A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark O'Donnell
Airs, jigs, reels, polkas, English Dance tunes, reggae beats, French Canadian and Finnish fiddle tunes and tunes dedicated to West Indian singing legends...it really doesn't get much more eclectic than this. Sharon Shannon, Irish born squeeze box champ and fiddler, breaks more than a few preconceptions with this her sophomore effort for Green Linnet. You may know of Shannon through her work and tours with the A Women's Heart projects where she has gained recognition along side the like of Mary and Francis Black, Maura O'Connell and Eleanor McEvoy. The acclaim is well deserved, but you wouldn't know of her adventurous musical spirit through that somewhat non-traditional traditional setting.
Clearly as second albums go, Shannon was not playing it safe. In Out The Gap, she is joined by a very tight ensemble, as well as the occasional sax, trumpet, trombone, sax synthesizer and string section. Also appearing is Irish singer/songwriter/guitarist Gerry O'Beirne (late of Patrick Street). With top reggae producer Denis Bovell in charge on 5 of the 12 tracks, the variety of sounds and arrangements should not be surprise. There are, however, many surprises. To be sure, the heartwarming traditional Celtic tunes are there, with The Big Mistake being one. But along side this, you will find the gypsy like Reel Beatrice, the first reggae polkas that this reviewer has ever heard (Bjorn Again Polka and Bungee Jumpers), a reggaeish reel in Sparky (listen to that backbeat), a formal English dance minuet in The Duke Of Yorke's Troope, and the melancholic, sweet Finnish tune Butterflies. The ironically named The Mighty Sparrow (the famous West Indian singer referred to earlier) starts out as a wonderfully melodic traditional fiddle tune before slipping into a jazzy almost new agey tune (don't let this put you off--it works) and then back again. One surprise experienced was how good a fiddler Shannon is. Well known on the accordion, she sounds just fine on fiddle tunes like Sandy River Belle and Thunderhead (accompanied by O'Beirne).
You would think that with this much ground to cover, there would be some slippage. You might expect that ambition would overtake her - not the case here. The traditional instruments blend is nearly seamless with the variety of world beats. The horns meld with the accordion giving a real sense of joy, uplift, and laid back reggae punctuation. (Listen to the title cut.) Nothing overwhelms anything else and it all works. Shannon, who did most of the arrangements for the tunes, makes them her own. She sh ows that world music has made an impact in quaint auld Ireland or at least on the younger generation that Shannon represents. The notion of the ensemble is real a key to the success of this album. While Shannon shines on her solos, she seems quite content to play within the unit and let the songs speak for themselves. She has taken some chances and has pretty much won all bets. If there are any complaints, they would be that 1) she could use some help in designing the next CD cover. This one does not exactly leap off the shelf at you. 2) 39'22" is a bit short for a CD. Granted there is much fine music packed in here, but at CD prices these days length is one factor to consider.
You don't have to be a fan of Celtic music to appreciate the command of Sharon Shannon on OUT THE GAP. She more than fulfills the promise of her debut album and leaves you wanting more, hopefully forthcoming on future releases. I only hope that she tours my way soon. Seeing this album live would be a real treat.