Tuesday, December 7, 2010



Back in the late 80's, all sorts of cultural sounds were being remodelled, updated and cross-referenced, and becoming part of the World Music scene. Turns out we had a few of them in Canada, and one ripe for the picking was the sound of Celtic music. Great Big Sea and Spirit Of The West would soon be famous for it, but predating them slightly was Rawlins Cross. Formed in St. John's, the group would soon expand to involve members from all four Atlantic Provinces. Along the way, they created a unique fusion, mixing traditional Celtic instruments and arrangements with a hard-driving rhythm section, and a powerful lead singer in low-voiced PEI native Joey Kitson. The group's signiture tune described it best: Reel 'n' Roll.

After becoming national concert favourites and perennial scoopers of East Coast Music Awards, the group parted company at the end of the century. But the past two years has seen a flurry of activity, from a greatest hits package to renewed touring. Now comes this first studio album in 12 years. They really haven't had to change a thing. The mix of Celtic and rock still works well, and despite all the exposure the genre has had in the wake of its invention, Rawlins Cross still sounds fresh in a big East Coast sea of fiddles and pipes. It's a big band, a big sound, and these are smart, inventive players.

While the basic approach hasn't changed, on Heart.Head.Hands the band is still trying out new fusions of Celtic colours and other cultures. Sometimes these are rousing successes, such as the instrumental track Jigs, where the group deconstructs the jig style with varied instrumentation, fast plucking and odd chords, giving the mix a Grecian feel, plus the feeling of being inside a workshop, a music-making factory. The vocal song Demons opens with a drone, and mixes in a North Aftrican vibe, again a eerie and succesful blend. Other attempts aren't so appealing, and feel like somebody said, "Let's try reggae! What about if we go to Brazil on this one?"

Back in the regular Celtic rock, Rawlins Cross simply can't be beat in this country. The title cut drives home the album's theme of craftsmanship and strong moral fibre, and check out the rockin' electric guitar-bagpipe duel on Singles. That instrumental has the hardest edge of any track here, and shows how Rawlins Cross is still one of the great party bands.

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