Leahy

Lakefield

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Three years after their auspicious, self-titled debut, the Canadian Celtic family Leahy reenter the fray with their sophomore effort, after selling 150,000 copies, a tour with Shania Twain, and a live PBS documentary under their collective belts. As Celtic music has gone in the mainstream, this set fares better than most. There is plenty of hardcore fiddling, drumming, picking, and singing. That doesn't mean, however, that this set is without its problems because, unfortunately, those abound here as well. "Pure" anything in the pop world is a sham; authenticity has nothing whatsoever to do with quality in the pop market, which is where Leahy have chosen to ply their talents. So it is hypocritical to place blame for the hybridization of Celtic, country, and radio-friendly pop music that occurs here. Leahy have done that quite well actually, both vocally and instrumentally, as evidenced on tracks like "Mission" and "Down That Road." The traditional material fares pretty well too, on "Seamus" and "Minor Medley." So what's the problem? Production for one: All the edges of the fiddles, mandolins, and guitars have been taken off in the studio -- and Leahy have no one but to blame for this but themselves, since they produced the record. The slick sheen on the strings in particular has all the warmth of an icicle. One can no more hear in this music the sound of people dancing in living rooms, at weddings, or in barrooms than one can hear any depth in the emotional commitment of the voices. There simply isn't any. In addition, the original "songs," such as the aforementioned "Down That Road," have the most hackneyed lyrics to be heard since Maura O'Connell tried to write her own songs! If you add the fake, utterly false attempts at gypsy swing, as heard on "Stoney Lake & Juniper Island," you have in your hands the kind of album that will probably sell millions to people who only want the appearance of something genuine but are not prepared to invest the little amount of time it takes to investigate it with any critical care. What will be enough for most folks is that Leahy are a family of traditional musicians who have "developed" slowly over the years to be the commercial sensations they will probably become. This will, to the delight of watered-down labels like Narada, probably sell very well and end up on Utne Reader recommended lists. But the discriminating listener, the one who likes music with soul, fire, and rough-hewn grace, should avoid this set like an Olivia Newton John album. For once, it would be great if people just didn't drink the corporate Kool-Aid. One feels bad for Leahy; they have no idea that the larger commercial backlash is just around the corner, the one that labels them sellouts. That's not suggested here, but one must lament the fact that they made a record that their label wanted them to make rather than one that reflected their true character as a fine band of inspiring musicians.

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