The Independence Suite
Celtic Crossings CC2004; 55 minutes; 2004
Amidst the welter of compilation album’s it is thoroughly gratifying to review one which has the distinct purpose of highlighting sometimes hard-to-find independent releases, rather than rehashing a label’s back catalogue or assembling a collection of hackneyed tracks in an attempt to make a quick buck.
However, The Independence Suite has a broader remit, as revealed by the presence of not just the Cape Breton fiddler Dougie MacDonald and the pianist Barbara of the same surname, but different family. Add to that a tremendous sean-nós song, Bríd Thomáis Mhurchadha from Connemara originating Áine Meenaghan and the sublime flute of Mícheál Ó hAlmhain (Dublin-born, Aran Islands-based) and listening to the album becomes a thoroughly engaging experience. Then there’s the only directly Scottish element which arrives in the form of the song Hé Mo Leannan from the Wisconsin group Navan, and, amnesia driven away, a set of reels from the Seattle fiddler Randal Bays’ new album Overland (and we are back to the Clare element once again, thanks to Randal’s former musical association with Martin Hayes!).
The Independence Suite is indeed a fine collection, but there are a couple of its elements which involve donning the curmudgeon’s cloak. Firstly, the liner cover is not especially inspiring and bears a remarkable proximity to the style employed by Topic’s Voice of the People series. The second relates entirely to the introductory liner notes which not only assume the existence of some entity called ‘Celtic music’, but splatter upper-case letters around as though the typographer had just received her or his redundancy payment, and, lastly, include remarkable statements such as ‘Step dancing too had its converts in Ireland, Scotland and Cape Breton’ as though there once was some terpsichorean mendicant sect of missionaries eager to sell dancing shoes. Those are exceptions, so ignore them – the music is just wonderful.
10th December, 2004