Issue #88 June / July 2000

SKYEDANCE
Labyrinth
Culburnie CUL116D (1999)

VARIOUS ARTISTS
Auld Long Syne
Culburnie CUL117D (1999)

There are many artists and groups trying to find a bridge between the old and new worlds of Celtic music. Some have added electronics and loops, some have grafted on bass and drums, others have "lightened up" the music, making it bland and accessible. Skyedance, on the other hand, have taken a more exciting approach. The group combines three of the best Celtic musicians in the U.S. - fiddler Alasdair Fraser, piper Eric Rigler, and flautist - Chris Norman - with keyboardist Paul Machlis, bassist Mick Linden, and percussionist Peter Maund, and they have charted their own path in making new Celtic-based music.

Labyrinth is an apt title for this collection. It explores various paths and styles, yet always leads back to the unified center of what Celtic music is. Key to the wide range of music found here is that five of the musicians contributed pieces to the recording. Each composing musician's instrument is given a main focus, with others joining in, giving the music a number of different feels and stylings, all firmly rooted in and given inspiration by Celtic music. Some of the pieces are very traditional sounding, others have a jazzy feel, some are quiet and reflective, a few with a harder edge, but all showcase the band's unity of approach.

The musicianship is of the highest caliber. The group has been together long enough that playing off one another is now second nature. The tunes are all well written and have interesting melodic structures that hold up well on repeated listening. If you're seeking music that shows a viable way of forging a new path in Celtic music, you will find it here.

Alasdair Fraser's Culburnie Records has quietly become one of the best Celtic music labels today. Releasing his own projects (solo recordings, due work with guitarist Tony McManus, and Skyedance) as well as licensing some of the better recordings coming out in Scotland, Fraser has built up an impressive catalog of music. Auld Lang Syne is a sampler of his label, centered around his own work as well as modern Celtic artists The Cast, Chantan, and Bachué. It works both as an enjoyable recording on its own as well as a sampler of the label.

Jim Lee
(Simi Valley, CA)