Sing by Jennifer Licko: The Sunny Side of Celtic Music.

Sing by Jennifer Licko: The Sunny Side of Celtic Music.


The Appalachian elements in her songs provide the balance to the misty and often mystical atmosphere of Scottish traditional music. That is why her latest offering “Sing” shines a musical light on every corner like a summer morning. Sing evokes a feeling that is at home with Reggae, Ska and Bluegrass. Her previous effort, A Thousand Curses Upon Love’ actually won the Celtic Album of the Year by Celtic Music Radio. According to her press release, Licko wanted to record an album that felt a little closer to home:

Jennifer sings Scots Gaelic dance & work songs from the perspective of the music’s adopted home in the Carolinas. Original songs in English that express her own folk music style compliment this new Celtic sound which could only have taken root from a North Carolina native who spent her childhood years Scottish dancing.


Sing opens with mouth music SEINN O CHURADAIL O/THOIR A NALL AILEAN THUGAM. Licko channels her inner priestess making the Gaelic vowels and consonants beautifully mesmerizing. You don’t have to understand the language to feel the passion in the music.

Light the Way is written and compose by Licko herself.

“I want a finer day

where the sun just lights

the way, and run…

See all that I can see,

Feeling wild and free..just run…

She sings the chorus with a child-like wonder, yet the acoustic alternative style keeps it real and grounded. FILL IU O is another Scottish tune with an Americana twist. THE TIDE has a reggae vibe. Puirt a beul lightens up RUIDHLIDH. It is a short track that dances around your mood.

Flying High is another original recording which is a love song. The Major 7 chords evokes warm sunny afternoons by the beach.EADARAIBH A HUINN O/’S IOMA RUD THA DHÌTH ORM follows. I think I first heard it performed by Scottish band Capercaillie if I am not mistaken. HE NA MILIBHIG gets a bluesy treatment and it is another standout track from the Sing.

SOME ROADS LEAD ON ( words & music by Bill McKay) is another English track owing its style to Irish hymns. I BHÌ À DA closes the album accompanied by the exquisite beat of a bodhran.

Sing is a unique vision.This proves that genres can be fused in the hands of an expert, and the end result is always something magical.



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The Lush and Vibrant “The Promise” by Caitlin Grey is Here!

The Lush and Vibrant “The Promise” by Caitlin Grey is Here!

I am enjoying the new album of Caitlin Grey called The Promise. One thing I noticed upon playing this album for the first time is her beautiful and supple voice. It has the ease of a folk singer and the refined muscle of a classically trained vocalist. She uses these influences seamlessly in this new album, consisting of twelve songs.There are original songs as well as interpretation of traditional materials. I love her rendition of She Moved Through The Fair because of its melodic simplicity and emotional power. a1763992850_16

The title track is something that will please fans of Clannad, Loreena McKennitt and Anuna or even Secret Garden. Her arrangements are also spot on. I love the drumming on this one because it sounds almost like a pop ballad. But then again we know that with Ms Grey, every song can be a magical journey between classical and folk.

Her approach to singing tells you  this is how to sing these songs. Yes, especially these kinds of songs because it takes a special artist to pull this off. Because in the hands(or throat) of an ordinary singer, they will sound weird. These songs choose a singer and that singer is Caitlin Grey. I love it when she harmonises in some songs.They sound whispery, airy and crystal clear. I love the style of Innisfrie because I love movie soundtracks. Ailein Duinn is haunting  especially with the harp. An original from Scottish group Capercaillie for the movie Rob Roy. I love her singing in Scottish Gaelic. She maintained the beauty of the original but added her own unique style.

I love ballads that build up gradually. And this is the style that is present in most of the songs in The Promise. Black is the Color is another personal favourite. She sings that sense of loss where words fail.

In My Awakening, I like that part of the chorus where she sings the line “..When all my life fades away in tomorrow..” deeply moving! In Anam Cara, her voice is a powerful instrument that can transport us to anywhere in the world where she wants to take us. Call of the Clans closes this wonderful album with an arrangement that can rival any operatic aria. Listen to the latin chants at the end of the song. If that does not conjure something in you, then you are not human.

The Promise is a work of magnificent sound craftsmanship and artistic maturity. Looking forward to her third album!

The Gloaming: Vinyl has arrived ….. sounds beautiful !!

The Gloaming: Vinyl has arrived ….. sounds beautiful !!

