The Lea Rig

El McMeen

Piney Ridge Music, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


As I've said in previous reviews, I'm an absolute sucker for good guitar music. Being a one-time student of the instrument (as well as the occasional player these days, when my hands will allow me to play without cramping up), I know how beautiful people can make this instrument sound. I'm also a sucker for music with an Irish or Celtic twist to it, thanks to a portion of my heritage.

Fingerstyle guitarist El McMeen might be a lawyer by trade, but no one should have any objections to his latest collection, The Lea Rig, the first disc which features McMeen performing with other musicians. I first got to know McMeen's music through his work on the Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar CD series from Rounder, and he has yet to disappoint me.

Admittedly, I was a bit nervous about this disc - after all, when I pick up a disc from an artist like McMeen, I want to hear the guitar work primarily. However, those fears proved to be short lived. If anything, working with musicians like Larry Pattis (another guitarist whose work we've featured on these pages), whistler Bob Pegritz, fiddler Kate MacLeod and songwriter/harmonica player (harmonica-ist?) Steve Black actually deepens the Celtic roots of much of this music.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Granted, it's hard not to notice the mournful whistles on songs like "Bridget Cruise, 3d Air" and "Sad Eyes," or the fiddle work on "The Shearing's Not For You / Bogie's Bonny Belle," but more often than not, the contributions of the other musicians becomes such an intregal part of the piece that the listener almost doesn't notice their presence. This is far from a negative; if anything, the contributions enrich McMeen's already deep playing, and they all take these songs to a new level.

McMeen is also able to put new spins on songs you wouldn't expect to hear on an album like The Lea Rig - but then again, if you know McMeen, the inclusion of works from artists like Bruce Springsteen ("Sad Eyes") won't surprise you in the least. McMeen's re-take on George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun" is a loving tribute to the song, and remains respectful of the original. And while it takes longer than I'd like to warm up to his take on "Stop, In The Name Of Love," one can eventually understand what McMeen was trying to do with this song.

Two minor complaints I'll direct to McMeen himself, especially since the chances are good that he'll be reading this review. First, while I respect and enjoy the covers (especially the works of Turlough O'Carolan), I'd like to hear more of your own original songs. "High Ground" shows you're no slouch in the songwriting department. Second, two words: more vocals! "West Virginia Moon" is hauntingly beautiful, and frankly, it wouldn't have had the same impact without the vocals. Just my two cents, anyway.

Good guitar work doesn't necessarily have to come from an effects-laden electric with someone playing a million notes in the span of a second. It can come from the thoughtful, emotional takes on an acoustic - something which McMeen has made a career out of. The Lea Rig is yet another example of why McMeen is so highly regarded in his field, and why more people should be paying attention to this soft-spoken guitarist.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Piney Ridge Music, and is used for informational purposes only.