The Occasionals,
Down to the Hall
(Greentrax, 2006)

It is hard to beat Scottish country-dance music. There is a magic there that infects the mind and courses through the blood to the knee, ankle and foot. It is a strong-willed person who can listen to a band like the Occasionals and not tap along. Either that or he is stone deaf or dead.

On 21 tracks -- yes 21 -- and many of them featuring up to three tunes, you get more value here than a Scot can shake a sporran at. The joy is that you do not have to be Scottish to enjoy this bargain. With 20 years experience, the Occasionals are at the top of their game and it shows.

This album is what music is about. It captures the life and very soul of music played to elevate the heart but also the sole -- as in dancing. This is the elixir that drew and thankfully still draws thousands away from the cozy fire and the banal television programs. It leads them through vales and valleys -- sometimes through urban canyons -- to the hearts of communities to "the hall." Listen to this album and you can experience that wonderful phenomenon of the village dance. You can imagine the swirling music, the lads and lassies, the wee dram (or not depending, on the pastor).

The layout of the insert is ideal. Not only do you get the track lists -- and set makeup -- you also get the type of dance suited to each track. You can experience the "Britannia Two Step" or the "Hesitation Waltz." The track "The Balmoral Highlanders" is the right music for a Canadian barn dance and you can do the "Gay Gordon" to "Lord Lovat." A fascinating dance is listed as "The Russian Ballet," danced to "George Johnston." More familiar tunes are also on offer such as "Shoe the Donkey" for the Victory Waltz or "Cavan Girl" for the Killarney Waltz.

This is an album to raise you up on music.

by Nicky Rossiter
24 June 2006