Yeah for people out there who think that analog is the only type of sound that matters then you are in luck. One of the most influential Irish groups, The Gloaming, have the vinyl version of their album. This is depressing because it makes me want to save money so I can get my own vinyl player again(the last one was busted). The Gloaming are: Iarla Ó Lionaird, Thomas Bartlett, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill. The picture below is from the group’s Facebook page. Check out the link to purchase the vinyl.

The Gloaming Vinyl has arrived

The Gloaming Vinyl has arrived

Visit the store and purchase the album:

Fiona J Mackenzie and The Kilmarnock Edition (Interview)


Generally we have an idea in our heads of what sort of ‘feel’ we can imagine for a song but sometimes it ends up being totally different to the first template! For instance, in ‘Gazz’,  that developed from Roberto playing a riff on the upright bass then each of us just joining in with some little snippet, then I threw in some odd Gaelic words which then developed themselves into a wee new genre- Gazz- Gaelic Jazz! It’s great fun as well as being completely inspirational, working with the others. 

Gaelic/Traditional Vocalist/Member of The Kilmarnock Edition talks to The Celtic Music Fan about her new exciting musical project.

So excited to feature this band from Scotland. I follow Fiona Mackenzie’s update so that’s how I was able to read about The Kilmarnock Edition. What got to me was their reggae sound on top of the distinctive Scottish trad tune. And yes folks ’tis the season to party! I set this interview up to know more:

1. After your last album A Good Suit of Clothes which I enjoyed so much, this is one good news! Your voice is really beautiful. What is the most exciting thing about The Kilmarnock Edition?

The most exciting thing about being part of the KE is the realisation that we are bringing a new style of Scottish music to the public ear.  We are all well known in our own individual genres but as we work together, we are creating something that I think is very special and that wont be found anywhere else on the Scottish music scene. We are thrilled to have the chance to work on establishing what is in effect, a new genre of Scottish music- we are not a folk band, we’re not a classical band, we’re not a rock, jazz or reggae band- but we have  elements of all this within our style-  but it doesn’t emerge as if we are a real ‘hotchpotch’ of sound, the music presents itself as an exciting, hopeful and inspirational style, all  of its own.  

2. The members are high-powered coming from their own bands and projects. Is it a great experience working with the rest of the band?

 It is hugely exciting with the band. We all manage to get along together very well socially as well as professionally and we have formed  very strong personal bonds, as well as various other duo/trio partnerships for other gigs. Everyone is very generous with their Songwriting and willing to ‘let their songs go’ to others in the band, for vocals, instrumentation etc  if  they feel that is what the song needs. When we get together for writing/rehearsals we are always very excited to see what the latest sounds will emerge- we never quite know what’s going to happen, but we do know when its right! We are very lucky to have such a diverse range of talents within the group, both musically and in writing. Roberto for instance, is hugely talented at writing funny, observational but very incisive songs about normal day to day life, which are really brought to life in his own Italian accent and style. Lisa writes beautiful songs about the world today, political/socio-economic environments as well as taking history as inspiration for example.  Yvonne writes truly stunning lyrics of life and love and gives us the gift of her beautiful keyboard skills. Alex writes wonderful songs which are easy for audiences to pick up as well as the most tender of love songs.  I write contemporary songs incorporating Scottish Gaelic with English and the Scots tongue-  on contemporary subjects such as technology and ‘empty nest syndrome’!  It gives me the chance to experiment with new ways of making Gaelic accessible to a wider audience. And Stu, our cajon player  and percussionist  gives us that fantastic extra brilliance of beat for whatever the style and tempo.

3. What can we expect from this project musically?

Musically we want to show an audience that Scottish music does not have to be traditional to be representative of our language and culture. That is is possible, in the hands of good musicians and writers, to take elements from all aspects of the Scottish musical spectrum and blend them into something new, fresh and invigorating, a new face of Scottish music. All members of the band are well established and well respected in their solo careers and we only perform to the highest professional standards. We are all passionate about what we do and we believe that is evident in our performance.  

4.Is there an album coming out soon?

We will be going to Watercolour Studio on the lovely Ardgour peninsula at the end of April to record our debut album “Pay it Forward” and we are hugely excited by the prospect of working very very hard at producing what we hope will  be a truly special and indigenous album.  We are totally delighted and honoured that the album will be released on the Greentrax label and we are very grateful to Ian Green to having faith in us to produce an album for his catalogue. He has been following us since our first rehearsals and says that he did indeed spy something unique about us right from the beginning. We take our title from the fact that , having been lucky in being given support from various people over the last 2 years, we now want to ‘pay a little forward’ and do something for other people or groups in the Community. To date , we’ve done some local charity gigs to raise money for the new Church roof in Prestonpans, where  Alex comes from.. The album will be out during the Summer.  

