After a nice summer break, -admittedly a bit longer than beforehand anticipated- CeltCast’s review team is singing back in action. With a bigger team than before -more on that later in the month- and a load of lovely new albums waiting in line to be introduced. Keep an eye out for new music from
EMIAN PaganFolk Music
Twigs & Twine
(formerly known as TWIBV), the Spanish band
and the German folk band
. Yep the coming months are gonna be busy.
But before all that we kick off the new review season with our second CeltCast Classic: ‘Yet We Sing’ by
This album was suggested by
, or actually the band was, because after I said yes I got a huge pile with five albums to listen to :-D. It goes without saying that Ilona is a huge fan of Cara’s music, and I have to say, while working on this review I’ve become a fan too.
So here’s the link to the review telling all about this Irish folk band from Germany. Enjoy the read and enjoy their music.
Until next time
Cliff and the review team!
We didn’t focus that much on pure Irish folk CDs in this review section yet,
Three Strand Braid,
From The East Unto The West and of course
early works are the only ones I can think of. But that is about to change. A while ago I got the request from Ilona to review one of her favourite bands, together with a pile of music to listen to. The band is called
and the music doesn’t get more Irish than this, even though Cara are a German band. Since their origins in 2003 the band produced 7 CDs, toured the better part of Europe, became successful in the USA, even being voted best new artist of 2009 and top group of 2010 with the
Irish Music Association.
They were also nominated for a best record award three times. In 2007 in Germany for the CD In Between Times and in 2010 Long Distance Love was nominated, not only in their homeland Germany but also again with the Irish Music Association based in the USA, so you can safely say that Cara have had a successful career up till now. It was almost Inevitable that they would be the second band featured in the CeltCast Classics series. So let’s introduce Cara a bit more.
It all started in 2003 when Gudrun Walther (vocals, fiddle and accordion, left on picture), Jürgen Treyz (guitar, right on picture), Sandra Steinort (vocals, piano and flute) and Claus Steinort (uilleann pipes and flute) formed Cara. Shortly after Rolf Wagels (bodhrán) joined and in this formation the band recorded the studio albums In Colour (2004) and In Between Times (2007) followed by a live CD and DVD called In Full Swing (2008). From 2007 onwards Cara did several tours throughout America, gaining more and more success. It was in these years that Cara won the two Irish Music Awards. Also at this point Sandra and Claus Steinort couldn’t mix the busy tour live with their other obligations and decided to leave the band.
In the video above you see the original line-up playing Please Be Peter – taken from their second CD In Between Times – live at Bonfeld Folk im Schlosshof 2008.
They were replaced by Jeana Leslie, winner of the BBC radio 2 young folk awards (vocals, piano and flute) and multiple all Ireland uilleann pipes champion Ryan Murphy. You could call it a winning line-up. The result was Long Distance Love that came out in 2010.
In 2013 Jeana Leslie started studying *) and in her place Scottish singer/songwriter Kim Edgar joined the band. In that line-up the band recorder Horizon (2013). In 2014 Ryan Murphy had to leave the band due to his busy schedule **) and he was replaced by German uilleann pipe player Hendrik Morgenbrodt. With this line-up the band recorded the albums Yet we sing (2016) and their latest CD Live (2018). Shortly after that long time member Rolf Wagels left the band and Aimée Farrell Courtney was welcomed in the Cara family.
The debut In colour
With all those line-up changes you would think that the sound of the band changed tremendously over the years, but actually it didn’t. It’s still lovely Irish folk music, featuring female vocals, uilleann pipe, flute and violin. All in a clean, calming and almost fragile way. I didn’t hear any distorted instrument or forced singing note on any of the CDs. From the first notes of the opening track on the debut CD In Colour it is clear that the strongest point in Cara’s music are the stunning vocals. The voices of Gudrun Walter and Sandra Steinort are beautiful, crystal clear and work really well together. (As does the combination of Gudrun together with Kim Edgar on later albums.) The harmonies between the two ladies are beautiful. The clean sound of the guitar, violin and uilleann pipes even enhance those lovely voices. Track one, The King And The Fair Maid, is a cheerful introduction into Cara’s music that made me eager for more. Luckily there is more, a lot more actually. You have Three Ravens for example. A beautiful ballad that is a bit in the tradition of Twa Corbiez. The way it is sung reminds me a lot of Gwendolyn Snowdon on her album Three Strand Braids. Or listen to There Is Light, the last song on In Colour. It starts as a lullaby, so tender and fragile with a lovely piano accompaniment – not to mention the acoustic guitar solo in it – but it ends as a grand acoustic power ballad.
