6/10/10

Noah Earle's Latest Lacks Spark


NOAH EARLE
This is the Jubilee

MayApple Records 0224
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Ever listen to a record that just didn’t grab you, stash it away, pick it up months later, listen again, remember all the songs, and have exactly the same reaction you did the first time? That’s my take on Noah Earle’s latest. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the record and it’s miles from being a bad effort. At the end of the day, though, there’s just not enough spark to kindle any kind of fire. There are too many mid-tempo songs, there aren’t any meaty instrumental licks, and the most-memorable melody is “Pinche G├╝era,” which is in Spanish so most of us can’t even sing along. The central idea of the songs is redemption—wrongs made right, but not quite square on the ledger sheet. Alas, it’s also a metaphor for my disinterest in the record; like its theme This is the Jubilee is a ‘tweener’ that lacks a discernible identity lyrically, thematically, or musically. It begs a question. What if the jubilee came, we were told we’ve been saved, and all we can think of to say is: “From what?”

6/7/10

Solas Turning Tide Not Up to Snuff


The weak link is on the far right.


SOLAS
The Turning Tide
Compass Records 7-4530-2
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I’m about to commit an act of Celtic heresy. Here goes. The new album by Solas is mediocre and not worth the sticker price. I utter these words cognizant of the fact that mighty Solas is probably the most-beloved of all Irish-American bands—the sort that sells out a venue at the mere mention of its name. I make it also knowing that very few bands play the “big set”—those suites of fiery reels and galloping jigs—with the verve, energy, and excitement of Solas. I make it even though the new record has several of these. Heck, they even have one titled “Hugh’s Big Set.” And I insist it’s a lackluster effort despite the fact that there are spectacular passages on the album. “The Crows of Killimer” uses Seamus Egan’s clean flute notes to set the stage for other instruments to surge and swell, “A Waltz for Mairead” uses split-second stops from Winifred Horan’s fiddle to infuse a dirty-dance feel to the music, “Grady Fernando Comes to Down” has the lickety-split ambience of a train barreling into the station, “Trip to Kareol” uses percussion dramatic enough for a Wagner opera, and “A Tune for Roan” is it’s fragile-as-glass polar opposite.

So how can I not love this record? The problems begin when the instrumentalists lower their profile and Mairead Phelan steps up to the mic to sing. Most people would say that she has a classically beautiful voice and I’d not dispute that. But when you cover songs written or popularized by Richard Thompson, Josh Ritter, Bruce Springsteen, Sandy Denny, and Karine Polwart, you’d better have the muscle, fire, and passion to back them up. Double the need if you’ve replaced a spitfire such as former Solas vocalist Karan Casey. If Phelan possesses such traits, I’ve not witnessed them. This is the second recording in which I’ve listened to her swallow more air than the average drowning victim. To cut to the chase, if I wanted to hear someone sing in a breathless little girl voice, I’d go to a recital at my local elementary school. Phelan joined Solas in 2008 and she was entitled to a “break-in” period. Two years on it’s time to grow or go. It’s one thing to use songs to slow the pace, but it’s quite another to bring things to a screeching halt. The contrast between instrumentals and songs on The Turning Tide makes me think Solas must have had the Bay of Fundy in mind.