Celtic Artists page

Trad & Folk
Artists and Albums

Hello! This page is part of an opinionated overview of Celtic and British folk music, with record reviews by me, Joe Sixpack... This is not meant to be taken as a "definitive" resource, but rather as a record of some of the music which has caught my interest. I am always looking for more good music to explore, so your comments and suggestions are welcome.

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Celtic Fiddle Festival "Celtic Fiddle Festival" (Green Linnet, 1993)
The original incarnation of this Celtic trad "supergroup featured fiddlers Kevin Burke, Christian LeMaitre and Johnny Cunningham... Quite a trio!

Celtic Fiddle Festival "Encore" (Green Linnet, 1998)

Celtic Fiddle Festival "Rendezvous" (Green Linnet, 2001)

Celtic Fiddle Festival "Play On" (Green Linnet, 2005)

Celtic Fiddle Festival "Equinoxe" (Loftus, 2008)
This is the fifth album by the quixotically-named Celtic supergroup-powerhouse, Celtic Fiddle Festival, featuring the combined talents of three fiddlers (duh) -- Kevin Burke, Christian Lemaitre and Andre Brunet -- and one guitarist, Ged Foley, in as fine a set of Celtic instrumentals as ever you shall hear. Foley, a nimble accompanist also known for his work with the House Band, Battlefield Band and Patrick Street, anchors each tune with a lively, inventive style that is both supportive and wildly restless, the sort of playing that can both fade into the background or leap out at you in the middle of a song and and make you realize, oh my lord, is he really doing all that, too? Same with the fiddling: these are immensely accomplished musicians drawing on Breton, Irish and Canadian traditions, weaving it all together in a mix of tones and styles. There are keening, aggressive jigs alongside silken, melodic passages, all of it quite dazzling. Perhaps my favorite tracks -- because I am drawn to softer, more melodic material -- are the Brunet/Foley medley, "Reel Desjarlis/L'accroche-Pied/Danse Acadienne" and "Sir Sydney Smith's March", a showcase for Foley's guitar work that is simply lovely. If you like Celtic instrumentals, you'll love this album.

Celtic Thunder "Celtic Thunder" (Green Linnet, 1981)
One of the finest American-based Celtic bands; this DC-based outfit has a nice melodic touch, and are (thankfully!) as fond of a good song or aire as they are of bouncy, perky jigs and reels. I'm especially fond of this album's set of soulful topical songs, including a spooky version of Robert Burns' "The Deadly Wars," as well as "The Bold Thady Quill" and the emigration epic "Best Years Of Our Lives." It's amazing, though, and rather sad, that all of their albums seem to have slipped out of print, although with diligent effort you should be able to track their stuff down.

Celtic Thunder "The Light Of Other Days" (Green Linnet, 1988)

Celtic Thunder "Hard New York Days" (Rego, 1996)

Ceolbeg "Not The Bunnyhop" (Greentrax, 1990)

Ceolbeg "Seeds To The Wind" (Greentrax, 1991)

Ceolbeg "An Unfair Dance" (Greentrax, 1992)

Ceolbeg "Cairn Water" (Greentrax, 2000)

Ceolbeg "5" (Greentrax, 1996)

The Champion String Band "The Champion String Band" (Black Crow, 1981) (LP)
(Produced by Geoff Heslop & Mickey Sweeney)

Singer-guitarist Tom Gilfellon is joined by fiddler Chuck Fleming and Martin Matthews on cittern, mandolin and banjo in an unusual set of English trad tunes, gathered from a variety of sources. There are many ballads, gleaned from Gilfellon's years in folk clubs and other gatherings, while Fleming (presumably) contributes several medleys of tunes attributed to song collections such as Ernst Kohler's Violin Repository and James Scott Skinner's "Scottish Fiddler." These instrumentals, particularly the album's opening track, feature unusual arrangements and directions that suggest a British trad-folk counterpart to the "space grass" improvisations of American bluegrassers such as David Grisman, though not as overtly jazz-oriented. This is complimented by Gillfellon's own odd vocal approach, a sort of sliding, keening style that demands an active, willing participation from listeners used to a more accessible sound. If you enjoy this album, Gilfellon's solo albums are also worth checking out -- I think this was the only album made under this band name.

