Survival ([email protected])

The Hour Before Dawn
Shanachie (

cd cover A Tale of Two CD's: It was the best of music, it was, well, not the worst of music, just a tad uninspired. Two top trad acts trot out their latest with differing degrees of success. Maybe it's just that Capercaillie's been at it longer, but they're sounding a little jaded on this one. Most tracks teeter on the edge of the easy-listening abyss, with tinkling piano and brushes on the drums. They've moved on from their Afro-Celt phase and now seem to be entering their lounge period. Karen Matheson's vocals barely get above a whisper, further cementing their new "too cool for school attitude." Even the jigs and reels sound phoned in, lacking any real spirit or bite.

cd cover In contrast, Solas' new one has a warmth and immediacy that draws the listener in. This is their first release with new vocalist Deirdre Scanlan. She'll of course have the misfortune of being compared to Karan Casey, and no, she is no Karan Casey. But while her voice lacks the lilting turn of phrase of Casey's it has a sweet, pure simplicity that is just right for the songs here. She seems to have found a kindred spirit in fiddler Winifred Horan, whose work on this one is truly inspired. "When My Love and I Parted," a traditional ballad featuring just voice and fiddle, is an expressive tour-de-force. Horan makes use of the fiddle's harmonic capabilities, contributing low, brooding sonorities under Scanlan's bell-like voice. The Andy Barnes-penned "Last of the Great Whales" could have been cloying in a lesser band's hands, but here it is heart wrenching. One caveat: this is an enhanced CD, but there's not really much in the way of visuals, just a video of "I Will Remember You," a couple of links and a small catalog. It could easily be skipped and not affect one's enjoyment of this CD. - Peggy Latkovich

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