Celtic Social Club (from the album From Babylon To Avalon, Kitchen Disco Records) (by Chris Wheatley)
The music of Franco-Gaelic septet The Celtic Social Club, in their own words, ‘knows no boundaries’. Their new album, the splendidly-titled From Babylon to Avalon, is, in fact, a re-release of their third and most recent record, expanded with additional tracks and available for the first time in the UK market. It's a mark of success that Celtic Social Club take this career step, having garnered much praise in France. The group's line-up is fascinating. Dan Donnelly (former Wonder Stuff and The Levellers member) takes lead vocals. Ronan Le Bars, an acknowledged master of the Uilleann Pipes (Irish bagpipes), lends a distinguished presence. Manu Masko (founder of Blues-Funk group John Doe) supplies the drums. Fiddle virtuoso Pierre Stephan, multi-instrumentalist Goulven Hamel, harmonica expert Mathieu Pequeriau (personally endorsed by none other than Lee Oskar), and cultural globetrotter, bassist Richard Puaud round out the band.
Wedding traditional Folk to forms of contemporary music is a tricky task to pull off. Such projects can all too easily stumble into a no-man's land between the two, not quite convincing on either side. When it does work, however, the results can be beautiful and powerful. Happily, The Celtic Social Club are firmly in the latter camp.
“Sunshine” is very strong opener for From Babylon to Avalon, a sonically-bright, mid-tempo Pop-Rock shot of pure goodness. What strikes one immediately is the lush production. There's something of a classic 90’s vibe here. Think Lightning Seeds or U2, with studio-effects married nicely to down-home honest music. Technical production does not distract from or swamp the fine roots playing. Fiddle, banjo and pipes shine through joyously. ‘It's a beautiful feeling’ sings Donnelly ‘it's got me believing’. It certainly had me believing. It would be a hard heart that isn't won over by this top-down, gently-cruising anthem.
“Dead End” proves that the band has much more than one trick up its sleeve. This track bounces irrepressibly with Ska-Punk energy, reeling fiddle and vamping strings. There is as much invention as energy here; unexpected harmonies and chord-progressions build nicely around the wild freedom at its core. “I'm Free” rolls gently, with acoustic guitar and beautiful undercurrents of keyboards. Arrangement and production on this album are masterful, seamlessly integrating the varied sounds into a potent blend. The results are immensely likeable. Memorable pop hooks and stirring choruses abound, yet the love for and respect of traditional craft lies behind every note.
The traditional “Black is the Colour” is here transformed into a short and captivating work of layered, echoing vocals. “It's Morning John” rattles and flashes, showcasing those wondrous Uilleann pipes in all their glory. Hamel's banjo, throughout this record, is a delight, applying that unique instrument’s ringing tone tastefully to drive and accentuate. The rhythm section lift and propel. Puaud's bass warrants repeated listens, supplying, as it does, a subtle, supple backbone. Masko's drumming is selfless and near-perfect. The poignant “Black Lives” (featuring excellent English group The Futureheads) makes for a wonderful inclusion. It's an intriguing, adventurous song, spiky and melodic, with something of a Beatles air. The two live tracks which close the album provide a welcome glimpse of The Celtic Social Club's on-stage proficiency, often a mark of how accomplished a band truly are.
From Babylon to Avalon is a fine musical statement from some very talented players indeed. (by Chris Wheatley)
Listen and buy the music of Celtic Social Club from Amazon
For more information head on over to the Celtic Social Club website