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A lot has changed since The Outside Track released their debut CD a couple of years ago. From a loose collection of Limerick music students, this quintet has evolved into a powerful focused group. Take the first track here: The Turkish Revery, an uncommon song learnt from Daithí Sproule who got it from Burl Ives, a clear combination of Irish and North American influences. Norah Rendell sings this and the other five songs on this recording in a strong voice which reminds me of Touchstone’ s performances, another transatlantic collaboration. Norah is an Irish Canadian who drifted south, and she’s joined by the formidable firepower of fiddler Mairi Rankin from Nova Scotia, forming the New World side of The Outside Track. The other three members are from Edinburgh, Easter Ross and Limerick, giving this group their rather broad focus on Irish, Scottish and North American Celtic music.
That focus is stretched slightly for the first of six instrumental tracks, but it’s a justified departure: Eric St-Pierre is a box-player from Quebec, and his swirling reel Le Voyage is worth bending a few rules. Norah’s flute is joined by the piano box of Fiona Black and the versatile harp of Ailie Robertson, while guitarist Cillian O’Dálaigh strums solidly behind. This track like many others shows the arranging skills of the band, weaving instruments tightly together. The second song Silvy Silvy is a New Brunswick version of a well known ballad, and in traditional Canadian fashion it’s paired with a complementary melody on fiddle. The next set brings us back to Europe with three splendid jigs: a lovely inventive version of Frankie Gavin’s tune Doberman’s Wallet which hasn’t had too many outings since he recorded it on A Jacket of Batteries, then the flowing Peter Byrne’s Jig, and Ailie’s soaring composition Swerving for Bunnies. And so it continues. A stirring set of Sliabh Luachra polkas shows off those great arranging skills again. Caroline of Edinburgh Town sees the band in sad and gentle mood. The following two medleys are back to the core of Celtic dance music old and new, with melodies by Jerry Holland and James Kelly. The traditional songs Hares on the Mountain and Madam Madam are paired with a fabulous version of The Maids of Galway and Fiona’s interpretation of Lauren MacColl’s reel The Dealer. Cillian’s tune Crusty the Clown starts a distinctly funky pre-final track. The album finishes with the haunting Farewell Song, written by Missouri’s Julie Henigan and introduced by a charming fiddle air. Curious Things Given Wings – an intriguing title for an enthralling CD which sets The Outside Track on a very promising course, highly recommended.