Castle Keep

Live at 22 Below

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Live at 22 Below is very Celtic, yet also a really mixed bag as to quality. Castle Keep needs to work on their editing. If there's going to be a spoken intro, don't start recording it halfway through the explanation, or if you don't get the whole intro, cut off the partial section before releasing the song. Listeners may find themselves wishing they could like this album better than they actually do. "Where Are You Going" has too long of a spoken explanation to start, fingers slipping on the strings, vocals that verge on the strident on the chorus. This one really needs more work. Sometimes live recordings are not the best options, and this is such a time. They'd have done better to leave this particular recording unreleased. "Son Ar Chistr/Do You Love An Apple" is one of their more successful ventures. Jodee James's vocals are clearly articulated this time, as also on "It's of a Pretty Ploughboy." Yes, when they pull everything together, it's really lovely -- now, if they'd do that consistently, all would be well. "Can Y Cardi" is quite pleasingly sung, except for the fact that it's a man's song about a Welsh collier, and James' female vocals can't convey accurate emotional depth here. Plus, her lilting along about "Using as much soap/As my wife she will allow" just plain sounds odd to traditionalists. Same problem with "Maggie" -- nice rendition, but wrong gender for the vocalist. Casual listeners won't mind. Traditionalists will. "Red Is the Rose" is the Irish set of lyrics that are sung to the Scottish tune "Loch Lomond," and here again, casual listeners will say fine, people accustomed to the Irish version will have no problems, but fans of "Loch Lomond" will be grinding their teeth. "Two out of three ain't bad" is only comforting if you're in one of the two groups. The third's out of luck. As a note, while it's interesting to know where Castle Keep learned the songs, when the source is another modern Celtic group with perhaps a more skillfully performed version, sometimes the comparison that comes to the listeners' minds is less than favorable. Jodee James also has an unfortunate habit of ending her live performances with a throaty little titter that gets old really fast. If she'd lose that behavior, or at least edit it out afterward, it'd be a good thing. Overall, it's better than their EP A Taste Of yet still has lots of room for improvement. If you're a Castle Keep fan, get it, if not, you may want to wait for a later release.