From the CD In Between Times (2007) I could name the uptempo, slightly eerie Poisoned Peas with it’s lovely harmony singing and the fast pace of the guitar and uilleann pipes in it, I could name the strong ballad The House Carpenter or I could mention The Maid Of Whitby a nice upbeat song, with a slight country slide guitar in there and a lovely violin solo. This song makes me think of an acoustic version of
Both CDs are lovely examples of Irish folk. They have an almost 50/50 balance between instrumental – and vocal songs, all well played. Both In colour and In Between Days will not look out of place in any folk collection.
Cara playing Odd Rhythms a song written by Jürgen Treyz, taken from the 2013 album Horizon
Now I didn’t have the pleasure to listen to In Full Swing (2008) or Long distance Love (2010) yet, so I pick up the story with the 2013 album Horizon. For me the odd one out. On this CD Cara chose a more pop orientated production, with a electronic keyboard sound at times and a strong bass guitar. It turns the feel of the music in a mix of folk and soul/jazz, even funk/jazz in some songs. Just listen to Master Of Consequence or Odd Rhythms, both instrumental songs sound like funk legends
gone folk music. It takes a bit of getting use to but it actually works. Good examples are the upbeat jazz/folk instrumental Big Jigs or the pop-like Be Gone. Other highlights on Horizon are the beautifully sung ballad Blood, Ice And Ashes -think
meets Irish folk – and the more country orientated ballad The Bonny Lad. Cara are sooo good with their ballads, it is really one of their strong points.
Yet We Sing, The CeltCast Classic
With the 2016 album Yet We Sing, Cara pick up their old sound again, losing the pop/jazz production of Horizon. Opening A Leaf For A Sail is another one of those beautiful ballads that Cara are so well known for. With a theme and a feel that takes me back to
The North Star Grassman And The Ravens and a feel that reminds me a lot of Gwendolyn Snowdon’s interpretation of that song on Three Strand Braid. The Elfin Knight could also have been on Three Strand Braid. Kim Edgar has the same tone of voice and the same style of singing as Gwendolyn Snowdon. There is yet another similarity between Cara and Gwendolyn Snowdon. Their ability to tell a story. Cara clearly stepped away from the traditional call and response type of folk songs that made up the majority of their first two albums to lean towards modern popsongs, with strong lyrics telling a story, sung solo by either Kim Edgar or Gudrun Walther. Cain’s War for instance is a pure protest song, making a powerful statement against fanatism, religion and weapons, Cara I fully agree! Anchor In The Sky and Yet We Sing are two more beautiful ballads. I keep mentioning those, I realise, but honestly, the vocal quality of Cara make buying all of their CD’s worthwhile.
Up till now didn’t mention the instrumental songs much, although 50% of the albums are filled with them. The instrumental songs on the first two Cds are nice Irish folk tunes, mid tempo Jigs and reels played to perfection in the pure Irish way. Nice duets between Violin, flute or uilleann pipes. They may not have the adventurous arrangements as some of the vocal songs, but therefore are islands of calm between the vocal escapades. I love Songs like Reels For Hecki, the balladesque Buddleja, the gypsy style And Off He Went -all found on In Colour– or the almost Arabian sound of C’mon Tiger – found on In between Days- and fans of traditional folk will find many more instrumental gems on the first two Cara albums. As I mention earlier Cara leave the traditional approach of the instrumentals on the CD Horizon, opting for a more groovy jazz approach.
On Yet We Sing I notice a wee bit of a difference in those instrumentals. Although returning to the traditional style of folk Cara played on the first two albums, on Yet We Sing they start adding little twists and improvisations that make music so interesting for me.
There is Heroes, a nice upbeat collection of jigs and reels, with the third section going into a reggae rhythm (!?), just to spice things up, as the band writes themselves in the CD insert. Now that got my attention! Land Of The Midnight Sun is folk meets chamber music, while The Legend of Lisalway, with a lovely uilleann pipes melody, takes us back to the jazz influences on Horizon for a moment. The Naked Man In The Whirlpool starts as a lovely guitar piece and continues as an instrumental ballad instead of a traditional Irish dance. A Wee Dobro Tune is indeed written as a dobro solo piece, with some additional piano and violin. All in all I love the instrumentals just as much as the vocal pieces on this album, making Yet We Sing a clear CeltCast Classic!
