"Not another compilation!"
This one's a bit special though. It marks Capercaillie's 20th anniversary,
and through 150+ minutes, it charts the band's pioneering, perhaps restless
musical journey. It includes deleted tracks & rare remixes, and one previously
unreleased set, The Snuff Wife Jigs. In a surprisingly effective touch,
the music takes you backwards in time until you reach 1984 and The Little
Cascade - this wonderful final tune evokes vivid images of the band's
Argyllshire roots with its earthy, accordion-led simplicity and joie de
vivre - and it lingers in the mind.
Capercaillie 2004 is polished, dynamic and assured - I cite the irresistible
beauty of songs like Mile Marbhaisg as evidence. They've embraced world/jazz
influences and yet have remained true to their Scottish heritage. Blessed
from the start by Karen Matheson's beautiful voice, and a seductive array
of Celtic instrumentation, this band makes fiendishly good music - with
cracking tunes. The fledgling Capercaillie was an altogether 'rootsier'
outfit, and there are many who still prefer that raw-at-the-edges sound.
Interestingly, the band returned to those acoustic roots during this year's
Highland & Islands tour.
It's good to reflect on the outstanding musical talents of two former
band members in particular: Marc Duff (reeds/bodhran) and John Saich (bass).
This music has stood the test of time - it's only when you hit 1986 and
Crosswinds that it starts to feel dated, but material from 1991's Delirium
sounds as if it was recorded yesterday. That turbo-charged combination
of Donald Shaw (accordion/keys), Charlie McKerron (fiddle) and Manus Lunny
(bouzouki) - they got together in 1989 - was monumentally enhanced back
in the late 90's when Michael McGoldrick, with his improvisational genius
on reeds & pipes, and bassist Ewen Vernal, bringing eons of flair from
his jazz/rock background, joined the line up. They've helped take the
band's music to another level altogether.
I honestly feel that a vocal track from Cascade should have been included,
if only to demonstrate the metamorphosis of Matheson's vocal from those
very early, Mod-style recordings, to that sublimely poised, eminently
listenable voice of today. There will be few readers who haven't listened
to Capercaillie's distinctive, dynamic, beautiful music. For those who
haven't, this recording comes highly recommended.