Cherish The Ladies "Cherish The Ladies: Irish Women Musicians" (Shanachie, 1985)

Cherish The Ladies "Fathers And Daughters" (Shanachie, 1985) (LP)

Cherish The Ladies "The Back Door" (Green Linnet, 1992)

Cherish The Ladies "Out And About" (Green Linnet, 1993)

Cherish The Ladies "New Day Dawning" (Green Linnet, 1996)

Cherish The Ladies "Threads Of Time" (RCA Victor, 1998)

Cherish The Ladies "At Home" (RCA Victor, 1999)
A nice later album from this all-star, all-gal trad band. On this album, the Ladies bring in various members of their families to perform alongside the ensemble...The Longs, Maddens, Clancys, etc. pitch in, and show where the group's trad roots come from. Other than a horrendous version of Dan Fogelberg's '70s AOR neolith, "The Leader Of The Band," this is a great album. (I "get" the thematic tie between the lyrics and this album; I just can't stand the song and think it's irredeemably cheesy.) Otherwise, this disc has an admirable mix of instrumentals and ballads, and Joannie Madden's piping is, as ever, a heavenly aural treat. Recommended.

Cherish The Ladies "The Girls Won't Leave The Boys Alone" (Windham Hill/BMG, 2001)
The gals give an affectionate nod towards the Clancy Brothers early '60s classic, The Boys Won't Leave The Girls Alone, not simply lampooning the old album title, but also inviting many of the trad scene's best male performers to accompany them on this sleek, bright record. There's Matt Molloy, Davy Spillane, a Maken or two, Luka Bloom, Paddy Reilly, and a Yank or two -- Arlo Guthrie, Tom Chapin, and even Eric Weissberg, who was brought in by Columbia as a studio picker on the original Boys album... Overall, this album -- particularly the opening tracks -- is a bit soft and syrupy for my tastes, though as you get further in it toughens up a bit and gets a little more instrumental ooompf. It's okay, but there's stuff I like lots better.

Cherish The Ladies "On Christmas Night" (Rounder, 2004)

Cherish The Ladies "Woman Of The House" (Rounder, 2005)

Cherish The Ladies "One And All: The Best Of Cherish The Ladies" (Green Linnet, 1998)

The Chieftains "The Chieftains 7" (Claddagh/Columbia, 1977)
The Chieftains "The Chieftains 8" (Claddagh/Columbia, 1978)
The Chieftains "The Chieftains 9: Boil The Breakfast Early" (Claddagh/Columbia, 1980)
The Chieftains "The Best Of The Chieftains" (Columbia Legacy, 2002)

By the time Paddy Moloney and his crew had signed to Columbia Records in the States to record these albums of the late '70s, the explosive burst of creative new trad groups such as Planxty and the like had made the venerable Chieftains style sound, if not quite fusty, perhaps a bit staid and static. Still, there's no denying the band's talent and tight performance style, and fans of Irish instrumentals can still study these albums and derive great satisfaction. Chieftains 8 was the last album to feature founding members Sean Potts and Martin Tubridy; on Boil The Breakfast Early, (pictured above) the band rolled out a new secret weapon, piper Matt Molloy, previously of Planxty and Bothy Band fame. Also featured in the new lineup were fiddler Sean Keane and harpist Derek Bell, pretty much an all-star lineup. Many consider Boil The Breakfast the finest of the band's albums; the new best-of collection gathers material from all three of these Claddagh releases.

The Chieftains & Van Morrison "Irish Heartbeat" (PolyGram, 1988)
I know there are those who consider this a bit of a glamour project, but I've always liked this album. The band never sounded more vigorous, and it's grand to hear Van singing trad. In fact, this is a perfect example of synergy in action: each side helps pull the other out of their own particular rut -- Morrison helps the Chieftains get a little messy and less formal, they help bring him back to Earth, and to his Belfast roots. The result is a lively, engaging record, packed with one fine performance after another. Recommended!

The Chieftains/Various Artists "Another Country" (BMG Classics, 1992)
Paddy Moloney and the lads haul over to Nashville where they round up Willie Nelson, Chet Atkins, Don Williams, Ricky Skaggs and a passel of newgrassers such as Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, etc. to jam with them on these pop-hick-Celtic crossovers. Generally a pretty strong album, with some interesting angles on familiar terrain. PS - hey, maybe this is where Ricky Skaggs caught the Celtic bug!

