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The Arms Dealer's Daughter

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Audio CD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Shoogle Records
  • ASIN: B0000AINHC
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,312,386 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Jan P. Dennis on September 24, 2003
Format: Audio CD
Shooglenifty, that decade-old Scotish neo-trad Celtic band, has produced their finest release to date--and one of the finest ever string band records, at least to these ears.
Why?
Primarily because they've figured out how to walk a fine line between faithfulness to their roots (Celtic string band music) and still expand their musical palette in fruitful new directions, successfully avoiding, on the one hand, the Scylla of mindless traditionalism and on the other the Charybdis of inane experimentation. I'm not surprised it's taken 10 years to completely figure this out; many bands never do.
A careful listen to a couple of pivotal numbers--"The Nordal Rumba" and "Maxine's Polka"--amply demonstrates this dexterity. The first, not really a rumba, but definitely exhibiting some kind of Caribbean groove (more Calypso-sounding, I'd say) with its Island percussion, that mesmerizing West-African guitar thing, and punk-Tropic drumming, proves the point with the lead instument being a fiddle, definitely NOT a traditonal Caribbean instrument. Add the Salsa Celtica Horn Section, and you've got an instant classic. "Maxine's Polka" takes a similar strategy--with equally effective results. This time the lead instruments are fiddle and mandolin (doubling the melody, supported by banjo)--also, certainly, not mainstream polka instruments, with a wicked whiplash percussion thing intermixed. Once again, it doesn't really sound that much like a polka--more like a jig with polka-like undertones. But each works marvelously, drawing on the folk-sensibility of rumba and polka, but transposing each into a unique world-folk-jazz setting.
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Format: Audio CD
Shooglenifty, although not very well known in the U.S., have been generating their own brand traditionally inspired, unabashedly dance-oriented music ("hypnofolkadelic acid croft") for over a decade. The formula is simple: take great tunes (traditional or not) and play them on fiddle, mandolin and banjo backed up with solid guitar, bass and percussion. Modify with jazzy improvisation, some spooky vocals, and blinding speed and the result is dense, energetic dance music that goes straight for the brainstem.
The Arms Dealer's Daughter is their fourth studio album and the first one to feature their revised lineup. A band whose playing is this tight might normally be crippled by loss of the very talented Ian McLeod and Conrad Ivitsky but the Shoogles managed to locate the young, antipodean mandolinist Luke Plumb and the bassist Quee MacArthur to fill their spots. Plumb has no trouble keeping up with the Shoogle sound: his sharp, bubbly mandolin playing meshes so tightly with Angus Grant?s fiddle that the two almost seem to be one instrument at times. He also contributes a number of fantastic tunes to the album, including the gorgeous Tune for Bartley. Overall, this is a fantastic album with much more acoustic feel than their third album(Solar Shears) and a bit more of the live sound that is captured so well on Live at Selwyn Hall (here's hoping for a live album with the new lineup). The Arms Dealer's Daughter has an incredibly wide range of sounds (driven in large part by Plumb's tunes) : from the groovy riffs of Heading West to the very latin Nordal Rhumba. In fact, I find that there are very few tracks on this album that you could peg as "Scottish" but so many great tracks that I enjoy listening too much to notice.
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Format: Audio CD
By my rough definition a "head tune" is a song or tune that lodges in your brain deeply enough to play its way out several times a day, especially when you are not overly pre-occupied. How many decent "head tunes" can a good CD hold? Two, perhaps three? A week of listening to Shooglenifty's new CD, followed by four days away from it in the Tasmanian highlands, have revealed at least five head tunes on this album. Translation? This is a great album!

To my mind this wonderful Scottish band had drifted somewhat in their last CD or two. Their inventive pairing of almost industrial-strength percussion and Scottish tunes had wandered too far in the direction of weirdness for my liking. Melody and lilt, Scottish music's great strengths, were becoming too hard to find. So what's changed? Let me be parochial enough to suggest that the injection of young Tasmanian mandolin/bouzouki/banjo whizz Luke Plumb into the group has given it a huge melodic lift. He was conscripted for their 2002 Australian tour, and has become a welded on and, it's to be hoped, long-term member of the band.

Right from the first track, the memorable Glenuig Hall, his melodic inventiveness makes its mark. That's not to deny the on-going splendour of fiddler Angus Grant's playing and tune writing - for instance the gentle title track contrasting with the energetic Aye Right!, or his playful Nordal Rumba, with its brassy Latino feel. Also the playing and writing of percussionist James Mackintosh (the edgily exotic A Fistful of Euro), and guitarist Malcolm Crosbie continue to inspire. And Garry Finlayson is still dangerously close to making banjo playing fashionable.

But - and please forgive the pun - the plum tunes so often have Luke Plumb's name associated with them.
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