Big Badger Records

Formed in Bristol in early 2005, the unforgettably-named combo Sheelanagig have already made a reputation for themselves as an unmissable live act through an intensive year of gigging and festival appearances, though this CD, their debut recording, was my first encounter with the band. Its eleven tracks would seem to set out their proverbial stall admirably and in suitably commanding, upfront fashion: Sheelanagig's special brand of music-making, which they quite legitimately dub "acoustic world-folk mayhem", incorporates and fuses a number of ethnic styles, most noticeably gypsy jazz, Celtic folk, East European dance tunes and North African - with more than a dash of Latin, ska, klezmer and even medieval. The five musicians (Adrian Sykes, Dave Archer, Aaron Catlow, John Blakeley and Dorian Sutton) come from a variety of musical backgrounds (jazz, early music, experimental and electronic, busking!) and together they achieve a vitally energetic, and full, sound with what might seem comparatively small resources. The individual timbres of flute/whistle, violin/mandolin, acoustic guitar, percussion (darabouka, bodhrán, drumkit) and double-bass are all creatively utilised and textures blend together most satisfyingly, helped by a bright, clear recording.

The material is mostly original (by group members), with a few clever arrangements of tunes from traditional sources. The menu is varied and highly appetising: 'Dinner For One' is western-swing-meets-Celtic, and Nestor's 'Spyglass' brings the Yiddish Rude Boys out onto the dance floor, after which 'Bourée À Durin' barely conceals its desire to jettison its brisk tango and make a less dignified bolt for the exit! Then a complete contrast is provided by the harp-led set featuring guest musician Jenny Crook (track 5), which turns into a seductive jazzy reel; following which the racy bossanova feel of 'Kopfniker' is given extra rhythmic spice by the use of a tabla to boost the beat. Perhaps just occasionally there's a feel of relentlessness to the proceedings, which leaves the listener with a slight sense of "OK, so what?" - though I'm sure this doesn't happen in live performance! In every other respect this is a most invigorating debut CD.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 69 of The Living Tradition magazine.