The Chieftains/Various Artists "The Wide World Over: A 40 Year Celebration" (BMG/RCA Victor, 2002)
One of Ireland's longest-lived and most beloved trad bands, the Chieftains have both revived and expanded the scope of traditional Celtic music, as this anthology album ably demonstrates. Packed with an impressive set of all-star collaborations, this shows the Chieftains at their most creative, working with guests as diverse as Elvis Costello, Diana Krall, the Rolling Stones and bluegrasser Ricky Skaggs. Naturally, many hometown (Irish) guests are included as well, including Van Morrison, Sinead O'Connor and bouncy popsters, The Corrs. Some tracks -- particularly the orchestral Irish-classical crossovers -- fall flat, but on the whole, this is an impressive and engaging collection. One surprising entry is Joni Mitchell's "The Magdalene Laundries," as scathing denunciation of how Irish convents are often used as a dumping ground for unwanted or problematic young women... Although heavy-handed, the song definitely packs a punch, and I can only imagine the furor it must have caused in Ireland when it was first released. Nice retrospective.

The Chieftains/Various Artists "Down The Old Plank Road: The Nashville Sessions" (BMG/RCA Victor, 2002)
Another all-star guest-fest, exploring once again the centuries-old links between Irish folk and American country and bluegrass music. Along for the ride are Top 40 acts such as Vince Gill and Martina McBride, along with bluegrassers Alison Krauss, Del McCoury and Earl Scruggs, as well as alt-ier types like Lyle Lovett, Buddy & Julie Miller, and Gillian Welch, whose version of "Katie Dear" is one of the best tracks on here. In general, this album is a pleasant and interesting mix, if anything much stronger than 1992's Another Country. The album occasionally drifts a bit and seems to lack punch on a tune or two, but the good songs are certainly worth checking out, and this is a remarkably vigorous set by these illustrious old-timers.

The Chieftains/Various Artists "Further Down The Old Plank Road" (BMG/RCA Victor, 2003)
Part Two of this series has a more distinctly Irish feel, and -- other than Nickle Creek's cloying version of "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" at the beginning -- a less mainstream, contemporary Nashville vibe. The choice of artists, including John Prine, Joe Ely, Rosanne Cash, Carlene Carter, Don Williams, Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs, shows the Chieftains continuing attentuation to the humbler, more rootsy side of the American country scene, and also makes for a more soulful outing. As with the first Plank collection, this is pretty darn good.

The Chieftains "Live From Dublin: A Tribute To Derek Bell" (BMG/RCA Victor, 2005)

The Chieftains "The Essential Chieftains" (Sony-BMG Legacy, 2006)
Elder statesmen of the Celtic folk revival, the Chieftains have long since graduated from playing stout-drenched trad sets into the world of posh concert halls. They are a classy supergroup playing a refined, classicized version of Irish folk, sort of to Irish trad what Ricky Skaggs is to bluegrass. Nonetheless, the Chieftains also have plenty of serious musical ooompf, as much pure talent and trad-cred as you'll ever see in one place at one time. This generously programmed 2-CD best-of collection concentrates on more recent recordings, made for BMG and RCA in the 1990s, with a smattering of older stuff from the '70s, recorded for the Claddagh label. The first disc features a lot of their mellower material, including works recorded for various films and stage productions; Disc Two has the big treats, gathering together seventeen collaborations with high-profile guest-stars, recorded over the years. Sting I can live without, but Elis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Los Lobos, Sinead O'Connor and others add some surprising elements to this well-aged Irish brew.

Chumbawamba "English Rebel Songs: 1381-1914" (Agit Prop, 1988)
Why, yes, this is the same band that had recorded that big, global Top Ten hit that the yobs were drunkenly shouting during soccer matches during the 1990s... But, hey, we all knew the Chumba crew were really a big bunch of commies and anarchists, right? So, here's the band at its unpunky, unpoppy best, with a bracing collection of old peasant protest tunes, including -- naturally -- a couple about those lovable feudal-agrarian seditionists known as the Diggers (who are already known to fans of Billy Bragg and Leon Rosselson), and several others songs dating back at least as far. There's a lot of a capella choral singing here, and bracing tributes to the rebel spirit past. England wasn't always a land of moderation and class cooperation, as its overeducated lefties are quite fond of pointing out. For connoisseurs of the style, this is an excellent album, well worth searching for.

Chumbawamba "English Rebel Songs: 1381-1984" (PM Press, 2003)
I haven't heard this re-recorded version, just the original album (which I think is swell... see above...) but if you can't find the one, the other is probably just fine... Anyway, this is a the only one Amazon seems to carry, so it's probably your best bet, outside of collector shops and auctions...

