Shenanigan: The Songs and Airs

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Shenanigan is a six-member Celtic band based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. And this sampler, Shenanigan: The Songs and Airs, illustrates how well they do ethereal, even ghostly, ballads. "Muruche" is very effectively eerie, as befits a song about a selkie -- the seal shapechanger of Celtic lore. It's an original composition, while "She Moved Through the Fair" is traditional, but both are haunting and merit repeat play. "Archibald McDonald of Keppoch" is a nice slow air, skillfully performed, and "The Long Road Home," another instrumental, is full of ethereal flutes and whistles. Again, Shenanigan does something that a number of contemporary Celtic groups do, and that's to have a female vocalist on a song -- in this case "Carrickfergus" -- that originally had very masculine lyrics. However, this group has adjusted the gender references to sing of girlhood instead of boyhood, which -- given the female vocalist -- sounds better. While dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists will still wish one of the men in the group had sung it, the compromise will probably please moderates and casual listeners. The one selection that is less than successful is "The Wild One," which has awkward pacing and layers that clash needlessly in places. Considering how well the rest of this collection turned out, listeners may find themselves wishing that Shenanigan had polished this song a bit more before including it. It also has a pretentious, overly precious edge to its lyrics (for example, "casting out my soul in search of desperate glory"). It's just too full of itself about how wondrous it purports to be. If one cut is going to prove repeatedly irksome to hear, this is it. Still, the collection is strong enough that its merits outweigh its occasional flaws, and there are enough fans of fantasy-inspired music in the world that, fortunately for the song's author, even this aggravating item will have its loyal advocates. In all, while Shenanigan's performances of original songs are a mixed bag from ethereal to melodic to the one annoying cut, the band still shows that, with just a bit more polishing, the potential for excellence is near at hand. Meanwhile, when it comes to traditional songs, Shenanigan already has it well and truly together.