Dance Like Flames
(Borealis, 2006)

Tanglefoot's most recent release crackles with the fiery full-throated energy for which the band is known.

The band is Steve Ritchie (rhythm guitar and vocals), Al Parrish (bass and vocals), Terry Young (guitar, mandolin, banjo and vocals), Bryan Wiermeier (keyboards and vocals) and Sandra Swannell (violin, viola and vocals).

Swannell is the first woman to be a permanent band member, and her fiddle turns up the heat, driving many of the songs. The low notes of her viola complement perfectly the songs in which it is played, and Swannell's smooth, rich vocals fill out and enhance the harmonies.

There are 11 tracks on the CD. All but one track is original material by present and past band members. The traditional track is "Paddle Like Hell," which combines two voyageur songs and features fierce fiddling from Swannell.

The songs feature slice-of-life stories often laced with humor, such as the rollicking and clever "Whiskey Trick" inspired by an entry in a lumberjack's journal (don't try this at home) and the mellifluous "Boot Soup." The latter is narrated by a former preacher to the trappers in the wilds of the Klondike who, in his later years, literally lunches out on tales of his rugged adventures. Meanwhile, "When Dad & Uncle Archie Lost the Farm" is an upbeat, jaunty old-timey song about foreclosure and bankruptcy.

"Hard Work" is a hard-hitting track sung a cappella and punctuated with hand claps and boot stomps. It catalogues the difficult, dangerous and often thankless jobs people have performed to sustain their nations. The title track "Dance Like Flames" chronicles the challenges and longings of a voyageur far from his home and his sweetheart. "Maggie" is a lively song about a woman determined to tame a river, no matter how long it takes. "His Empire & His Right" is about the British impressments of Americans that triggered the War of 1812, but the majestic anthem that opens and closes the song is timeless in that it resonates today.

Three of the tracks have contemporary settings. "Songwriter," a ballad like song about a hairdresser seeking deeper meaning from life, swings with a lilting fiddle and a waltz beat. "Lunenburg Skies" is Terry Young's love song to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and its annual music festival. Young's lead vocals and Swannell's viola add intense authentic emotion to the song.

The final track is "For the Day," an a cappella expression of gratitude by Steve Ritchie. The song gives thanks for everyday blessings; it is sincere and simple, but not simplistic.

Tanglefoot just keeps getting better with each album. Tight arrangements and heartfelt harmonies combine with original and intelligent lyrics into a rich and powerful listening experience with only one flaw: it's over way too soon.

review by
Donna Scanlon

1 December 2007

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