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CAPERCAILLIE - "Beautiful Wasteland" - Survival Records SURCD021

This is as close as the folk world gets to 'music for lovers', sensual, evocative and smoother than Kojak's napper. Take one bottle of wine, one member of opposite/same/any sex, dim lights and stick "Beautiful Wasteland" on the CD player - passion guaranteed. You will certainly be seduced by Karen Matheson's voice which if it gets any sexier will mean an X certificate on the CD cover. Karen manages to flirt with the listener despite the traditional nature of the lyrics; emigration, travel, homesickness etc, although the clapping song "Co ni mire ruim" (who will flirt with me) seems appropriate.

Around Karen's voice a whole host of things are happening with fiddles, bouzoukis and even uilleann pipes (played by guest Michael McGoldrick). Special mention must be made of the percussion which brings a contemporary feel to the recording without ever getting in the way (not something that can be said of the crickets, real ones not Buddy Holly's cohorts, on "Am Mur Gorm"). The gentle integration of contemporary influences into traditional material is the Capercaillie trademark, here they also bring influences from Spain into the mix with "Sibeba" lending a Spanish slant to "Co ni mire ruim" and "in-exile". The contrast between Karen's smooth vocals and the freer singing of Paloma Loribo and Piruchi Apo works well and gives these tracks a slightly 'World' feel.

The flute, whistle and uilleann pipes of the aforementioned Michael McGoldrick pop up all over the place, and are used to great effect, especially on the McGoldrick/McKerron penned track "Kepplehall/25 kts", which is doggedly catchy. Michael and the band seem to be a marriage made in heaven, let's hope we hear more of their union.

While it's true that there are no show stopping songs on this CD there are no duffers either. Two penned by Donald Shaw, including the title track, one by Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean and a Gaelic one by Manus Lunny all prove very listenable with "Beautiful Wasteland" being the strongest. The traditional songs see Capercaillie on familiar ground although the addition of "Sibeba" gives them a fresher edge. "Puirt a beul" as you would expect creeps in everywhere. As with the instrumental tracks the arrangements are subtle and hand crafted. Every note and sound is carefully positioned to keep the listener interested (Donald Shaw's influence is even acknowledged by the band) in much the same way as Steely Dan used to do. The music may be different but the approach is the same.

This CD may have a lazy summer in Spain written all over it but that doesn't detract from the music in any way. "Beautiful Wasteland" is sophisticated music made by people who know what they are doing and more importantly care about it.

Now where's that bottle of wine?

Chris MacKenzie

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This album was reviewed in Issue 24 of The Living Tradition magazine.