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THE IRON HORSE - "Demons & Lovers" - KRL CDLDL1265
JOHN PAUL CORMIER - "Another Morning" - Iona Records IRCD057

I've lumped these two CDs together because they're both recordings by established names who are moving into new musical pastures. The Iron Horse's fifth album is taking them from their traditional beginnings into the alluring mists of neo-Celtic dance-rock fusion, and J.P. Cormier is doffing the kilt, boots and long underwear of the Cape Breton fiddler in favour of the suede, strides and Stetson hat of a New Country singer-songwriter.

"Demons & Lovers" is a nice catchy title for a nice catchy album which is still on the traditional side of the Celtic landscape. It starts with a powerful instrumental set, three great tunes delivered by the wonderful fiddling of Gavin Marwick and the ever-improving piping of Annie Grace. The wailing 2-minute introduction gives you time to sit down, pour a dram, relax, put the cat out, sit down again, relax again, and take a sip or two. After that, "Demons & Lovers" holds the attention pretty well: plenty of great tunes from the pens of various band members, and some well-turned arrangements of traditional songs. "Auchindoon", a song I always associate with The Iron Horse, is given a lovely upbeat treatment, and "The Demon Lover" and "The Elphin Knight" explain the title.

As on their previous two recordings, The Iron Horse seem to have a taste for cryptic and fragmentary songs. The truncated version of "The Elphin Knight" is joined by the traditional "Anathea" and a pair of deep and meaningful compositions from Lynn Morrison and Annie Grace. This is the thin end of the neo-Celtic dance-rock fusion wedge: the thick end is supplied by the thumping percussion and basslines of Lee Agnew and Brian McAlpine. At times it's like a combination of Clannad and Wolfstone, but most of the time The Iron Horse pulls it off brilliantly. There's plenty of sex and violence, too, so this is probably still traditional music. I like it, anyway.

Exhibit B is the second album from J.P. Cormier on Iona Records. His first was the fine instrumental recording "Return to the Cape", and this one is very different. The instrumental side of things is still excellent, with J.P.'s multi-strung talents augmented by a bunch of country string-band players, but the raison d'etre of this CD is the round dozen songs which J.P. has written over the last few years. Although it declares itself to be New Country, this collection seems to me to be very much Nova Scotia nostalgia. The songs range from nostalgic to homesick and back again, with a touch of love and protest thrown in: standard folk-singer fare, delivered with a fine voice and a country drawl.

The lyrics and melodies are generally good, with some highs and lows. "Hell Freezin' Over" reminds me of Tom Lehrer's jibes at wishy-washy protest songs, but on the other hand J.P. has produced a first-class modern ballad in "Molly May

". There are a couple of New Country-ish songs here, "You Saw Me" and the amusing "My Life is Over", but on the whole this album owes more to the Celts than to the cowboys.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 26 of The Living Tradition magazine.