Cowboy Celtic

David Wilkie

(RHR CD 95)

Red House Records, Inc.
P O Box 4044
St. Paul, MN 55104

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Henry Koretzky

Cowboy Celtic. Two seemingly incongruent adjectives, but... the title says it all. This collection of songs (predominantly instrumentals) associated with the North American cowboy lifestyle emphasizes the Celtic origins of its melodies. The recording is quietly fronted by mandolinist/guitarist David Wilkie, whose eclectic string playing is better known to Canadian listeners through his work with the Great Western Orchestra and Ian Tyson. Wilkie yields the greater part of the spotlight to the McDades, a quartet consisting of Jeremiah McDade on tin whistle and Uilleann pipes, Shannon Johnson on violin, Terry McDade on Celtic harp, and bassist Solon McDade.

The result places hauntingly familiar melodies in a context which sounds both old and new. These atmospheric arrangements are rich and complex, and the treatments are full of surprises. A straightforward rendition of Gary Owen abruptly segues into one of the two original vocals by Wilkie included on Cowboy Celtic, Custer Died a Runnin'. (The other is a moody love song with the unlikely title Tempting the Salmon to Come to the Fly.) Another familiar fiddle tune, The Girl I Left Behind Me, shifts smoothly into a western swing groove, thus reflecting its history with both Appalachian fiddlers and Bob Wills' Texas Playboys.

Wilkie, a marvelously versatile mandolinist, keeps himself in the background on this CD. This is especially unfortunate for American audiences since they have had a limited opportunity to hear his fine playing (his old Boot LP The Mandoline Kid is still one of my personal favorites in my collection). But he does integrate his mandolin into the arrangement of the lilting opening medley The Trail to Mexico/In the Tap Room/The Banshee, and he takes the lead on The Colorado Trail and Annie Laurie.

Cowboy Celtic is a unique rapprochement between these two musical traditions. Fans of either genre should find plenty here to expand their listening horizons. Here's hoping that Wilkie's increased American audience (via Cowboy Celtic's release on Red House Records) creates a demand for more recordings from this fine adopted Canadian musician.

Edited by Ky Hote

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

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