5. I heard a few sample tracks and I understand what makes the band exciting. The tracks are really groovy and good enough for dancing. I am sure fans of Reggae, Traditional music as well as Jazz will love the music. Who lays down the musical ideas for the tracks?

 All the ideas for the tracks come from ourselves. We bring an idea to the group then just jam for a while until something gels then we work on that basic idea.  Its often easier working with others than on your own as you can bat ideas around and someone will play a wee riff or sing a ‘doo wop’ that sparks something interesting and unusual.  Generally we have an idea in our heads of what sort of ‘feel’ we can imagine for a song but sometimes it ends up being totally different to the first template! For instance, in ‘Gazz’,  that developed from Roberto playing a riff on the upright bass then each of us just joining in with some little snippet, then I threw in some odd Gaelic words which then developed themselves into a wee new genre- Gazz- Gaelic Jazz! Its great fun as well as being completely inspirational, working with the others. We’re all so thankful that we met in the Burnsong House in 2009- Kilmarnock Edition has given all of our musical careers a totally new direction and hopefully it will take us to all parts of Scotland, the Uk and to further afield too- we really do believe that overseas markets will find out new style of Scottish music, appealing whilst still drawing on our traditions and respecting where we come from.          



Urstan!Mairi Morrison and Alasdair Roberts

Urstan-A gaelic term, specific to the Isles of Lewis, for a baby’s head-wetting.

Urstan feels at home with rainy afternoons and hot chocolate. The music has that festive appeal amidst the meditative flavour that is traditional Scottish music. Listening to the first track  Mìle Marbhphaisg air a’ Ghaol will tell you that the people behind this album put their best efforts to make sure all details and nuances of sound are captured  to the last decibel. The Laird o’ the Drum is an English language ballad that relies on spare arrangement making way for more vocal clarity. Here Mairi Morrison offers the backing to Alasdair Roberts. Làrach do Thacaidean is a playful Gaelic song with that feet tapping hip swaying rhythm. The rolling drums are crunchy enough to make you roll your eyes with pleasure. Never Wed An Old Man reminds me of those funny traditional songs that have that tongue in cheek kind of sarcasm that never fails to raise laughter.

E Ho Leigein is sung a capella during the first verse.  Here Mairi’s voice gathers more magnetism and grace. Fiullaigean has both Irish and Scottish arrangement. The clarity of the instrumental parts are really something that is ever-present in this recording. Hion Dail-a Horo Hì is  a kind of puit a beul song that will catch your attention with its vocal arrangement. Here Mairi sings the parts of the chorus using her voice as an instrument with percussive force. The Tri-Coloured House is a ballad that starts with a fiddle then blossoms into a full set of other instruments plus vocals by Alasdair. The beauty of simplistic  guitar driven music hits home in the enchanting   Am Faca Sibh Lilidh Tha Mise Ri Lorg?

My curiosity was aroused with Ailein Duinn. This has been covered by Capercaillie and I thought something like this(especially after being in the Rob Roy soundtrack) will be hard to top. But Mairi’s vocal rendition is mind blowing. The instrumental arrangement for this track is genius! The Whole House Is Singing  is the most cheerful track I heard from this album. I think I might have smiled a lot all through the length of this song. Leanabh an Òir  closes this wonderful album. The track is wrapped in spare arrangement and clear sonic mixing that everything about it feels like gazing at a clear pond and seeing your reflection. Drag City has created a unique album worth your ears. The liner notes as well as the CD box are a fun thing to relish. I give this album two thumbs up!

Le Vent du Nord, Lunasa’s La Nua and the Julie Fowlis EPK

Le Vent du Nord continue  to define borders of music never been explored before by other musicians. Not only that they create a kind of sound that appeals to both French, Irish and Breton listeners, they also transcend boundaries of what is alternative and what is traditional. Upon first listen, the band exude a kind of breezy top 40 adult contemporary rock feel…well, not until one listens carefully to the arrangements, one will realize how so much craft and thought have been poured into the recordings.

The really interesting thing about merging French and Celtic music is the way the words sound . There is a lot of sensuality to it.They help bring  Québécois music (which is heavily influenced by Celtic music from both Ireland and Brittany), to the  public and I think it also gave me so much insight into the kind of diverse culture Canada has. The band already released five albums.

