The debut album by the High Kings, brought to you by the same folks who had a hand in faux-Celtic abominations like Celtic Woman and Riverdance, brings up an important philosophical question: just exactly what is the demographic for this blend of middlebrow easy listening and buffed-and-polished Irish folk music? More to the point, what does that audience (which was comparatively massive for the world music fringe: this album actually made the lower depths of the Billboard Top 200 album chart) get out of the antiseptic gloss of The High Kings that isn't available to them through the equally cleaned-up and mainstream likes of, say, the Chieftains or Clannad? Listening to the painfully polite and over-manicured tunes here, it seems like the target market for The High Kings is those consumers whose first exposure to the pennywhistle was Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," and who just naturally assume that that's what Irish folk music sounds like as a result. That sense of maudlin earnestness permeates nearly the entire album, even on tunes that are striving to be upbeat and frolicsome, such as the unbearably twee "Marie's Wedding." The nadir is an a cappella version of Richard Thompson's "From Galway to Graceland" that takes a lovely albeit slightly moist tune and turns it into sickly, sentimental treacle that makes the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem sound like Thin Lizzy in comparison. People who actually like Celtic music should probably stay far away from this hot Irish mess.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason