Stuart Martz Band,
Threesome Reel
(Atomic Theory, 1997; 2005)

If you're looking for traditional music with a twist, give the Stuart Martz Band a try. This trio has taken a collection of popular folk tunes and rocked them up until they are toe-tapping contemporary rock. Following in the outstanding traditions of Great Big Sea, Jethro Tull and Colcannon, the Stuart Martz Band makes the crossover from folk to rock with finesse, and they may well grow into being another of the all-time greats of such crossover bands. The result of their first recording is pure fun.

Featuring Stuart Martz on violin, guitar, and vocals, the group is rounded out with John Wright's bass and Matt Jacobs' percussion. On the face of it, the instrumentation looks like it should sound fairly ho-hum. But the group jazzes up old standards and brings aboard such guests as Sean Conway on flute, Mark Stillman on midi-accordion, Pat Broaders on uilleann pipes, and Norton Lawellin on additional percussion, and so this music stands up to multiple playings with pizzazz. Lead lines typically heard on bagpipes or fiddle are played here on electric guitar. This can be quite fascinating, as on the opening track, "Atholl Highlanders." The only real complaint I have is that it tends to be mixed a bit heavy on the bass, but that is easily remedied if you turn the balance a bit over towards the treble.

The choice of tunes is terrific: "The Diamond," "The Rakes of Kildare," "Frealach," "Rockin' The Cradle," "10,000 Miles," "The Butterfly," "Banks of Ponchartrain," and "The Musical Priest," to name a selection of the traditional gems represented here. Martz's fiddle flies with fury on the jigs. His lead vocals are contemporary but presented with feeling. In short, there is no chance of losing the essence of these traditional tunes, but the sound is nothing if not modern. There are also three non-traditional selections, including a rollicking version of Luka Bloom's "You Couldn't Have Come at a Better Time," and two Stuart Martz originals. The originals have obvious stepping-off points from traditional stories or lyrics.

In short, if you like traditional music with a cutting-edge sound, you should try Threesome Reel.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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