Capercaillie have been around for 30 years now, playing their brand of Celtic music infused with the faintest tinge of New-Age studio wankery such as soft synth accents and the occasional tasteful sax solo. Both these elements are apparent in opening track “S’Och A’Dhomhnall Oig Ghaolaich”, which kicks off the band’s latest offering, At the Heart of It All, but so, happily, are the lovely vocals of Karen Matheson, whose voice is by far the more important element of the band’s sound. Never as hard-edged as, say, Altan, Capercaillie have skillfully occupied a territory that manages to be pleasant while rarely compelling. This record fits snugly in their ongoing ouevre, which is to say, it’s not a radical departure from what they’ve done before. There’s fiddle and pipes aplenty, along with a lot of emphasis on the vocals. Traditional tunes rub elbows with new compositions, all wrapped in a warm, organic sound.
That said, many of the songs are lovely, mainly because Matheson could sing the phone book and make it sound sweet. “The Strathspey Set”, a collection of “vocal dance songs”, is a standout, but so too are the moody “Nighean Dubh Nigheanb Donn” and the bouncy traditional song “Abu Chuibhl”, a memorable jam despite its backing horns. For fans of instrumentals, “The Jura Wedding Reels” is a lively and celebratory mix. This album is unlikely to make any new converts for the band, but existing fans (and there are many) will enjoy finding themselves back in confident, comfortable hands.