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CEOLBEG - "5" - Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX100

This is Ceolbeg's fourth album on the Greentrax label, but their fifth altogether, hence the title. (There's a little-known early recording which everybody's keeping very quiet about!) A glance at the cover photo may give the impression that Davy Steele and Gary West have grown beards, but in fact they have been replaced by Rod Paterson and Mike Katz respectively. This album has a slightly unco-ordinated feel as a result, with some tracks more like solos than band numbers, a bit like Battlefield's "New Spring" release. That said, most of the album is pure Ceolbeg.

Rod Paterson's voice is well known in the Scottish folk scene, and his renditions of the Burns songs "Willie Wastle" and "The Nodding Song" are powerful and compelling, with just enough humour. The arrangements are strongly reminiscent of "The Sauters" and "Seton's Lassie" from previous Ceolbeg albums. The final track, "The Gaberlunzie Man", is another version of "The Jolly Beggarman" given the Paterson treatment, and makes interesting listening alongside Davy Steele's version. Rod also makes his mark with the very moving song "The Presence". I'm not entirely convinced about the fifth song, Rod's own "India": maybe you had to be there.

Mike Katz has introduced some tasty piping compositions and some much less tasteful sleeve notes: I can't wait to meet him. On the evidence of this recording, his playing is a bit more traditional and a bit less firey than Gary's. His tunes "Les Freres Denis" and "A Skate in the Hand" are crackers, and he also gives us two great sets of classic piping tunes as well as some nice touches elsewhere.

Wendy Stewart has been promoted to lead vocals, and her version of "Cadal Cha" is one of the highlights: a fine voice, convincing Gaelic, and a sensitive arrangement of a beautiful song. She also contributes two instrumental compositions: I particularly liked the second one.

The other stalwarts all do sterling work, especially Colin Matheson on keyboards and Jim Walker on banged things. These two are never too much to the fore, which is the way I like it, but the occasional little riff adds bite and brilliance to the overall sound. Peter Boond is somewhat eclipsed by the pipes at times, but his flute adds depth and the odd touch of melancholy.

Ceolbeg have taken a step towards the traditional with this album, perhaps to have firmer ground under the feet of their new members, or perhaps to reflect the newcomers' interests: "Ceolbeg 6" will show us which. In any case, there's plenty of good stuff here with the distinctive Ceolbeg sound coming through strongly.

Alex Monaghan
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This album was reviewed in Issue 16 of The Living Tradition magazine.