Loftus 003

If the fiddlers of Celtic Fiddle Festival were animals, Ireland’s Kevin Burke would be a chimney swift swooping and diving on the wings of a melody, Brittany’s Christian Lemaítre would be a seal sporting in a musical pool by chasing his own hind flippers, and Quebec’s André Brunet would be a rearing dancing horse whose swaying upper body is controlled by the constant clip-clop clogging of his lower half. This is the second album from the current lineup and it surpasses the excellence of the first. Ged Foley’s steady hand on guitar keeps the fiddlers in line as they work their way through reels, jigs, gavottes, waltzes, and pipe tunes, and the fiddlers let him strut his considerable stuff on “Sir Sydney Smith’s March” which he gives a light classical touch. As the French title suggests, it’s also an album that emphasizes Quebec and Breton accents as much as Irish lyricism. This is a full realized effort by Brunet, the heir apparent to the late Johnny Cunningham bon vivant spirit. His “Reel Desjarlis” set grabs you by the lapels, forces you to dance, and doesn’t relent until you’re exhausted and smiling. But as in all Celtic Fiddle Festival projects, it’s the full ensemble playing that takes us from lofty heights and deposits us atop dizzying pinnacles. “Louis’ Waltz” is suitably subdued, but it gives way to a Swedish schottische that’s considerably quicker in pace. And do check out the whimsical “Reel de Napoleon,” which manages to be simultaneously jumpy and smooth.

There's a good YouTube sampler of the group.


Windward Away
Red House Records 124

Archie Fisher has performed since 1962, but Windward Away is just his sixth solo album. Like the previous five, it’s a keeper. It resembles Sunsets I’ve Galloped Into (1995) in that it’s poetic, instrumentally sparse, and indulges Fisher’s love of horses. It might even be a tad derivative, but since Sunsets is a certified masterpiece, who cares? Among the eleven new tracks are several destined for long lives. Fisher’s sensitive-soon-to-be-definitive take on “Bonnie Border Lass” would be the album’s centerpiece, were it not for the stunning “Every Man’s Heart.” Inspired by the Annie Proulx novel The Shipping News, the song muses on how women complete men. “Before Eternity” will probably also get a workout by performers seeking to set wistful moods. For a man who turns seventy next year, Fisher’s voice retains its distinctive buttery qualities. Although he complains in the liner notes of his “limited range,” one has to crawl pretty far down the low ends to detect a quaver, and the high range never was his turf.
Windward Away comes with eight bonus tracks from a rediscovered master of an aborted project from the 1970s. Among them are the earliest takes of now-cherished songs such as “Ashfields and Brine,” “Cullins of Home,” and “Joy of My Heart.” The master proves several things; first, 1970s arrangements are largely forgettable. When one compares the excess-posing-as-lushness orchestral backing of “The Final Trawl” with what made it to release, it’s hard not to thank Fisher for waiting. Above all, though, the master confirms that Fisher has lost a step, but not a stride.



Not Far Now
Signature Sounds

This record may be the best release of the decade. Richard Shindell is the master of point-of-view, sometimes playing the dispassionate observer, but often inhabiting the very soul of one of his characters. In “A Juggler Out in Traffic,” he’s the holy fool entertaining the self-absorbed; in “One Man’s Arkansas” and again in “State of the Union,” he’s the American Dream gone busted and looking for the survivor’s edge. Those who caught a Shindell concert last fall may have heard him sing “Balloon Man” as a work in progress; hear it now as a finished product and you’ll understand how editing transforms goodness into greatness. Shindell wraps his poetic vision in moody, moving arrangements. Check out his cover of Dave Carter’s “The Moutain” in which he wrings emotion from minimalist piano. The thinking man’s folk singer has just raised the bar to the next level.


Tangled Tales
Surfdog Records

Dan Hicks used to drum with the acid rock band The Charlatans. That was the last time anyone could pigeonhole him. Hicks chucked the rock god scene for … you name it! Tangled Tales is musical jambalaya—spicy and chocked full of ingredients. You’ll hear Django Reinhardt licks one moment, Hawaiian guitar the next, plus everything from jug band and country-swing to cowboy jazz and bluegrass. Not even Dylan would recognize what Hicks and slide-guitarist Roy Rogers do to “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” “Blues My Naughty Baby” sounds like jump jazz from the 1940s, and the title track is what you’d get if you threw the Andrews Sisters, Cab Calloway, and bennies into a blender. Quirkiness and dry wit infuse this album, and sidemen like Rogers, Charlie Musselwhite, and David Grissman make sure the jambalaya is well seasoned.