Monday, September 15, 2008


CONNEMARA – “Beyond The Horizon” CD ’93 (Blix Street, US) – Most people who know me, know me to be a rocker, a metalhead. See, I’m this 280 pound guy with waist-length hair, a gnarled beard, tattoos from neck to ankle, huge wallet chain and jacket with logos of Death, Entombed and Celtic Frost emblazoned all over. But in reality, the people who really know me know I’m far more than a rivet brain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you, but I kinda lied before. I’m really 200 pounds, basically have no hair and a tiny (albeit often long) facial growth that my 6 year old daughter ridicules as my “goat beard.” And, when it comes to fashion, while I do own some band shirts like Highbinder, Thunderlip and U.S. Christmas, I’m more often seen sporting one of my “zoo” t-shirt collection or a Washington Nationals “t.” (I know, no accounting for sports taste). Point is, with everybody, there’s more than meets the eye and with me, musically, that’s definitely the truth. While I try to bring that out in the pages of RAYSREALM, sometimes I think not enough and that’s why today, in a fit of who knows what, I decided to regale you with a bit about one of my favourite Celtic folk albums, CONNEMARA’s “Beyond The Horizon.” This one is a big one for me, in one sense, because it’s the one that got me bit by the Celtic folk bug. On the advice/insistent urging of a friend, I made the drive many years ago to the Potomac Celtic Festival to check out CONNEMARA, a semi-local band consisting of Grace Griffith (vocals, guitar), Cathy Palmer (fiddle) & Tracey Brown (Celtic harp). What I was immediately stricken by that day (other than a fecal horror beyond human imagination in one of the port-a-pots) was the correlation between Celtic folk and the hard rock/metal that’s so dominated my listening hours. This was driven home to me not only by seeing CONNEMARA perform live then, but upon repeated listening to this disc, which I purchased from their merch stand. Just the energy level alone was quite a shocker to me. When the band launches into the reels & jigs, fast instrumental numbers like “Christiana’s Jig” and “Lark In The Morning,” there is no way you can resist banging the ground with your feet and bobbing your head along to the fast-paced rhythms. Seriously, put this through a Marshall, add a little distortion and you’re not going to be that far off from some of the instrumental parts of Maiden songs. The musicianship is another factor. You can hear it anywhere on this album, but check out the “Fiddler, Play The Light” featuring Cathy Palmer’s killer playing. Huge comparison to a metal guitarist going off, really, and I was amazed by my instantly being dragged into the wake of a new instrument for myself: air fiddle! What really got me going, however, was the vocal prowess of Grace Griffith and the songs themselves. Throughout “Beyond…,” Grace puts on a world-class vocal performance that fans of nearly any style would appreciate. Whether it’s the soaring “My Heart’s In The Highlands,” the hook-laden “The Scholar” or the hopeful “Free & Easy,” Grace’s interpretations are borne on such a pure, smooth and glorious voice that she immediately elevates herself beyond the genre to a status as one of the best vocalists these ears have had the pleasure to hear. This all reaches a mind-blowing apex on the devastating “Tha Mi Sgith/All Soul’s Night/Seann Triubhas Uilleachain.” Listen to this haunting, ethereal masterpiece and tell me that music has to be highly amplified & over-driven to be heavy. In all, will every person who’s I-Pod is crammed with Testament, Judas Priest & Slayer be able to make the connection to Celtic music? Possibly not, and yet I still think the answer may be a higher percentage than one might initially think. If you’re ready to open your minds, there is no better place to start than the magnificent “Beyond The Horizon.” 10.0

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