Morgaine Le Fay,
Up She Flew
(self-produced, 1997)

For the first few minutes of "Swamp Lake," Morgaine Le Fay allows you to believe that Up She Flew is another traditional Celtic CD. Good stuff but hardly surprising. A few odd licks on the fiddle, sure, but nothing exceptional.

But then Jamie Snider starts singing "Hand Me Down My Fiddle," one of his original songs, and you start to wonder -- shouldn't that voice go with down-south blues, not Irish music? And Patrick O'Gorman's bagpipes have gone harsh and discordant. What's up with that??

It doesn't take long to realize that Morgaine Le Fay is not a typical Celtic band. The quartet of Ontario-based musicians are full of surprises and, while it's surely not traditional, it is exceptional.

Besides Snider (vocals, fiddle, guitar) and O'Gorman (Highland pipes, wooden flute, whistles), Morgaine Le Fay is October Browne (acoustic, fingerstyle and electric guitars, cittern, mandolin, vocals) and Howard Gaul (drums, percussion), plus guest Victor Bateman (electric and acoustic bass).

By track 4, "Sandwood Down to Kyle," Browne has revealed her own vocal talents as well; again, she's not a typical Celtic-style singer. Rather, she sounds like someone cut loose from an alternative-folk band, rough-edged and sultry. By "Naked and Small," a Browne original, you're ready to pack a bag and follow that voice down some nameless road.

Meanwhile, O'Gorman makes the most of the jazzed-up bagpipe styles which earned him a great deal of attention with Rare Air. Snider, once of Figgy Duff, makes free with the fiddle and keeps up his bluesy vocals. Gaul and Bateman keep the music pumped with jazz and rock rhythms. (Track 6, "Streets of Montreal/The Busking Reel," is a grand example of the band's cracklin' energy.)

Morgaine Le Fay takes a basic Celtic framework and proceeds to break all the rules. Take "John Come Sell Your Fiddle," another instrumental set which starts off sounding purely traditional. When Snider begins to sing, your perspective skews into a new reality. And wait 'til you hear his vocal duet with Gaul's drums in his "Home and Away" -- a tune enhanced further when O'Gorman's pipes and Browne's vocals join for the ride. The fiddle and whistle riffs on "Heather in the Valley" drive home that distinctive flair. And when Browne launches into the galloping lyrics of "The Gate," another original, you're completely hooked.

It's too bad this band hung together for less than eight years and produced just two albums; I'm really curious where this style would have grown. I suspect they'd have flourished ... but at least we have this keepsake to remember them by, and imagine the possibilities.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 14 July 2001