October 31, 2002

Good health

Slainte Mhath
MapleMusic Recordings

Reviewer's rating: 3.5 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Andrew Berthoff

Slainte Mhath is a young Celtic-styled group from Nova Scotia that just spews talent. On Va, the band’s second CD, Highland pipes are the centerpiece of much of what they do. Piper John MacPhee has quick, rhythmical, talented hands. That’s not to take anything away from the other four musicians, but this is a piping magazine, after all. There are 14 tracks on Va, most taking a decidedly modern approach to old music.

“Foxhunter’s” is a standout and, at 2:47, reaches the brink of being over-produced, but builds and rises beautifully. The piano interlude is a musical masterstroke. Almost the same can be said of “004,” which gets bolder gradually, leaving the listener, as with all good music, wanting more when it ends. More like these, please.

They do throw in a few oom-pa Cape Breton style piano/keyboards fiddle/piping tracks (“Strathspey/Reel Set,” “Silver Spear”) played with a strong off beat, but these seem out of step with what the band really wants to do. The cuts come across like an MSR or piobaireachd does on a Gordon Duncan recording.

Other highlights include “The Farmer Killed His Ox Today,” with a brilliantly played melody on electric guitar. MacPhee’s use of Highland pipes in the key of A (as on “Magnus’s Memory”) is effective, and overall the disc produces excellent energy, reflective no doubt of the younger talent.

Use of vocals is minimal, and singing is non-existent, as are slower cuts, until the end of the recording in “Attack of the Flying Slugs.” This could be on a soundtrack for a David Lynch movie. Lisa Gallant seems to have a lovely voice, but this is the only time we really hear it.

This is a group with a good sense of humour, having fun with old music made new. The penultimate cut, “My New Pants,” is introduced with a disembodied, Styx-esque voice saying, “I want to dance in my new pants.” And the sampled murmuring auditorium in the background is having good fun, too.

So often groups like Slainte Mhath seem to vanish after a CD or two. If these musicians can hold it together – and we really hope they do – we’re sure to hear many more fine recordings and performances from them in the future.


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