Urban Celtic,
Urban Celtic
(self-produced, 2001)

My only quibble is the name.

When Stephen DiJoseph and Mary Kay Mann decided to call their duo Urban Celtic, I'm not sure what image they were trying to evoke. When I received their self-titled CD in the mail, I imagined some sort of industrial jig set, perhaps a touch of grunge, electric guitars screaming, or maybe songs by Snoop Angus Dogg.

Don't let the name scare you. Urban Celtic has put out a sweet, relaxing CD filled with lovely vocals and jazz-inflected Celtic traditionals.

Instrumentally, DiJoseph and Mann are a good match. He strides through the album laying down a sound on piano and keyboard, primarily, plus a bit of guitar and dumbek. She soars overheard with her collection of whistles and flutes, plus a harp. Their instrumental duos are a tasty treat, with jazz sensibilities lending a new flair to timeless traditional tunes such as "The Rights of Man," "Road to Lisdoonvarna/Cooley's Reel," "The Lark in the Clear Air" and "Scarborough Fair."

Both members sing, too, starting with Mann's dual vocals on "She Moved Through the Fair." I had to check and recheck the liner notes on this one, as I'd have sworn there were two distinct voices; but no, both vocal tracks are by Mann. DiJoseph shows his vocal chops on the American river song "Shenandoah," ranging his mellow tones against Mann's ethereal harmonies. She resumes lead vocals for the delicate, charming lullaby "All the Pretty Little Horses."

Joining Urban Celtic on the album are Jim Speer, who adds electric bass to "The Roving Galway Boy," and Daoud Shaw, who adds tambourine to the "Lisdoonvarna" set.

The vocals are good, but I'm glad there are only a few. It leaves plenty of room for Urban Celtic's distinctive instrumental style, which is unique enough to earn a place on the shelves of Celtic and jazz music lovers alike. Some tunes pick up the pace significantly, such the jig set "Merrily Kissed the Quaker/The Lilting Banshee/Kesh" with its upbeat whistle and dumbek duet. Otherwise, the album does tend to slow down a bit much for those seeking lively dance sets, but for those who like their music relaxing and peaceful, this is a treasure.

[ by Tom Knapp ]