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Calico "Songdogs" Black Hat Music BHMCD21

Calico have expanded from a trio to a five piece since their 1998 debut 'Celanova Square', adding vocals for the first time to their established uilleann pipes, fiddle, guitar and bouzouki mix. 99% of the tunes are composed by the band members, the strongest from the chanter of piper Diarmaid Moynihan, notably the jigs set 'On the move' which features some cracking interplay between the pipes and the fiddle and 'Hooversville' a workmanlike set of sensibly paced reels.

The band's long stated desire to marry Irish and Breton music, featured on their last album, also reappears on the sets 'Elysian Fields' and 'Men of Destiny' which with their relaxed, pleasant pipe and slippers feel is probably what Calico are going to be remembered for in the long term. Although the tune sets are very enjoyable it seems that a bit more meat on the bone in the rhythm department and a bit more bottom end would help set them apart from the pack. Ultimately Calico's feel in their big tune sets aims towards the ground already won by Lughnasa and producer Declan Sinnot's console efforts lacks that extra dynamic required to separate out the individual players, to give the album that extra punch required.

Unfortunately the three songs on the album really are the dogs of the piece. Patty Larkin's 'Metal Drums' is a dry dog's dinner protest song about chemical poisoning in the bad old US of A. 'Susanna Martin', based around the Salem witch trials is a runt of a ramble into the dark old dirgy days when men were men and witches became toast. Singer Deidre Moynihan's original song 'Small Sacrifice' is also a true howler. An oblique look at lost love and relationships, or a bedsit poetry competition winner on the dynamics of Zen archery? Only time will tell, but it's a safe bet not to make it onto your hundred best songs for the next millennium.

The choice of song material is disappointing as Ms Moynihan possesses a nicely coloured voice, comparable to, but without the power of, Karen Casey, but the wordy nature of the tracks here leave her little room to showcase her skills. Thus Calico's second outing is not a huge leap forward for the band, however it does consolidate the great ensemble playing witnessed in their debut. Diarmaid Moynihan is proving to be an influential tunesmith and if they last the pace for another recorded outing that these songdogs will offer some extra bite.

Iain McQueen

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This album was reviewed in Issue 44 of The Living Tradition magazine.