So we come to the traditional conclusion and I can tell you that the more I listened to Cara’s music, the more their music grew on me. If I would compare them with a bottle of wine I would describe their music as a mature, yet supple, easy to drink red wine with a lovely bouquet of exquisite vocal harmonies. The instrumentals give the music a lovely vanilla tone with notes of surprising melted dark chocolate especially on the later CDs. fans of the early Clannad albums – especially Clannad 2 or Shantalla really should give Cara’s music a listen, and Yet We Sing is the perfect CD to start that journey.
– Pictures by
, taken during the Yet We Sing release tour in 2016
PS. I started listening to Cara’s music and writing this introduction in the spring of 2019. Since that time Cara released a new single called Móran Tang. A really touching story that actually says a lot about Cara so I’ll quote Kim Edgar from the Cara site:
“As some of you will already be aware, my dad, Derek Edgar, sadly died of cancer in March 2017. He was an extra-ordinary man: creative, gentle, positive, loving, and determined. He remained just as extra-ordinary in facing cancer of an unknown primary source, for which no successful treatment could be found. In the last week of his life, I wrote him a thank you card, because I wanted him to know how grateful my brother, myself and my mum were to have him in our lives. He challenged me to take the words of that card, and turn them into a happy song – he knew/knows I find writing happy songs difficult! And he has always tried to encourage me to keep developing my skills. And that’s the song, Mòran Taing. The title is in Scots Gaelic, and the chorus means “many thanks, goodbye for now, fare you well for now, many thanks”.
And with this beautiful homage we end this review. Knowing Cara’s musical story still continues.
*) Jeana Leslie is now part of the Scottish folk band
**)Ryan Murphy is now a member of the Scottish folk band
Shantalla – From The East Unto The West (2019) review
Cliff de Booy
This winter my girlfriend knitted me a new sweater. Beforehand I feared it would be itchy and scratchy, but no, the minute I put it on it just felt comfy and warm, nothing pulled or tugged, it was as if I’d had this sweater for years and years. It just felt snug and safe. It instantly became my favourite comfy sweater.
Well that’s exactly how the new
album made me feel. Within the first 3 songs the music felt like that new sweater that Anna gave me. Nice, comfy and warm. And around The Cameronian Set, track 8 on the album, I wrote another small line in my notebook: ‘this music feels like coming home’.
It really does. It is this happy feeling that always goes with Irish folk, the variety of song choice, the quality of the music, the lovely ironic humour in the liner notes, everything fits on this album. So much so that after two listens I already wanted to start writing this introduction. So here it is.
Shantalla’s ‘From The East Unto The West’. But first, let’s do a proper introduction of the band.
Do I really need to introduce Shantalla? Ever since their first gig in 1997 and the release of their debut album Shantalla, way back in 1998, the Irishmen Kieran Fahy (fiddle, viola), Joe Hennon (guitar, vocals), Michael Horgan (uilleann pipes, flute, whistles) and Gerry Murray (accordion, whistles, bouzouki, piano) and Scottish Helen Flaherty (vocals, bodhrán, shakers) steadily made a name for themselves, growing out to be a force to be reckoned with, not only in the Irish folk scene, but also in the balfolk and the fantasy festival world. Their second album Seven Evenings, Seven Mornings followed in 2001, and again got a good reception in the folk world.
In 2005, the band took a temporary break, focussing on other projects. Among them
The Helen Flaherty Band,
In 2009 the band reformed, adding bouzouki and guitar player Simon Donnelly -yes also Irish- to the line-up. In this formation work began on their 3rd album Turas, which was released in 2011. Again the reactions were really positive.
After a period of touring it became somewhat quiet around Shantalla, until the good news came out earlier this year that the band was back in the studio. The fruits of their labour, the 4th CD From the East Unto The West is going to be released in the coming weeks. The presale is running as I write these words. From The East Unto The west is recorded by
over at Folk Studios and
at Elle Studios.
-Comment from Shantalla: “Now that you mentioned Pascale, she has been our live sound engineer for over 21 years, it would be nice to thank her for that!-
To finish of the credits, From The East Unto The West was mixed by Philip Masure and the artwork was done by
Now the big question is: “Was From The East Unto The West worth the wait?” The answer: a resounding “yes!”
THE ALBUM: FROM THE EAST UNTO THE WEST
The first song, Captain Ward, sets the mood. Within seconds you know what to expect from this album. Good quality, Irish folk, traditional, but with a Shantalla twist, and cheerful, oh-so-cheerful. It’s the accordion flute and rhythm guitar that get the folk party going.
