Marcille Wallis,
A Celtic Heritage
(Celtic Heritage, 2004)

The dulcimer is probably not the first instrument that comes to mind when thinking of traditional instrumental Celtic music. This misconception might lead people to dismiss this album out of hand, and that would be their great loss. Marcille Wallis plays the hammered dulcimer beautifully, and manages to be both innovative and conservative at the same time. Her music occasionally has a medieval sound, but is always lovely and often lively.

Many of the pieces are traditional or, at the very least, quite old. Versions of "Barbara Allen," "The Rose of Tralee" and "Greensleeves" are all worth a listen. Although they have been recorded a multitude of times before, Wallis's arrangements don't make them sound tired or worn. Wallis also appears to have a love of Burns, as several of the pieces are instrumental versions of his songs. Particularly well done is "Miss Admiral Gordon's Strathspey/O A' the Airts," with a vibrant fiddle to contrast with the softer dulcimer.

"Eleanor Plunkett" is a soft aire, while "David Glen's Jig" has a stateliness to it. "Lochleven Side/Atholl Highlanders" begins slowly before changing to a more upbeat tune. "Greensleeves," although a tune many times recorded, rarely goes wrong. Wallis does a fantastic job of this ancient song including some inspired syncopation. The lively "Off to California/Blair Atholl/Mason's Apron" provides a nice counterpart to the more subdued previous and following tunes and gives the lead over to the fiddle for a part of the set. If this set of tunes doesn't make you want to dance, nothing will! Ending on a slow note, "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" has a melancholy air to it.

The music is skillfully accompanied by several musicians who provide a very suitable background for Wallis's dulcimer. The fiddle, played by Frances Pisacane, is well used throughout. Ann Margaret McKillop on harp and Michael DeLalla on guitar both blend well with the other instruments. Special guest Matt Miller plays on "Miss Admiral Gordon's Strathspey/O A' the Airts" to great effect. The final product is a full, rich sound. Wallis's dulcimer never overpowers the other instruments and is never overpowered by them. Wallis knows exactly when to let the other instruments take the lead making the most of the highly skilled musicians.

Wallis' album is a beautiful collection of traditional Celtic instrumental music. This is an album you will want to listen to over and over again. The range of tempos and styles ensure that the music is never boring or repetitive. For anyone interested in exploring their own Celtic Heritage, this album is a wise investment.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 18 June 2005

[ visit the artist's website ]