Kate MacLeod: December 2017 Album of the Month


Deep in the Sound of Terra
Courier Music 007

Would you believe me if I told you that the best Celtic music album of the year was made by a  woman who hails from Washington, DC and now lives in Utah? You should. Kate MacLeod's Deep in the Soul of Terra was inspired by her reflections on the natural splendors of the West and her artist-in-residence stint with the Entrada Institute, an environmental and heritage center that celebrates the topography and human geography of the Colorado Plateau. But fear not; this is not a cup of herbal tea with a wide-eyed New Age devotee, rather a serious reflection on nature and the music it inspires.

 MacLeod kicksoff with "Blue Sky Prelude," a piece that immerses listeners rather than hooking them with clever licks. It has grandeur and atmospherics galore, but of the kind that evoke adjectives such as dreamy, museful, and mystical. Like everything on the record, it takes it time so that we are saturated and sink into the arrangement. Take a listen* to "The Land Before Man" set; it will be one of the best eight minutes of your life. You might catch a Western vibe from Skip Gorman's backing mandolin and James Scott's evocative guitar, but the overall effect I akin to one of Alasdair Fraser's more introspective works. "Assonet Bay" is another in that vein, especially in the purity of MacLeod's fiddle notes. Still another wondrous piece is the "Sand in the Breeze" set, which opens with a semi-classical feel before settling into a quiet, calm place and cutting to a fast take out. If you want to appreciate how good MacLeod is, consider that Kevin Burke is on this track—as second fiddle. MacLeod also strikes a formal pose on "Ice on Lake Mohonk," which brings to mind a courtly dance, and which finishes with "The Mohonk Jig." Don't think raucous pub; if ever the descriptor 'stately' applies to a jig, it's here.

This album is as brilliant as it is thoughtful. "The Oregon Trail" has a lonesome opening that cuts to a casual long trail saunter; you slow things down when you are small and the land is vast. You might expect some lickety split string action on a tune titled "The Train Across the Great Salt Lake," but this one leaves the depot slowly, gathers pace gently—listen for the train effects added by the band Otter Creek—and then settles into a comfortable groove. It ends by gliding into the station, not roaring to a stop. On the album's final track we are treated to MacLeod's vocal on the delicate and instantly likable "Let the Dove Come In." If you like Celtic music salted with hints of classical, bluegrass, and old-time music, you're going to love this one.

Rob Weir  

*This house concert recording is  a stripped down version of the album recording.

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