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REVIEW: Michael McGoldrick and John McSherry: At First Light
2.16.2002 by Sean

Michael McGoldrick and John McSherry: At First Light [Vertical Records, 2002]

Two words? Vibrancy, light.

Michael McGoldrick and John McSherry are among the brightest lights of trad Celtic music, and beyond simply showcasing their talents, At First Light makes for a thrilling listening experience: passionate, melodic and diverse. Throughout the disc, McGoldrick and McSherry's piping mingles with guest artists' guitar, fiddle, bouzouki and more, and these accompanying instruments lend a breadth and a depth to what might otherwise become tedious. "Doinna" is pensive and lilting, recalling Davy Spillane's "Midnight Walker", whereas "Lucy Campbell's" has the familiar reeling, seaside feel of Cape Breton artists such as Ashley MacIsaac. Varied acoustic guitar lines and instrumentation carry the disc from the virtuosic into the truly lovely, and while McGoldrick and McSherry's mastery of the low whistle, tin whistle, uilleann pipes (etc.) is evident, the multi-instrumental arrangements stroke the ear in a way that forty-three minutes of Celtic pipe reels could not. At First Light is filled with songs for dancing, but its energy is also cathartic and inherently restive. Unlike the sometimes-shrill Chieftains, these artists play with a subtlety and an appreciation for dynamics that comes before blind convention or tradition. Songs such as "Jimmy Batty's/The Bloom of Youth" eventually introduce drums and bass with a pop sensibility that would be at home on conventional music-radio. The only place the album stumbles are when these unexpected flourishes interrupt the lilting delivery - such as the synthesized organ on "Ornette's Trip to Belfast", or the weak-kneed piano on "The Graf Spee". Overall, however, At First Light's experiments into blipfolk of the Capercaille variety are consistently successful, and they only add to this album's overwhelming charm.

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