Sunday, May 11, 2008

Silly Wizard

"Live Wizardry" 1988

Tom Knapp:
A decade since its release and nearly a decade since I first heard it, Live Wizardry remains on the pinnacle of traditional Celtic releases. Originally issued as two live albums, Live in America and Golden, Golden, in 1985, Live Wizardry was released by Green Linnet Records in 1988 as a compilation of the two. The musicians, the tunes and the energy combine to make it an album which should hold a favored place in every music collection. The album features the sonorous tenor vocals of Andy M. Stewart, the blistering fiddle work of Johnny Cunningham and the amazing Phil Cunningham on accordion, whistles, mandola and keyboards. With Gordon Jones on guitar and bodhran and Martin Hadden on bass and guitar rounding out the band, it's about as good a set as you're ever going to find.

Add to that the energy of a live performance in front of an enthusiastic audience in Cambridge, Mass., and you have an album which cannot be beat. Silly Wizard, from Scotland, put out several excellent albums during their all-too-brief tenure together, but none has this kind of staying power ... likely because any good Celtic band feeds on the excitement of a live performance and grows stronger because of it.

On it, you'll find a host of instant classics, tunes which today are Celtic folk standards but got their start right here on the Sanders Theatre stage. How often have you heard a lusty rendition of "Ramblin' Rover" at a packed pub or Renaissance faire? It's a Silly Wizard original. So, too, is "The Queen of Argyll," still one of the best songs of unrequited, but still cheerful, love. Prefer your love requited? Another of Stewart's songs, "Golden, Golden," is a soothing, flowing anthem to romance.

Mix these and other originals with a solid core of traditionals arranged by these musical Wizards and you'll have an album worth playing 'til the laser burns through the disc and you have to buy another one. (I'm pretty sure that's what happened to my first copy.) Traditional tunes include the lively and silly "The Parish of Dunkeld," the melancholy "The Banks of the Lee," the martial "Donald McGillavry" and the sizzling set led off by "The Humors of Tulla" and "Toss the Feathers."

Stewart fronts the band with strong vocals, at times soulful and at times bursting with humor. Behind him, the band mixes up skillful harmonies and arrangements which accent, but never overshadow, the songs. Then turn the band loose on an instrumental number like "Scarce o' Tatties," "The Curlew," "Saint Anne's Reel" or "Jean's Reel" -- all cunningly blended into some very lively sets -- and step back and be amazed. The Cunningham brothers in particular put out some dazzling sounds, especially in "The Humors of Tulla" set, that must be heard to be believed.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's almost impossible to find nowadays.

29 May, 2008 01:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's almost impossible to find nowadays.

29 May, 2008 01:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please reload.

06 November, 2009 23:59  

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