CD Reviews

Nancy Raven: Watersongs — Flowing from Seas and Rivers. A worldwide collection for kids.
Bookings and CD info:

In this wonderful collection of water songs, Nancy Raven brings us samples from the Hebrides Islands, Newfoundland, Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy, Australia, Samoa, Canada, Hawaii, and 8 of other US origin. There are songs of work, lullabies, sea songs, some stories, and several for fun such as the “Geoduck Song” which in my opinion simply can’t be beat.

Having sung a lot for the very young in her 50-year career as a performer, you can be assured that this selection emphasizes singalongs “for kids” as specified in the title. Not that adults will be able to resist the urge to sing here with Nancy and her friends. Those friends include Pat Clark on mandolin, banjo and fiddle; Ann Downs, mandolin, banjo; Steve Mortensen, vocals, guitars, keyboards; Bob Hobbs, percussion, foghorn, waterphone, didgeridoo, sound effects; Lichi Fuentes, vocal; Donna Viscuso, harmonica; Bradley Williams, accordion; Richard Rosen, harmonica; Mark Sherman, banjo; and Dixi Dixon, harmonies.

When good friends and good musicians sing and play together the result is more than just good listening. The spirit of doing what is enjoyed and makes life worthwhile comes through. Our recommendation is to get this CD and join in the fun, not just get it for your kids, grandkids, and other kids’ birthdays (though those are highly recommended too!) but for yourselves and friends.

Nancy, formerly of Oakland, now lives in Monterey and continues to sing for and with children and adults wherever possible. Most of her many earlier recordings have been made into CDs, available through Nancy’s website, or 136 Spray Avenue, Monterey CA 93940.

—Faith Petric

Avocet: Where the Scented Flower Grows.
Bookings and CD info:

An avocet is a native Northern California waterfowl—or in this case a very talented musical quartet based in the Guerneville area: Mitch Gordon, Roz Reynolds, Merilee Buster and Gerry Fabiano, on instruments including French hurdy-gurdy, guitar, fiddle, harp, mandolin, octave mandolin, accordion, and hammer dulcimer. For yours truly, the centerpiece here is the excellent work of Roz Reynolds on the hurdy-gurdy, with its wild and mysterious bagpipe-like sound, both from its solo notes and its drone-like quality.

The recording’s title is taken from a line in the CD’s first cut, the beautiful Scottish love song “The Echo Mocks the Corncrake,” nicely sung by Mitch Gordon. Several other vocals deserve special mention: Roz Reynolds’ version of the dark and disquieting “Bedlam Boys,” with the hurdy-gurdy bringing full and baleful effect to its disturbing imagery of the world of the insane; Merilee Buster’s rendering of the dark and sinister Scottish ballad “Twa Corbies,” with its tale of infidelity, betrayal, and probable murder; and her brisk and lively interpretation of the cross-dressing epic “The Sailor Maid”; while Gerry Fabiano contributes a nice and unusual version of the tale of a youth gone bad, “The Newry Highwayman.” There are some lovely instrumental pieces: “O’Carolan’s Draught,” the Celtic medleys “Wind That Shakes the Barley—Lark in the Morning” and “Blarney Pilgrim—Banished Misfortune—Cliffs of Moher.” Anyone who likes the traditional music and dance forms of France will enjoy the several medleys of French tunes, played with delight, a grand spirit, and the group’s deep and abiding love for the varied traditions of France. The more I hear this recording, the more I want to hear it again. 

—Robert Rodriquez

Navan: Lowena
Bookings and CD info:

Navan, a name taken from an ancient hill-fort in northern Ireland’s County Armagh, is also the name of a very talented a cappella Celtic singing group based in Madison, Wisconsin. Originally a quartet, performing since 2000, they are now a trio: Sheila Shigley, Elizabeth Fine, and Paul Gorman. Lowena is the Cornish word for joy—yes, Virginia, there is indeed a Cornish language—and that is exactly the effect of listening to this, their third recording. It is elemental, exquisite, poetic, and ancient in theme, mode, and imagery; this is unaccompanied singing with some of the nicest harmonies you’ll find anywhere this side of a ceilidh. And these folks do not just use one or two Celtic languages; they sing in six of the seven recognized Celtic tongues (all but Manx): Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish Breton, and Celtoberian—that unusual language found in northern and northwestern Spain adjacent to the Portuguese border, and principally spoken in Galicia.

The music on this recording ranges the Celtic landscape from the Iberian peninsula to Nova Scotia, with various themes and modes. For example: a Breton lament for a dead lover; a Jacobite song still current in Nova Scotian tradition; a Welsh song honoring a fallen soldier in World War I; several Scottish waulking songs (sung while new wool is beaten and prepared for final use); puirt-a-beul, or mouth music, often sung for dancing or rhythmic purposes when no instruments are available; and several Cornish songs taken from very ancient miracle plays, ranging from religious pieces to songs based around the Arthurian tradition. Melody buffs will perhaps recognize several pieces, including the title song “Lowena,” which will remind some of a variant of the English ballad “The Cruel Brother”; and “Caitlin of the Tresses,” very similar in melody to the Appalachian “Across the Blue Mountains.” There is even a Scottish lullaby, said to be sung by a Faerie woman to a mortal child from the Isle of Skye. Fans of traditional Celtic song and the tradition of a cappella singing will find this album a true joy, in any language. 

—Robert Rodriquez