After this typical folk intro Captain Ward eases into a mid-tempo ballad from the 17th century about a pirate captain capturing a ship sent by the king of England to catch him. Of course Captain Ward has to brag about it and he wrote a letter to the king of England stating that His Majesty might be the king on land, but he, Captain Ward, is the king at sea.
This traditional ballad flows easily into the second part of the song called Paddy Goes East written by Gerry Murray. And yes the sound of the lead melody, together with the slightly different rhythm, does make the second part of Captain Ward sound as if good old Paddy had taken his accordion and fiddle on a wee tour of Eastern Europe.
The mood then switches for the first time, in the intro of the second song. An accordion solo reminding me a bit of
Wouter en de Draak
and their more French approach to folk music. The tone even gets a bit dark, when the rhythm guitar and violin creep in, made even stronger by the sound of crows in the background. The stage is set for a dark slow song, so it should not have surprised me that Helen Flaherty starts to sing Twa Corbies, but I really didn’t recognise it from the intro.
The track notes accompanying this song are also really cool:
-“The Twa Corbies is a cynical Scottish parody of a 17th century English song
The Three Ravens.
In this dark version, the corbies (crows) say that the dead knight’s hawk and hound have forsaken him and are off chasing game, while his lover has already moved on to another knight. Since no-one knows or cares where his body lies, the corbies talk in detail about the meal they will make of him, plucking out his eyes and using his hair for their nest. That’s recycling folks!” What was that about the Scots being cynical!?
The third album track, Ynis Avalach will take some doing from the balfolk dancers, I’m sure of it! It starts with a tricot, named as such in Brittany because it knits an andro and a hanterdro together. Then the music turns into a slip jig called Dever The Dancer, before it ends in two classic reels called Toss The Feathers #1 and Toss The Feathers # 2. Good luck dancing to that guys!
The good news is that Ynis Avalach is a really nice medley of songs. The first part Ynis Avalach, is a song Shantalla know from
You can see them perform it on
together with Fiona in the video below.
the album version again has that slight French Wouter en de Draak feel to it before the flute adds a lovely Irish flavour. That French feel is mostly there because of Joe Hennon’s subtle guitar work. I’ve been a fan of the way he plays for years. Actually from the moment I heard the live version of the Sidhenearlahi Set on Omnia’s Pagan Folk album. Yes he is mostly a rhythm guitarist, but he puts all kinds of nice twists and turns in his playing. Squeezing in all kinds of variations on the theme he plays and I just love that.
But he’s not the only one shining in this song, so do all the instrumentalists. In the
Shantalla uploaded on their website to introduce From the East Unto The West, Joe mentions it himself, that thát is one of the strengths of the band, the many lead instruments they can use. And he has a point. let’s take this song for instance. So in keeping with folk tradition it starts with a nice guitar rhythm and then the violin slides in. I just love how Kieran Fahy constantly does that. So subtle. But anyway, with the flute joining in, you think that this is it. A flute/violin duet. But no. It’s flute with another flute doing the second ‘voice’ while the violin keeps sliding in and out for added flavour. Michael’s uilleann pipes follow in the flow with Simon’s guitar now picking up the melody as well, then the accordion joins in, making the sound even fuller and richer.
In the second part Dever The Dancer, the violin takes centre stage, joined by the flute for a lovely cheerful slip jig, but again a low whistle, guitar and accordion step in and create a strong rich sound. The uilleann pipes lead us into the last part of Ynis Avalach, followed by some lovely bodhrán /guitar rhythms, before the whole band joins in to finish it all. I love instrumental folk if it is done like this. Such a rich and strong sound, so much variety. This just has to put a smile on everyone’s face.
here is Shantalla performing Ynis Avalanch together with Fiona at Castlefest 2014
On to the next song! Lead vocalist Helen Flaherty’s voice fits perfectly in Shantalla’s sound. She has a warm, strong voice full with emotion that she uses to her full advantage in the first ballad of the album, A Band Of Gold. A lovey story about a romance that was not to be….
I have to say, Helen shines on this. She is such a beautiful singer. Powerful, in full control of her voice, she sings this ballad with so much emotion, you can feel every ounce of despair, regret and loneliness in it. Pure beauty.
