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CALICO - "Celanova Square" - Ossian OSSCD100

Irish group in Euro music shocker ... It has been a fair criticism of a lot of Irish bands that they never venture far from Erin's green shore in search of material. Calico features Diarmaid Moynihan on uilleann pipes, Tola Custy on fiddle, Donncha Moynihan on guitar and Pat Marsh on bouzouki and were originally formed with the intent of exploring ideas of fusing contemporary arrangements with Irish and Breton music.

It seems that along the road some of this fusion notion may have been diluted for what their debut album of completely instrumental tracks shows is a very competent quartet playing robust, workmanlike but latterly bog standard Irish tunery of a very high calibre.

Produced by ex-Moving Hearts' Declan Sinnott, the first three tracks show a lot of promise. "Covering Ground", the opener, is a contemplative almost ruminative piece, exquisitely played and is complemented by the set of Breton tunes which follow and are given a new perspective played on the Irish pipes, with a cracking acoustic funk feel on the last tune. Some jazz tinged whistling follows in the set "Two Days to Go" before the rest of the album unfolds as a series of reels, jigs, reels which are undoubtedly superbly played, but never match the individuality of the opening sets.

The sleeve notes state "Celanova Square" is as much about chords as it is about melody and this is a fair reflection on all the material represented here, well crafted with a terrific syntax of understanding with each player's capabilities, notably on tracks like "The Malbay Shuffle" and "The Hidden Note". The obligatory slow set features a terrific coupling of "Above and Beyond" with a tribute to fiddle player P.J. Hayes and ably demonstrates Declan Sinnott's 'hands off' style of production, providing the minimum of synth backing that never intrudes on the beauty of the tunes.

The problem with these remaining sets is that they are all one-paced throughout, and lack the scope of arrangement and textures that the openers realise. A strong debut, but lacking that essential edge to set them apart from the pack.

Iain McQueen

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This album was reviewed in Issue 27 of The Living Tradition magazine.