various artists,
Celtic Mystique: Women of Song
(Life Beats, 1999; Etherean, 2002)

The nearest large town is awash in Celtic tunes. There's a local radio show devoted to Celtic music, a couple groups of Celtic heritage buffs and even a shop for "Things Celtic." With all this, there isn't a lot of agreement on what "Celtic" music is. Those who think it needs a specific range of instruments available in the 17th century are balanced and enraged by those who think anything backed by harps earns the title. Rising above all this is Celtic Mystique: Women Of Song. Through a wide range of tunes and styles 12 artists carry the Celtic banner without dropping or twisting it.

Moira Kerr opens with the tale of "MacIan Of Glencoe," a song of betrayal and immortal honor. Vocals that sound like a lingering soul sharing its story are paired with appropriately haunting music. This vocal-driven song is followed by Elyra Campbell's wordless "The Heather She Grows/Island Spinning Song," a clear, sweet ode to the Highlands paired with a trippingly fast working song. Sheila Ryan's version of "Danny Boy" revives the poignancy of a song bruised by too many drunken karaoke nights. The slower pace is turned to profound use in "Circle of Stones," whose tentative opening verse is soon left aside for a powerful chant that captures the feel of the stones.

There are some disappointments. I'm shut out from Anne Martin's melodic "Oran Leannan Sidhe" by the lack of translated lyrics. The energy and strength of Gabrielle Angelique's "Ancient Souls" is weakened by an ill chosen spoken-word bridge. The smoother sound available with modern sound mixing techniques and instruments isn't always well suited to the song. Sharon Murphy flexes her strong voice to fine effect in "Homes of Donegal," but the music soon acquires a synthesized feel. While not unpleasant, it does strip the timeless feel Murphy has when left to her own voice.

Yet even when Celtic Mystique is flawed, it highlights the beauty of the songs, as the lulling "Prayer for St. Symin" heightens the power of drums in Darby DeVon's "Highlands." The modern touches are woven in with the traditional beauty of Celtic music to create fine new colors without losing the old pattern. Celtic music has a rich tradition to look back on. These women of song are spinning a strong future for it to live in.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 7 December 2002

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