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OPEN HOUSE "Second Story" Green Linnet GLCD1144

This spellbinding set of mainly Celtic delights from American-Irish band Open House had me first of all reminiscing about, and finally rooting through the vinyl for, those early benchmark Patrick Street albums. The feel is the same and so, in the congenial shape of Kevin Burke, is the fiddler. Master-fiddler Burke, as far as most of the important developments in Irish music are concerned, has been there and done that: from The Bothy Band to Patrick Street, with many important stops in-between. This, then, has to be an album worth seriously looking at.

Open House is very much a real band - this is not a "solo" album by any other name - and a really good band it is too. Mark Graham, harmonica and clarinet, Paul Kotapish, guitar and mandolin and Sandy Silva, foot percussion are all at the top of their respective trades and together create a fascinating blend of sounds and styles. The spotlight falls equally on all members of the band but the Burke imprint is never far from centre stage. And this is the ability to make music that doesn't so much lift as float. On "Patrick Street's All In Good Time", there's a tune by him called "Light and Airy" and there's no better way to describe his approach to the music. This is best heard here on the beautiful minor mode jigs "Devlin's" and "The Trip to Bantry" and on a haunting set of slow reels called "Ryan's".

But the band can really rip too and their version of Andy Irvine's "Take No Prisoners" does exactly as instructed, while "Chinquapin Hunting" trucks along on mandolin and harmonica as fast as even Four Men and A Dog could manage. There are plenty of surprises and after the opening trad tracks a vamping harmonica takes off on a Merengue to the accompaniment of some very intricate "foot percussion", which you now, of course, realise means dancing! "Bourrees de Berri", featuring Mark Graham again, but this time on clarinet, is a set of swirling, hypnotic dance tunes from the Berry region of central France (which has a Saltarelle melodeon named after it). Other high points are the schmaltzy Gypsy fiddle tune "Flowers of the Forest" and the wonderful meandering clarinet on "The Ebb Flow", which heads straight for those little hairs on the back of your neck.

There are also three vocal tracks on the album, all written by Mark Graham and all of them funny. "Jackson and Jane" is about food, heart disease and "aerobical dance" (" ... work out at the club, just past the post office right next to the pub") and in The Classical Greek, Aristotle rhymes with bottle in a witty little ditty that reminded me of Monty Python's Four Bruces sketch. All of them are funny but "Monkey with a Typewriter" is decidedly peculiar "down in the jungle" bluesy nonsense with gravel-voice vocals. The singing, it must be said, is less than great and these rough-edged songs sit a little uncomfortably with the well-honed tunes, but the lyrics are a bit special.

This album has originality, variety, great musicianship and some very intoxicating sounds. So, this is Open House and it's very much a five-star establishment.

Kevin Parker

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This album was reviewed in Issue 9 of The Living Tradition magazine.