Shantalla are masters in contrast. After the intense loneliness of A Band Of Gold they could not have produced a greater contrast than by putting Magic Happens after it. The tin whistle intro cuts right through the intensity left by A Band Of Gold. Lovely, just lovely. The first part is a jig, again written by Gerry Murray. This jig is in the good old folk tradition, using just guitar and tin whistle, (ok, doubled tin whistle to make the sound richer.) The fiddle and accordion then take over and play us a composition of
The Three Wishes. As the set finishes with
Charlie Lennon’sMorning Sunday, with the uilleann pipes and accordion taking the lead, my notebook says; ‘an upbeat version of
. And I’m almost surprised the band kept the instrumentation so ‘simple’, but that is one of the strengths of this band, knowing what to add or not add, and when to do that.
ADDING ANOTHER MUSICAL STYLE
From this instrumental balfolk song we move on to The War Of The Crofters and a totally different musical genre. This song is originally written by the Scottish singer-songwriter
It is because of that diversity in not only songs, but also genres that I really enjoy From The East Unto The West. The album combines old traditionals, instrumental balfolk tunes and some singer-songwriter pieces. All three types of songs have their own style and feel. And it is the combination of those styles, tied together by Shantalla’s craftmanship that make From The East Unto The West such a joy to listen to.
I also have to mention Helen again. On this song you clearly hear her Scottish tongue. Now if a Scottish person talks, I always feel they are already singing. It is in the way they pronounce the words. There is just so much melody in the Scottish accent. To hear that melody back while singing, it is just a joy for the ears.
next up is Farewell To Charlemagne, the second song that has you stop in your tracks. It is a touching low whistle solo composed and played by Michael Horgan.. A touching, personal song about…. no, I shall not tell thee, in this case you have to look yourself into the track notes so the band themselves can tell you what it is about.
Track eight, The Cameronian Highlander is a well-known barn dance as specified in the track notes and it is indeed a mid-tempo dance tune played on accordion and flute. With a wee bit of imagination you can hear the clogs stamp on the wooden barn floor. But then the tempo speeds up considerably and the barn dance whirls into three reels, The Killavil Reel, The Bag of Spuds and The Carracastle Lass. All lovely uptempo folk tunes to cheer your heart and lift your feet. Irish folk music isn’t the most complicated style in the world, but played by gifted musicians, the instruments themselves start dancing, as if the notes themselves swirled around each other in variation after variation. Luckily Shantalla has such gifted musicians. So The Cameronian Highlander, again, is a joy to listen too.
THANK HEAVENS THEY INVENTED THE REPEAT BUTTONJamie Raeburn then shows the other side of folk music. Quite often they tell touching stories full of longing for a love once lost, grieving about a home now lost or telling about the hardship of life. Jamie Raeburn and the next song, Midlothian Mining Song, are no exception. And, as I already said Helen has the perfect voice to tell you those stories. You feel them when she sings. The delicate touch of Simon’s guitar compliments her voice perfectly. Just listen to this beautiful combination in Jamie Raeburn. The icing on the cake then comes from the touches of fiddle and viola and the subtle low whistle solo in Jamie Raeburn, or the lovely accordion, viola and flute melodies on Midlothian Mining Song.
Talking about lovely rhythm guitar, the first part of the last song on this album, Breaking Wind, has plenty of those. But it’s the touches of fiddle that make this song into something truly stunning. Almost classical in style, the fiddle sound gently slides into the music. It’s our last goosebump moment before Shantalla goes full out in this balfolk grand finale. A worthy end to this must have album, that finishes way too fast. Thank heavens they invented the repeat button. You’ll need it, you’ll need it a lot!
Editor: The ever so lovely Diane Deroubaix
Sleeve design: Robin Dekker
Studio Pictures: Shantalla
Live pictures: Kees Stravers
Helen van der Jagt
‘s “Mirie It Is When Sumer Ilast” we took a moment to reflect on the harshness of winter, but with the weather now actually turning colder and the darkest days of the year rapidly approaching we would rather focus on the warmth of the coming winter festivals!
For November we chose
‘s “Heroes” as our Monthly Marker. We first saw Cara live only two months ago at Festival Mediaval and they immediately took up residence in our hearts! This band, that formed way back in 2003, plays pure Celtic Folk, and does so with a passion! They have won several Irish Music Awards and the experience of this German/Scottish group is clear in everything they do, both live and on their albums.
“Heroes”, from their 15-year anniversary album “Live”, is an instrumental tracks that just makes you want to get up and dance. So come on everyone, put aside your Guinness, your mulled mead or your hot chocolate, and join us on the dance-floor and let’s ignore the cold together!