The Blarney Pilgrim: Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar Volume Two

Various Artists

Rounder Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


A few months ago, we took a look at the first disc in Rounder's Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar series, featuring some of the finest acoustic guitar work I had heard in a long time. For some reason, though, I found myself constantly locking in to only the first disc Ramble To Cashel, and I never really got around to listening to The Blarney Pilgrim, the conclusion of the two-disc series.

After just one listen to this disc, I was kicking myself hard. Not only is this disc an excellent collection of guitar work, but it's even better than the first volume in the series - and that was going to be a difficult disc to top.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The same group of guitarists who performed on Ramble To Cashel perform on this album, taking traditional Irish and Scottish music and pouring it into their instruments. What comes out is not merely Irish or Scottish music; it's wonderful guitar arrangements that transcend any ethnic boundaries one might want to place on them.

The work of two guitarists in particular I'd like to point out. These are the works that, when I heard them, made my jaw scrape the floor. First, Duck Baker's performance on the medley "Miss Forbes Farewell / Poll Halfpenny" completely blows me away. Not having the video that this CD is the companion of, I have to guess that Baker is performing this song on a 12 string guitar. The fingerpicking on the six-string is impressive enough, but Baker adds an incredibly bass-rich tone to this song by switching to the 12-string that makes this track one of the best in the entire collection. (Maybe the next time, they'll do a CD of fingerstyle guitar on only 12-string guitars. I'd buy it!)

The second guitarist is Pierre Bensusan, who throws in flourishes that one would never have expected in his three selections. On tracks like "Sheebeg An Sheemor" and the medley of "The Pure Drop/The Flax In Bloom," Bensusan brings out all of the beauty of these songs with the richness of his work on the acoustic guitar - incredible!

This is not to say that the performances of the other guitarists - Pat Kirtley, Martin Simpson, Steve Baughman, Tom Long and El McMeen - is any less good. Each guitarist demonstrates similar amazing skills on the six-string to create music that is guaranteed to lift your spirits and put a smile on your face, whether you have any Celtic blood in you or not. (The only minor criticism: the microphones for Long's performances were very sensitive; if I'm hearing right, I can hear him breathing, especially on the otherwise outstanding "Jenny Picking Cockles".)

The Blarney Pilgrim is one of the best guitar albums I have ever listened to, and will amaze you with its technical beauty. I don't think, though, I could watch the videos without wanting to smash my own guitars, knowing I'd never be as good as these guitarists.

Rating: A

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© 1999 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 Rounder Records, and is used for informational purposes only.