Hop 2 It
(self-produced, 2003)

Natterjack, a Celtic ensemble from Vermont, takes its name from the endangered natterjack toad, Ireland's only native amphibian. A quirky name deserves a quirky sound, and Natterjack delivers.

The focal point of this band is Heidi Ames, who plays flute, whistle and guitar. She is also the band's sweet-voiced singer, a real pleasure to hear. She makes our acquaintance on "Duffy the Dancer," a nice family-values song about an artist who loves to dance whenever his daughters play. On "Seven Yellow Gypsies," the old story has a twist; the lady of the manor is still lured away, but this time, the lord tracks her down and hangs the gypsies who took her.

I can't emphasize enough how sweet Heidi's voice is. Besides excellent tone, she has a great storytelling quality, very expressive. She tells a tale of loss in "My Johnny," in which her mild-mannered shoemaker beau goes to sea. "Paddy" is a deep and touching song that draws on the various popular "Paddy on the --" tunes, but here describes a husband and father who abandoned his family to roam. More lively is "Muirsheen Durkin," a cheerful song of emigration to America.

As good as Heidi is, the band stumbles a bit when fiddler/guitarish Allen Church shares lead vocal duties on "Old Shoes." Allen provides some fine backing vocals throughout, but here in the spotlight his voice isn't as strong, and the two voices don't blend very well.

The band is no slouch at instrumentals, either, and the album boasts several excellent instrumental tracks. I just love track 2, "Big J," which has an amblin' swing pace and a perfect balance of instruments, swapping leads between Heidi's flute and Allen's fiddle. The set gains a bit of urgency as it progresses. "Blue Toads" is another great swing set, sashaying between mellow fiddle and tripping flute.

Besides Heidi and Allen, the band features Steve Ames (accordion), Dave Didomenico (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin), Dov Schiller (percussion) and Brian Woods (bass).

There is a wonderful, relaxed feel to this band that I really enjoy. There are also a lot of interesting touches, percussion and other instrumentation that step outside the Celtic tradition and add a distinctiveness to the music without being blatantly rock-oriented or drawing on a specific ethnicity.

The band owes much of its excellence to Heidi's voice, but the musicians and their arrangements deserve a lot of credit, too. Natterjack is a fine New England band that bears watching!

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 25 October 2003