Band members play a variety of instruments each taking turns in every arrangements.

For those who love the traditional band Lunasa, they have a new album out called  La Nua . Samples of the songs can be heard on the band’s website.  This is really a treat to Lunasa fans who have been thirsting for  latest music coming from this one of a kind Irish band. Released last April, this is what the site has to sat about the new album:

Lúnasa celebrate the arrival of a new decade with Lá Nua (‘new day’).

After a 4-year hiatus from the studio, this highly-anticipated album came out of extensive rehearsal and recording on location in the beautiful Cooley mountains in the northeast of Ireland. This environment, rich in the history and culture of ancient Ireland, inspired much of the creativity and new writing on the recording.
Released worldwide 6th April 2010

Here is one nice video from Julie Fowlis . This is an EPK following the release of her latest album “Uam”. I love Julie Fowlis and the freshness she has brought into traditional music.

Why Celtic Music Fanatics Should Love Mary Jane Lamond

Just when we thought the singer with the golden voice has deserted us and left us riddles in Gaelic , she is back and is going around doing some shows. It seems that the foremost representative of Cape Breton’s Gaelic culture is back with more surprises. My foray into this lady’s music was actually due to an accident. I walked in the record store when I was in Makati, when I saw Làn Dùil. I knew the music would e something I like. The packaging says it. The colors red and gold expresses the sentiments. When I opened the liner notes I got a big smile. All songs are written in Gaelic! Though I am not a Gaelic speaker, I love the sound of it. I asked the sales person to play it in loud speakers. It was like going home. From then on I followed her career, and was really surprise when I learned she performed in Ashley McIsaac’s tracks like Sleepy Maggie. Miss Lamond is not the type of artist who releases an album every year. She takes her time doing intensive research. It is after all her academic background that brought her to Celtic music. Now she is really back and we hope for a long long time.


Shhhh! Listen to Skeeal Music

From their MySpace witten in Manx:

she possan dy wheig ‘skeeal’ jannoo ymmyd jeh feddanyn mooarey, gitar as coraaghyn. tayrn veih stoo tradishoonagh as bunneydagh, t’ad cummey reaghysyn sheiltynagh as smooinaghtagh, gleashaghey eddyr ny tree chengaghyn gaelgagh. t’ad voish mannin ny keayrtyn.

Another reason to off the lights: Skeaal has arrived coming from the sunny Isle of Man. This band has brought with them not only the Manx identity but also the ancient spirit of the culture by singing in Manx Gaelic which I and the rest of my readers will also like. When one speaks a foreign language …and turns t into a song, it really doesn’t matter if you don’t understand a thing. How the words and the infliction merge with each other becomes a music on its own. And it is not difficult learning the language this way. In my research , the last native speaker of  Manx died in 1974. But I know the language is making its revival with the help of bands like these. You can’t  force people to learn the language…you have to coax them into it. And this is how you do it.

The music is rich in melody and the instrumentals stand on their own. Relaxing yet has the flavor of Jazz, Rock and Folk. The band has been together for five years and the new album Slipway is out.

How to define “Sean-nós” style of Singing.


Sean-nos or “old style’ of singing as Gaelic suggests has been part of Irish music for ages. I would pull reference to singers like Iarla O’ Lionaird and,Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of Altan among the many. According to, sean-nos can be:

1. A bare voice (not ‘sweet’, with a certain ‘natural fierceness’).

2. No vibrato.

3. No dynamic. (loud/soft)

4. Emotion is expressed through the use of vocal ornamentation, which varies from singer to singer.

5. Free, non-metronomic rhythm used by the singer.

6. The meaning of the words dictates singing from the heart, with ‘soul’. (Without dynamic – see above).

7. Often there is an emphasis on the consonants l, m, n, r to facilitate the free rhythmic pulse and to create a drone effect.

8. Occasional nasalisation.

9. Music takes precedent over the lyric.

10. Often extra meaningless syllables are introduced, e.g., “Thug (a) me”.

11. The use of the glottal stop/dramatic pause.

12. It’s unaccompanied.

13. The melody varies from one verse to the next, and from one performance to the next. This is often referred to as the ‘variation principle’.

14. And last but not least, the singing is in the Irish language.

The whole article can be found here.

Here is an example of Sean-nos singing. And of course my personal favorite Iarla O’Lionaird