The Burly Minstrels
P.O. Box 4298
Austin, Texas 78765
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Lyle Skinner
You may not think of Austin, Texas as the source of an album consisting principally of popular Celtic folk songs and Maritime sea shanties, but Bob Bielefeld and Jim Hancock, a well known musical duo based in Austin, who call themselves The Burly Minstrels, released such a CD in 1997, titled This is the Chorus. A quick listen, and this album will soon have you singing along to the familiar songs and tapping your toes to the instrumental tunes. And if you don't know the words, you'll still be able to join in- the lyrics are included with the liner notes.
All the tracks on This is the Chorus were recorded live (no "overdubs") at various performances by The Burly Minstrels throughout Texas and Florida. In addition to sharing the vocals on This is the Chorus, Bob takes the lead on the traditional flute and the fife (a variety of the flute that is not typically heard on folk recordings) with Jim joining in on the guitar. Special guest musician Michael Marzella, on the bodhran drum, also joins Bob and Jim on several tracks.
As often occurs on "live" albums recorded at various venues, the quality of the sound varies significantly from track to track on This is the Chorus. One of the strengths of the CD, however, is that Bob and Jim enjoy performing before a "live" audience and their energy definitely comes through.
Over the course of the 16 tracks, there is almost an even mix of 7 lyricized songs and 9 instrumental pieces. While there is nothing new here (in terms of the selection of music) The Burley Minstrels give their own unique interpretations and arrangements to such standards as Ramblin' Sailor, Fiddler's Green, The Star of County Down, The Nutting Girl, The Rocky Road to Dublin, and The Mermaid. They end "This is the Chorus" with a well-known traditional "closing" song often performed at live performances, where everyone in the audience joins in and raises their glasses to Here's a Health to the Company.
Overall, the singing and the instrument playing on This is the Chorus can be termed comfortable- not flashy or over-produced. I definitely feel, however, that The Burly Minstrels are a duo that are likely more effective if they are seen "live" in a pub or an intimate concert setting, rather than on a recording.
As with the wandering minstrels of yore, though, Bob Bielefeld and Jim Hancock as The Burly Minstrels, have released, with This is the Chorus, a CD that will both entertain and help to take our minds momentarily away from the rigors of daily life.
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Edited by Kerry Bernard