Rant And Roar

Great Big Sea

Sire Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Celtic music is like anchovies. The people who love anchovies are lyrical in their devotion, and the people who can't stand the little hairy fish go into utter hives at the very thought of having to eat them. In the last five years, Celtic music -- which includes music from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and Canada -- has made considerable inroads into the world music scene, mostly by adulterating itself with another musical form: be it new age lyricism like Clannad or pop harmonies like The Corrs, Celtic music becomes more palatable to the average person by 'cutting' it a bit, just as more people eat Caesar salad than gobble down straight anchovies.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Some of the best attempts at restyling Celtic music for a modern audience are coming out of eastern Canada and Newfoundland; fiddlers like Angus Leahy of Leahy and Ashley MacIsaac are making clever, accessible CDs with strong hooks to them. The latest entry in this movement is the American debut by St John's, Newfoundland band Great Big Sea, entitled Rant And Roar.

Great Big Sea has a history of being quirky. Their Canadian releases include a fiddle-fueled cover of Slade's "Run Runaway", which itself is a traditional tune, so we have the reverse alchemy of trad-to-rock-to-rocktrad, strange enough for anyone. This CD continues that quirkiness; a collection of songs from their second and third Canadian releases, Play and Up, it features Great Big Sea in all their various moods. They can be puckish ("Mari-Mac", a traditional Scottish tune taken to new heights by the sheer -speed- of its performance), rowdy ("The Night Pat Murphy Died"), poppish ("End Of The World", a delightful fiddle-fueled cover of the R.E.M. song), or touching ("Fast As I Can", one of the sweetest ballads I've ever heard about the beginning of a love affair).

Great Big Sea's layered harmonies are what makes their sound; on "The Old Black Rum", they sound like a room of drunken musicians having the time of their lives, and the emotion is infectious. This isn't a CD you sit and analyze, or one that you write term papers about in Mass Media class. This is music you party to, drink Bushmill's or Molson to, or, dare I say it, dance to.

No, Celtic music isn't for everyone. But if you were looking for an introduction to the modern form, you could do worse -- a lot worse -- than picking up this CD.

Rating: A-

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© 1998 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 Sire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.