Here Among Strangers
With members in both Boston and Boulder, it might seem that Siucra's latest release, Here Among Strangers, would seem a little disjointed. In 1998, Matthew and Shannon Heaton moved from Chicago to Boulder and formed Siucra with Boulder resident Beth Leachman. Their first CD, A Place I Know, earned them critical acclaim and followers mainly west of the Mississippi. Now that the Heatons have moved to Boston, however, the music remains as sweet as ever ("suicra" means "sugar" in Gaelic), and there's hope that the East Coast of the United States now will join the converted.
Siucra is a flute-driven traditional Irish band -- there's nary a fiddle here. Shannon Heaton learned how to play Irish flute in Chicago and Milwaukee, but she's since gone on to learn and play in Ireland itself. Leachman, a native Coloradan, studied sean nos singing and Gaelic in Ireland. Both Heatons also are classically trained musicians. Shannon's remarkable vibrato resonates against her husband's quick-moving guitar strings.
"The Strands of Magilligan," the opening track, sets the pace and indicates the group's style. It's the flute leading the way with the guitar carrying the rhythm. It's a get-up-and-dance number, a feel-good song with lines that should be Shannon Heaton's theme song, "the sound of a flute makes my heart ring."
Instrumental tracks feature all three musicians, with Leachman's bodran beating more of a rhythm with the guitar and flute. The flute generally carries the melody -- that which might traditionally be given to whistles or fiddles on tunes. (Whilst Shannon also plays whistles, it's her flute that tends to handle the solos.) The flute also begins "P is for Paddy," with the guitar and bodhran harmonies taking over during the verses, which also feature Leachman sharing vocals with Matthew. For a song about true love proven false, they definitely have managed to turn it into an upbeat, vibrant piece of music.
Although some of the tracks are traditional numbers ("Lovely Annie," "Peggy-O," various tunes), others are original compositions. Leachman's "Maeve's Grave" is a slow, thoughtful song inspired by her visit to the grave of Queen Maeve of Connaught. Both Heatons contribute tunes, including Shannon's "Winter in Craughwell," written after spending a Christmas in Galway. "The White Birds" sets Leachman's music against William Butler Yeats's poetry. The version on this CD is from a 2001 live recording in Boulder. It's fast-paced and gives Leachman's voice free reign to trill delightfully; her voice not only sounds authentic; it simply is a part of traditional Irish music, even if she hails from the Rocky Mountains. The closing track, "One Last Cold Kiss," is also live, this one from the Black Forest area near Colorado Springs. The song, learned from a Christy Moore, Donal Lunny and Jimmy Faulkner album, also allows Leachman's soprano to match Shannon's flute in terms of vibrato.
That this trio can sound so authentic is a credit to both their musical skills and apparent desire to take their sound to the highest level possible. Listen to this CD and pretend you're relaxing in small-town pub. It's a good thing you have the CD, though, since the local band may be playing larger venues in bigger cities in the near future.