The Shards,
Beggar's Road
(self-produced, 2001)

Their name notwithstanding, there are no missing pieces in Beggar's Road, the debut recording from the Shards.

Based in Owen Sound, Ontario, this Celtic/folk band has a few country inflections in its music, but the big picture here is clear: lively arrangements of original songs, all weaving excellent musicianship with engaging vocals from several singers.

I was surprised to learn that every song but one (an emotional "Blacksmith") is original to the band. The songs are for the most part fresh and spirited, colorful and fun. Bob Robins (guitars, bouzouki) is the band's heavyweight when it comes to writing, and his work definitely has a traditional air about it. In fact, while listening to this album for the first few times, I was wondering why I hadn't heard some of these songs before.

Honestly, there isn't a throwaway track on the disc. The disc opens with the delightfully cheerful "Ceilidh in the Glen," then turns a few shades darker with "The Mariner." A good deal of the album is upbeat, such as the bouncy "Dancer" and "Michaela," but there are other moods as well -- such as the working man's struggle in "West Island Rail," the proud "Molly B" and the mysterious "Black Tower."

Instrumentally, the Shards ranges from traditional arrangements featuring powerful fiddle licks to a heavier mix dominated by flute and percussion -- at times surprisingly reminiscent of Jethro Tull.

Besides Robins, the band is Larry Dickinson (bass, whistle, flute, lead and harmony vocals), Dave Farrar (drums, percussion, lead and harmony vocals), Justine Maw-Farrar (lead and harmony vocals) Kevin Moyse (keyboards, accordian, lead and harmony vocals) and Sandra Swannell (fiddle, viola, harmony vocals).

The Shards are a welcome addition to my music collection, and I expect Beggar's Road will be a regular feature in my listening rotation. And if I don't see something new from this band cross my desk soon, I'll be very disappointed! The Shards are too good to stay silent for long.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 16 June 2002