Secret Commonwealth

Uninvited Guest

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Uninvited Guest is a deep yet soothing album of Celtic songs from the Nashville group Secret Commonwealth. Released five years after their 1997 self-titled debut, the band refers to this disc as

a "concept album collecting many Halloween and supernatural-tinged original songs." "The Last of the H.M.S. Gannett" could be Gordon Lightfoot's "Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" with Loreena McKennitt and Ian Anderson adding vocals and flute, respectively. It's not, of course, but that's what it sounds like, an intriguing mix of styles that carries the storytelling in a professional and compelling way. "The Silke" is more traditional pop and as such is the anomaly on this collection, a side dish which makes the entire package all the more eclectic. "The Glowin' Bones of Craggy Hope" comes off like a serious version of "Theme to Gilligan's Island," not only in the fact that the protagonist vanishes à la Gilligan, but that the melody is a close cousin to what was heard each episode during the opening to the hit TV show. There's an underlying theme of fun that pervades this sincere and sometimes somber music and that's what makes Uninvited Guest work on so many levels. "Frost on the Pumpkin" will take the listener into a different world, the flute, mandolin, and Uillean pipes on the various tunes coupled with studied arrangements creating a delightful blend of storytelling and musical entertainment. "Autumn Wind" has more than a hint of John Cale in both the vocal and sentiment, and in doing so it becomes a stand-out number. Any number of major artists could work their way into this material, Neil Young when he's 80 might want to cover "Put Your Hand to the Plow" while Stevie Nicks' mysticism would be highly appropriate for "Varulven (The Werewolf)." The band's website notes that Swedish singer Malin Robison "introduced songs from her Scandinavian homeland" to the group, and those flavors only add to the finished product, an elegantly progressive mix of time changes and genre shifts performed with a touch of class; interesting music that is -- surprisingly -- perfectly crafted by a group of relative unknowns.

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