A Review of the Slainte Mhath CD
"Slainte Mhath"

"Slainte Mhath"
by Slainte Mhath

Greentrax CDTRAX 219

This review is written by Dai Woosnam, daigress@hotmail.com, 6/05

Look at a detailed map of the Maritime Provinces of Eastern Canada. You will see that Cape Breton Island, a place a bit under half the size of Wales, is connected by road to its big brother, Nova Scotia. And that name, "New Scotland", gives you the clue as to the major immigrant group (and cultural influence) in Cape Breton. They came to work the coal mines and catch the fish. And they always say that no Scottish heart beats prouder than that of an exiled Scot. And by golly, this CD is proof positive. You close your eyes, and at different moments, there is more than a passing nod to The Battlefield Band, Ossian and Silly Wizard. Praise indeed. But don't think this wholly instrumental album is totally derivative. They clearly have a sound of their own.

What makes it different? Not easy to say, but perhaps it is bound up in their geography. If I did not already know that Slainte Mhath (pronounced slawn-cha va), were from Cape Breton, I would have to say that one would still be able to detect "The Exile" in the sheer melancholic PLAINTIVE quality of much of the music. It is not the open "hiraeth" type of homesickness of the Welsh exile: this is much more in the subconscious, as these five musicians are doubtless proud Canadians.Much of this album's content are classics of the repertoire. And the selection of material also demonstrate a further aspect of Cape Breton history: there has also been significant IRISH immigration in the past, and thus the album takes on more of a Pan-Celtic feel, with its choice of some tunes that would set a Paddy's feet a-dancing.I could listen to it all day: it is of a consistently high quality.

But that said, one track really does jump out at you. " Si Bheag, Si Mhor" is genuinely HEADY stuff, with Ryan McNeil's keyboards triumphant. Indeed, in an album where dazzling fiddles and superb pipe playing is the order of the day, it is his hugely authoritative keyboard playing that takes the laurels.

Finally, this album has managed to do something that even fellow Islanders Natalie MacMaster and The Rankin Family didn't succeed in doing: make me add "Cape Breton" to a long list of places I "wish to visit". There's a moratorium on cod fishing, and many of the coal seams are now exhausted: but clearly there is a rich seam of MUSICIAN for Cape Breton Island to give the world.

Dai Woosnam
Grimsby, England

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