Given the increasing popularity of all things Celtic in recent years, the commodification of the culture is perhaps inevitable, but no less frustrating for those who appreciate real Celtic music in its various forms (none of which included panpipes). These days it seems that the world music sections of most music stores are full to capacity with various “Celtic” compilations, most of which are about as authentically Celtic as the Lucky Charms leprechaun. And so, it is with some trepidation that I approached this collection.
No need to worry, though. Celtic Ceili is about as genuine as it gets, although the title is somewhat of a generalization. All the music featured here is Irish Ceili music as distinct from the music of the other Celtic countries. It is also worth noting that ceili music is a form that did not come into being until the mid-twentieth century, a mere millennium or so after anything resembling a true Celtic culture existed anywhere.
For the uninitiated, this is music for dancing to. A ceili band can be comprised of any number of musicians playing a series of jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes on a number of different instruments, primarily flutes, fiddles, banjos, bodhrans and guitars. Essentially, this bunch of musicians get together and blast out the music designed to get the feet moving on the dancefloor. Sort of like the soundsystem to a pre-electronic rave, the most important element being the maintenance of a steady beat.
Unsurprisingly, given the quantity and varying quality of the musicians, the scope for individual improvisation or innovation tends to be limited. This is not the best medium in which to hear virtuoso instrumental performances but, then again, neither is a symphony orchestra.
Celtic Ceili features a selection of Ireland’s top ceili bands, including The Liam Ivory Ceili Band, The Dungarvin Ceili Band and the The Brendan Mulhaire Ceili Band, performing a series of standard ceili tracks. Tunes such as “The Old Copper Plate,” “The New York Reel,” “The Cook in the Kitchen” and “The Silver Spear” are all given a very respectable airing here. This is up-tempo, vigorous music with no room for slow airs. The bands featured here launch into these medleys with gusto and in no time, you’ll feel your feet tapping to the beat.
However, like that other famous Irish export, Guinness, ceili music is most definitely an acquired taste. The listener unfamiliar with this music will find it hard to distinguish one tune from the next and, although there is little to fault here or the technical level, the music can come across as being very by-the-numbers, almost mechanical.
It might, however, serve as good background music, particularly if you own an Irish pub, or for your next St. Patricks Day hooley. Not to mention, being ideal for the next time you’re practicing those Riverdance moves.
// Notes from the Road
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