, none of this is important to the enjoyment of the music.

I wouldn't recommend this CD to Celtic purists. I'm not a purist, and I like it very much indeed. The traditional Celtic elements are blended with the contemporary in a way that avoids the risk of blandness that sometimes happens in such a mix. It's beautiful music for an autumnal day.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 24 November 2001

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