Elizabeth Patterson,
(self-produced, 1997;
Banff, 1998)

I first saw Elizabeth Patterson with her flute beside her at a writer's workshop in her hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 1997. "Music To Read By" was the sign she had taped to her table. "Is it Celtic?" I asked. "Not really," she replied. In typical Cape Breton fashion she asked where I was from. "Judique," I said. "It's Celtic," she laughed, "at least a bit." I put my name on her list, to be contacted once her CD was released. Not until this year did I come across it and, remembering, purchased it.

It is Celtic -- not fiddle Celtic, but an enchanting blend of traditional and original tunes. She released Pengalleon first in 1997 and in 1998 it was re-released by Banff Music with three additional tunes. Originals are composed by both Patterson and David Burke, a Cape Breton musician. Burke, who adds piano, electric and acoustic guitar, mandolin, percussion and santur, also arranged and produced the album, which was recorded and mixed at Island Recordings in Frenchvale, Nova Scotia.

It's all about travel. Bring your pillow, hot tea and book to a cozy chair if that's your usual way of exploring, but the CD is really too interesting not to give it your full attention. Play it on a long quiet drive, and like the mariners who traveled the world over in the days of sail, you'll have visions of storms a-brewing, sails a-gusting and waves a-chopping or indolently rolling, and you'll hear exotic sounds from foreign wharves.

"Pengalleon" is definitely a reference to the sea, and about the title cut the liner notes state, "A sea shanty, sort of, it should remind you of galleons and ships from long ago, and if it doesn't, tough." Whimsy and strength, this is a flute instrumental that displays both.

Burke shakes fresh flavour into the traditionals. Beginning with "The Carrion Crow," then "The Bold Tenant Farmer," "Star of the County Down" and "The Skye Boat Song," it's a mix that I haven't tired of hearing yet. There's no harshness in Patterson's flute: no grating, or whining. It's soothing and uplifting, never flat or cloying.

In "Dark Waters," Patterson has created a lingering, moody, melody, and conversely, "Imagine The Day" expresses a lightheartedness that takes you skimming over waves in the sunshine. I found shades of Jamaica in "Mahone Bay," and listening to her seventh cut, "Arabesque Under One," I could taste sand in my mouth and imagine the sway of a camel (ship of the desert?) beneath me.

"Phoenix," composed by Burke, is a smooth guitar piece and with the flute added creates a rich flow of sound. I envisioned seagulls gliding between masts in a busy harbour. "Piper's Lament" has deep drum reverberations, shades of lonely emigrants and the military tradition of the clans. "The Skye Boat Song" is drawn out, expressing tension and yearning without verbalization, and is my favorite rendition of the tune.

The title cut, "Pengalleon," is brisk and rousing, while "Farewell You All," the final selection, echoes a lonely fog horn and the evocative pull of the sea on all who live near.

Never monotonous, Patterson generously lets each melody celebrate its own voice, letting the tunes and not the player be the focus. I'm interested in where she goes from here with her newest work, Tidal Wheel.

[ by Virginia MacIsaac ]