Susan McKeown and The Chanting House

(PCD 027)

Sheila-na-Gig Music
P.O. Box 2349
New York, NY 10009-2349

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Shawn Linderman

Once every decade or so, a new talent appears who manages to expand and redefine the boundaries of several genres simultaneously. Infusing Irish traditional music with a unique and exciting melange of jazz, funk, rock and blues influences, Susan McKeown and the Chanting House's debut album hits the acoustic folk pond, and the ripples lap against both sides of the Atlantic.

Dublin-born Susan McKeown has a powerful yet fluid alto voice of tremendous range. It is the eagle soaring, the falcon swooping, the sparrow flitting, and the hummingbird darting, all charged with the mystery that shrouds the raven of Celtic mythology. Such a voice would normally dominate supporting musicians, but not here. With energy, precision and liquid grace, the artistry of The Chanting House is equally as important to the success of Bones as is McKeown's voice. Lindsey Horner is passionately intense on upright bass. Chris Cunningham plays guitars with masterfully relaxed frenzy. Michelle Kinney's cello sweetly binds the two in a fine weave built on the loom of drums and percussion crafted by Joe Trump.

Love & Superstition is the strongest tune on this CD, with voice and instruments handling several tempos and spanning their available tonal ranges. These are bound together through the song's relatively catchy chorus. (Mere mortals will have a hard time singing _any_ of Susan's choruses!)

Heart has sparse but imagery-intense lyrics against a soft background of cello and bass, while the traditional combination Westron Wynde/Westlin Winds features strongly accented voice/bass pulses countered with lovely guitar and cello riffs between verses.

Ce Leis e? (kay-lesh-hay, Whose is this?/Whose is he?) is a pretty, softly energetic tune about love and possessive tendencies. Taking this theme to the extreme, the haunting slowness of Albatross helps convey the heavy burden of too much love.

The essence of Susan McKeown and The Chanting House might be found in Storm in a Teacup. The analogy of tremendous forces unleashed in a small space is an apt portrayal of the group. This energy is also evident in the funk and rock powered song titled, Snakes (Mna no hEireann). McKeown's tremolo wailing on the chorus ("All of this pain, O mercy sweet/All of this pain, I'll stamp it out beneath my feet") and the closing Irish Gaelic verse make this track really standout, as do Chris and Lindsey's rhythmic string work.

Many of the songs on this album are difficult to categorize. The title track, for example, is an ethereal combination of German polka, Gypsy lilts, and vocals rendered as if played on an early Victrola recording. However, it is inaccurate to say that various musical influences resulted in Bones. Instead, Susan McKeown and The Chanting House have unique vision and, with skill and dexterity, they simply grab and combine the ingredients necessary to achieve its creation. Bones is a very impressive, highly professional debut of an entirely new sound in the acoustic realm.

Edited by Michele Scherneck

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

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