Flower & Iron

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Most traditional Celtic bands focus on tunes first and songs second. Scotland's Malinky take the opposite tack with their fourth album, emphasizing songs over instrumentals and featuring rather unusual arrangements that sometimes pair male and female vocals together -- an approach that is somewhat unique among trad groups. The singing is excellent: Steve Byrne avoids the thin, weedy vocal style favored by so many of his compatriots, and instead sings in a richer, slightly chestier style that very nicely complements the flute-like voice of Fiona Hunter. Most of the songs on Flower & Iron are traditional, and some are quite familiar: "The Broomfield Hill" is very closely related to "The Bonnie Green Broom," and those familiar with the Child collection of ballads will likely recognize "Sweet Willie and Fair Annie" as well. But the arrangements are all new and quietly innovative, and when the band takes off on a sprightly set of reels or slip jigs, the effect is electrifying. The album's low point is a rather ham-fisted antiwar song called "When Margaret Was Eleven," but even that one's not bad.

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