Presence in the Past

Brakin' Tradition

(Cat. # 9050)

Brakin' Tradition Entertainment Ltd.
P.O. Box 381, St. Peters,
Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia B0E 3B0
Ph(902)535-2874 Fax(902)535-2909

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Kyle Rudgers
(kyler@tiac.net)

Although they perform some traditional Irish and Celtic songs, Brakin' Tradition is not a typical Celtic band by any stretch of the imagination. They are a full band, complete with amplifiers and electric instruments. But the skill with which the songs are performed, and the clarity of their production, make all the songs sound as if they were written specifically for them. The marriage between traditional styles and modern instrumentation is hugely successful, leading to a lively and enjoyable album.

The album is split up almost evenly into traditional songs, of which there are six, and more recent compositions, of which there are four. "Bonnie Bessie Logan," a quiet song of unrequited love, is the standout traditional track. With subtle percussion, ace acoustic guitar work, electric guitar blending seamlessly with the exceptional fiddle playing, and the sorrowful, rich tenor voice of lead singer Cyril MacPhee, this tune comes across as their own personal creation. Uptempo songs fare as well. "Brennan on the Moor," a lively track about an Irish highwayman, is almost wholly electric, showcases the tight playing that is this band's hallmark.

The modern tracks by and large reflect the band member's roots in the Maritime Provinces of Canada. "The Jeannie C.," the classic Stan Rogers song, is the album's most outstanding track. Brakin' Tradition has followed Rule One of covering a classic song: make it your own. By adding a shimmering, subdued electric guitar, along with beautiful harmony vocals on the tag line "I'll go to sea no more," Brakin' Tradition has called up images of lost sailors and lost ships -- and more importantly, lost livelihoods -- and honored them.

They have honored the late Stan Rogers as well. "Patiently Waiting" is a song in the Rogers tradition, a mournful song about the plight of the proud fishermen who are suffering from the devastating economy. The chorus is:
Ah, but these proud men
Who once weathered rough water
Faced the cold spray every day
Now they must sit here just patiently waiting
For handouts to come down their way
And it gets harder each day

MacPhee's angry, plaintive tenor is heartbreaking to hear. "Storms," however, is a lively, poetically evocative song ("Oh the mist it creeps along the shore/The sun bids the sea good morning/Last night's star-filled brilliant sky/Gave way without forewarning) about the pull of the sea on the men that make their living from it.

The production of the album is crisp and clean. There is not one instance of overproduction. Each instrument sounds like it is meant to be included, and each musician is a master of their instrument. Guitarists Scott MacDonald and Doug Sampson weave a rich texture of sound, around which Ray Legere's fiddle and mandolin playing is icing on the cake. It is obvious that Brakin' Tradition have put time into their craft, as the sound is tight and disciplined --just what you might expect from a band specializing in Celtic music. Even if it is "plugged in."

After listening to "Presence in the Past," you may never want to hear "Danny Boy" sung slowly accompanied by an accordion ever again. By making traditional and traditional-style music fresh, Brakin' Tradition has breathed new life into a genre that can, at times, be staid and rigid. And for that, along with the simple fact that they're darn good, they are to be congratulated.

Edited by Shawn Linderman

Copyright 1997, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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