Review: New Celtic Moon
Canadian Folk Music Bulletin review ---------------------------------------------------------------------
The Paul Haslem Consort.
Sugo Music, PO Box 1196, El Granada, California 94018
Celtic music appears to have been embraced by New Age labels with an enthusiasm that's, frankly, a little scary. First there are the endless compilations with a "Celtic" in the title, which, while they aren't inherently bad in and of themselves, do put forward a rather skewed impression of Celtic music. They invariable collect the quietest and dreamiest cuts from various albums and string them together, so that, even with lively groups such as Dervish and Deanta being represented, you still tend to fall asleep listening to one CD all the way through. Then there are the albums featuring a particular instrument (usually harp, flute, low whistles or hammered dulcimer) that are too often composed solely of twiddly improvisations played against a wash of synth strings.
However, as always, there is good music to be found amongst the fluff, and remember, Stivell's classic Renaissance of the Celtic Harp is usually found in the New Age bins these days. One of the better examples of what can be done with the genre is hammered dulcimer player Paul Haslem's new album. On earlier, self-produced CDs, Haslem covered both standards for his instrument (O'Carolan tunes and the like) and some fine original music. New Celtic Moon features mostly original material penned by the Ontario-based Haslem, on his own or with guitarist Stevan Pasero. What makes the album so good? Simply put, Haslem is in love with melody. Yes, there are dreamy background washes in places, and improvisational elements, but the former are done with taste, and the latter owe more to jazz in how they play off a strong melody. Instead of drifting away into nebulous New Age Neverneverland, the improvisations enhance and expand upon the melody's original themes.
It also helps that Haslem's consort is made up with such fine musicians (acoustic guitar, oboe, percussion, keyboards) and that he's such a clean player himself. On an instrument where the ringing of previously-played strings can overwhelm, Haslem's playing is notable for its clarity. So ignore the New Age packaging and appreciate the album for what it is: fine acoustic-based, melody-strong music played with great heart.
Charles De Lint, Ottawa, Ontario
Copyright © 1999