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Vertical Records VERTCD093

Mike McGoldrick's much-anticipated multi-ethnic megaband brought out this recording in January, and its well worth getting hold of. FTC might not be quite as radical as expected - it's basically an extended Mike McGoldrick Band with a few special guests, and the major non-Irish influence is top tabla-tapper Parvinder Bharat - but this collection is certainly more adventurous than most. Mixing McGoldrick compositions with traditional and contemporary tunes from up and down the Celtic Fringe, FTC puts a heavy beat and deep-pile arrangements under the virtuoso melody-line. Andrew Dinan's fiddle is present on every track, as are Ian Fletcher's guitars and keyboards. Mike is magnificent on flutes, pipes, whistles, bodhran, mandola and spoons! Briefer appearances from Donald Shaw, Dermot Byrne and Paddy Kerr are augmented by interlopers on bass, accordion, jaw harp and even hurdy-gurdy.

There are some great musical moments here: the conga arrangement of Killarney Boys Of Pleasure, Maeve MacKinnon's windswept vocals on Stormless Isle, the sheer luxuriance of the last 90 seconds of Castros, all eight minutes of Strike The House Down, the syncopations on Paddy Keenan's version of Toss The Feathers, and the charming Iberian collage of Las Palmas. The opening Irish-Indian track is stupendous; the final funky Blue Berimbau is perhaps not as striking but still a satisfying finish.

Perfection? Well, no. Although McGoldrick is an experienced blender of styles and sounds, from his fabulous Fused album through dalliances with the Afro-Celts and RASA among others, not everything here works for me. The shift into Jacky Molard's is a gear change in the wrong direction. Parvinder sounds like he's fighting with a biscuit-tin during Young Tom Ennis, and there were a couple of points where FTC became audio wallpaper as my attention wandered. This music is experimental in nature, and as the oft-quoted Sandy Brechin wrote, "Sometimes it doesn't work" - but nine out of ten times this album hits the target for me. Not to be missed.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 88 of The Living Tradition magazine.