Caliban -- _Caliban_ (Magna Carta, 1998)

Celtic rock and traditional Celtic folk unite in the splendid debut from Caliban, a side project of two members of progressive rock heroes Tempest. Even fans of Tempest and their sound -- a bit like the most Celtic-influenced Jethro Tull music, with less flute and more fiddle -- may not expect a record so rootsy and true.

Taking the "unplugged" concept to another level, "Caliban" is an energized and emotional collection of Celtic folk-flavored diversity performed without big band backing. Mandolin, bodhran, and octave-mandola player Lief Sorbye and fiddler Michael Mullen strip away high-power rock trimmings and focus on their acoustic roots in what they call a "pure folk project," resulting in a record likely to win over more traditionalists than rockers with its sweet, fiery, and engaging intimacy.

Both musicians play with passion and precision on songs that magnificently represent their myriad influences. The album includes a 16th century Norwegian ballad ("Jeg Lagde Meg Sa Silde," sung in Norwegian), an acappella British murder ballad, traditional tunes such as "Bold John Barleycorn," some brilliantly performed instrumental medleys ("Tipsy Sailor" combines four traditional reels, while "Major Malley" joins a Scottish pipe march and a fiddle tune), and even a nod to contemporary contributions (Richard Thompson's "Beeswing"). All these blend seamlessly into the spirited and sincere Caliban tapestry, a love affair with traditional folk music where the warmth and emotion are genuine and contagious.

For rock fans of Tempest or Tull, it's an appealing glimpse of living in the past. For Celtic music fans who can appreciate a sparse and rootsy performance from a surprising source, "Caliban" is an acknowledgment that modern musicians find more in Celtic roots than just the synthesizer textures of Enya and Clannad, a welcome unmasking of the traditional beauty and energy that sessions like this can provide.


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