Aoife Clancy "It's About Time" (Rego, 1993)

Aoife Clancy "Soldiers And Dreams" (Rego, 1998)

Aoife Clancy "Silvery Moon" (Appleseed, 2002)
The daughter of Bobby Clancy (of the legendary Clancy Brothers), Aoife Clancy (whose first name is pronounced "Ee-Fa") is also a former member of the long-lived, all-female Celtic group, Cherish The Ladies. She has a lovely, soulful voice, although I must confess this album is a little too sugary and singer-songwriter/folk-oriented for my tastes. The album closes with a pair of lovely tunes, "Across The Blue Mountains" (with harmonies by Aoife O'Donovan and Julie Glaub) and a duet with her dad, "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," that are more understated and to my liking. Worth checking out, although most of the songs are too flowery and broadly orchestrated.

Willie Clancy "The Minstrel From Clare" (Topic, 1976/Green Linnet, 1994)
As fine a set of pipering and ballads as you're ever likely to hear. Soloing on uillean pipes and tin whistle, Clancy also sings a capella on a few tunes, all of it with a simplicity and understated sense of authority that makes it hard to resist. Even for those who are not normally drawn to the starker side of trad may find themselves stirred by some of the deep, low notes, or haunting, keening tones. A real virtuoso performance.

Willie Clancy "The Pipering Of Willie Clancy, v.1" (Claddagh, 1994)

Willie Clancy "The Pipering Of Willie Clancy, v.2" (Claddagh, 1994)

Willie Clancy/Various Artists "Music & Songs From The Willie Clancy Summer School" (RTE, 2008)

Clannad - see artist profile

Anthony John Clarke "A Sideways Glance" (Terra Nova, 1997)
"Professionally Irish" is the description Clarke attempts deftly to dodge, although Ireland and Irish themes predominate on this charming collection. This set spans 1976-97, and covers some familiar territory with a few nice, new wrinkles. Clark is kind of like a softer version of Christy Moore, an acute observer of modern Ireland who sidesteps stereotypes while also avoiding the hard-left politics that characterize Moore's work. Clarke's is more the voice of caution and wry skepticism; nostalgic portraits of the Irish country life are his first target (on "Irish Eyes"), as well as numerous songs about the Troubles and their crippling effect on Ireland's national psyche. There are also several songs about the pub scene ("Karaoke Night" and "Savin' The Best 'Til Last") and the Irish-American diaspora. The arrangements drift inexorably from sweet acoustic guitar to goofier, bongo-laden modern folk and even a rock guitar or two. Some of it's irritatingly goopy, some of it is quite nice... The tune "Irish Visit '91," about seing a friend with a terminal illness, is quite a powerful tune. Having heard this, I'm curious about his earlier (acoustic) material.

Vikki Clayton "It Suits Me Well: The Songs Of Sandy Denny" (HTD/Castle, 1998)
On the face of it, this is either an act of heroism or foolheartiness -- a tribute to a figure so iconic and universally lionized that following in her footsteps would seem to invite the sort derision that only the truest true believers can heap upon one another. But Vikki Clayton, who has filled in the "Sandy Denny role" at many a Fairport Convention concert, is entirely up to the task. She opens this album with Denny's signature tune, "Who Knows Where The Time Goes," in sort of a throwdown to any potential detractors, and as on several other songs, her rich, confident vocals and understated arrangements carry the day. There are a few iffy touches, mainly in the electric filters and effects added to the bass and guitar, but overall this is a pretty strong record. Clayton herself is quite lovely to listen to. Devoted Fairport fans, doubtless primed to weigh in against this album, should really try to approach it with an open mind... it's pretty good.

The Clutha "Scotia!" (Argo, 1971) (LP)

The Clutha/Various Artists "The Streets Of Glasgow" (Topic, 1973)

The Clutha "Scots Ballads Songs And Dance Tunes" (Topic, 1974) (LP)
A stunning set of Celtic trad from a pioneering band from Glasgow. In the 1960s, a younger generation of Scottish musicians liberated their folk music from the ghettos of BBC light fare and kitschy, kilt-clad souvenir albums, but The Clutha took things to another level, delving deep into traditional instruments and a rich, resonant repertoire. Gordeanna McCullough, a powerful in the full flush of youth, had a crystalline voice and flawless phrasing, and was ably matched by the other musicians in the band. This is Scottish trad at its best, and an inspiration for many bands to come -- well worth looking for!

The Clutha "The Bonnie Mill Dams" (Topic, 1977)
Another strong set of Scottish trad, with squeaky fiddles and squalling bagpipes, as well as the gorgeous voice of Ms. McCullough. The songs include ribald English-language ballads and eerie, otherworldly Gaelic tunes, with a brace of elegant instrumentals as well. Recommended!

The Clutha & Gordeanna McCulloch "Sheath And Knife" (Topic, 1978) (LP)

The Clutha "On The Braes" (2001)

Celtic/Brit Folk Albums - More Letter "C"

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