Review: Capercaillie’s “Roses and Tears”
Twenty years together, and Capercaillie is still solidly Celtic … and, yet, still defiantly hard to pigeonhole.
With “Roses and Tears,” the Scottish band’s latest release on the Compass label, it’s clear the band has lost none of its creative energy. On the contrary, they’ve continued to advance the strongly percussive, polyrhythmic approach that had landed them pretty squarely in the “World” section of the CD sale racks since, um … forever.
Karen Matheson is, well, Karen Matheson. I first heard her years ago, before I even knew what a Capercaillie was, on a 1995 Putamayo “Celtic Women of the World” compilation. She was singing Dark Alan (from “Rob Roy”). Even then, her voice reminded me of single malt. Smoky, velvety, sweet, with a bit of an edge. (Bonus: No hangover!)
On “Rose and Tears,” Matheson’s voice seems to have entered a new level of maturity. I’ll admit that my judgment in this regard is colored somewhat by her performance on one particular tune, John Martyn’s anti-war song “Don’t You Go.”
This is the second CD from Compass in a year to include in-your-face ant-war material—the last being Michael Black’s eponymous debut album. In the ’60s, the airwaves were full of the stuff. You don’t hear it now much, except in the folk genre.
But back to the point … “Don’t You Go” is just a lovely song to begin with. Anyone could sing it. But when Karen Matheson sings it, you can truly feel the mother’s heartbreak that underlies the lyrics, especially in the wrenching last line.
Matheson is clearly the band’s anchor, but even without her, you’d recognize the sound as distinctively Capercaillie: Michael McGoldrick on pipes and flute, Donald Shaw on accordion, Charlie McKerron on fiddle and Manus Lunny on bouzouki. Propelling the band along, of course, is Capercaillie’s very own version of the fabulous Funk Brothers, the rhythm section: Che Beresford on drums; David Robertson on just about anything else percussive, and Ewen Vernal on the bass. I judge rhythm sections by how much they make me want to bang on the steering wheel. Let’s just say I bang … a whole lot.
It all comes together in several places on the CD, but probably my favorite is the fourth track, entitled “Aphrodesiac,” a wild collection of jigs, with McGoldrick just wailing away like a, I don’t know, wild wailing kind of thing.
The album, all too short at just 12 tracks, features many newly discovered traditional songs culled from the Gaelic song archive at the School of Scottish Studies. Capercaillie applies the good old reliable Capercaillie touch, and suddenly even old tunes sound fresh and vibrant.
All of which sums up what you get on “Roses and Tears.” It’s more of the same.
Ain’t it great?