Benjy Wertheimer & Michael Mandrell,
Notes from Celtistan
(Wolf Cub, 2007)

Benjy Wertheimer and Michael Mandrell have been playing together since 1999. Notes from Celtistan is their second CD. Mandrell plays guitar, while Wertheimer provides esraj (a stringed, bowed Indian instrument), tabla and other percussion, tamboura, keyboards and vocals. They are joined by guest musicians Heather Wertheimer and Michael Stirling.

"Celtistan" is an imaginary country where Celtic music meets Indian classical music, perhaps best exemplified by "Banish Misfortune," a traditional Irish fiddle tune. In this version, with Mandrell on guitar and Wertheimer on tabla, the sound is mellower than a fiddle, but still utterly recognizable.

The lengthy "Iberian Nocturne," which opens the CD, is another example of such intersection. The beginning Spanish-sounding motif is blended with other sounds to create something new.

Only two tracks have vocals. The sudden vocals during the extended tabla solo of "Bhagavan Dude" are startling but not unwelcome. The solo itself is amazing and one has to agree with the enthusiastic applause of the live audience. The other vocal track, "What Was the Question," was recorded at the same 2005 concert. Dedicated to Bosnian cellist Vedran Smailovic, the song includes an unusual and quite striking form of throat singing.

Notes from Celtistan is mostly mellow, sometimes startling, but always interesting.

[ visit Benjy Wertheimer's website ]

[ visit Michael Mandrell's website ]

review by
Laurie Thayer

17 May 2008

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