Is Alternative Gaelic a Genre?
April 17, 2013 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I really like this performance of two Gaelic melodies by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I don't, however, know of anything else similar to this music that I do like.

For instance, I'm not a fan of Celtic Women, Loreena Mckennitt, or much of the music played on NPR's Thistle and Shamrock. There's something about the CCD piece that is less . . . twee, maybe, than the others. Although I'm not musically articulate enough to identify why I like the one and not the other, can anyone suggest similar music that I might enjoy?
posted by bibliowench to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I really like Loreena McKennitt and Blackmore's Night, personally.
posted by LukeLockhart at 1:08 PM on April 17, 2013

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are awesome and I wish I had recommendations that were closer to them, but alternative gaelic is, indeed, a genre.

You've got celtic punk: Flogging Molly, the Dropkick Murphys

and celtic rock/modern folk: Great Big Sea, Gaelic Storm, Mary Prankster
posted by capricorn at 1:14 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Based purely on your statement that you like things that are "less twee" (and please note that I have NOT been able to listen to your link yet, but I think I have the same taste because I hate Celtic Woman too), you may want to look into the Celtic Rock genre.

Although even there I do better dabbling with different songs here and there, rather than delving into an entire artist's catalog. But songs/artists/albums I've liked in the past include:

Sin e, the album Deep Water Dropoff

The Waterboys Fisherman's Blues (one of my desert-island discs, actually)

Solas, Sunny Spells And Scattered Showers

Nthing Great Big Sea, too. I also remember seeing Enter The Haggis at some kind of random event and liking what I heard (and loving the name possibly even more).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Add to that list early Carbon Leaf, perhaps. No Gaelic, but it's definitely Celtic-infused rock.
posted by PussKillian at 1:20 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Upon further reflection, I think you really may enjoy the aforementioned "Deep Water Dropoff". It's sort of a Celtic-rock-jazz-fusiony thing that I realize from that description sounds hideous, but actually really works.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:22 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with EmpressCallipygos, the Sin e album could be a match for you.

(It's pretty cool to see that album recommended on the green :) I saw Sin e in Cardiff Wales in 1999, and I'm pretty sure it was Guy Fawkes/Bonfire night...they were so amazing live.)
posted by foxhat10 at 1:33 PM on April 17, 2013

Best answer: Their version of Mor A'Cheannaich sounds a lot like the version on this 1991 album, Mouth Music, so I think you'd like the rest of the album as well.
posted by MsMolly at 1:36 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might have some luck with the Irish & Celtic Podcast. There are some Gaelic tunes in there, but sub-genres can change drastically per song.
posted by jmd82 at 1:37 PM on April 17, 2013

He sort of dropped off the planet, but Ashley MacIsaac had some pieces you might like.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:50 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Maybe the Unthanks or Espers?
posted by tardigrade at 1:55 PM on April 17, 2013

You might like Seven Nations. (Site seems to autoplay music, so you will find out one way or the other real fast.) As I recall from seeing them probably ten years ago, they had a fiddler/step dancer who was particularly kickass.
posted by clavicle at 1:56 PM on April 17, 2013

Possibly Ashley MacIsaac?
posted by custardfairy at 2:02 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ignore the first 26 seconds, or skip them.

There's another song by them called "In Your Eyes" that's even closer but I can't find it online.
posted by 4bulafia at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2013

Mairi Morrison and Aladair Roberts' album Urstan might be close to what you're looking for (although some of the songs are in english)
posted by pipeski at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh hey wow -- the Paperboys are still a going concern, and some long-ago-ex-Paperboys are the Clumsy Lovers. You might like them too.
posted by clavicle at 2:09 PM on April 17, 2013

This might also fit the bill.
posted by 4bulafia at 2:12 PM on April 17, 2013

If you like some of the more rock-and-roll-ish suggestions here (Ashley MacIsaac, Flogging Molly, Great Big Sea) you might also get a kick out of some of the British folk-rock bands from the 60s and 70s — in particular, I'm thinking Steeleye Span (skip the long slow intro on the 2nd one if you get bored) and Fairport Convention. Their lyrics are mostly English, but the music comes from traditions all over Great Britain and Ireland, with, uh, varying amounts of faithfulness to the source material.

Those guys are a real mixed bag. Their stuff ranges from "stark and intense" thru "over-the-top prog rock" and on to "just as schmaltzy and overproduced as Loreena McKennit." But when they were good, they were really unbelievably good.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

There aren't that many bands that don't degenerate into twee at least a couple of times on their albums. You really have to make your own compilations.

However, Silly Wizard has some songs you might like. (The Queen of All Argyll, maybe?) Sinead O'Connor has a couple in Gaelic that are nice. Dougie McLean's "Are you Sleeping Maggie"?(Hmm- I'm not finding a non-schlock version of that one online.) I'm more of a bagpipe person so I like Iain MacDonald's things (He plays a mean Miss Elspeth Campbell) but if you look for him on he's usually included in compilation albums that are pretty good.

Are you looking for the Gaelic language? Or the (relatively) driving style of the music? If it's the latter, the UK sea chanteys have some too, like Away Santy Anno.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:30 PM on April 17, 2013

Best answer: And at the other end of the spectrum — that recording struck me as not so much "alternative" in the alt-rock/alt-country sense of the word, but really just bare.

I mean, the biggest difference from L McC and Clannad and so forth is that it wasn't drenched in shimmery reverb, layered with portentious orchestration, or puffed up with a full choral arrangement plus seventy-two synchronized step dancers and a laser light show. It was just a flat low-fi recording of a couple musicians in a room. Beyond that, the whole thing was really quite straightforward.

So if that's the part that you liked, you might do better to go back in time, so to speak, rather than forward, and look for older traditional-style recordings.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:31 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Er, sorry, one more thing: that style of nonsense-syllable singing is called puirt a beul, and that might help you find more. A little googling around turned up this awesome 1957 record of totally-unaccompanied 100%-new-agey-synthesizer-free puirt a beul singing from Scotland (you can listen to it here), and I'm sure with a bit of digging you could find re-released versions of some of this stuff.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:35 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hmmm. I'm a fan of the Chocolate Drops, and enjoyed the piece you quoted, but I don't see them or it as anything like "Celtic Rock," which I generally dislike myself. (On preview, 2nding what Now there are two just said)

If you're dis-satisfied with the selections on the Thistle & Shamrock, you might give a listen to WUMB's Celtic Twilight, or WGBH's Celtic Sojourn.

Somewhere between "twee" and "rock and roll," you'll find a lot of groups playing trad music with a modern sensibility: Solas (mentioned above), Dervish, Lunasa, the Battlefield Band, Old Blind Dogs, etc.

And for something completely different, you could give a listen to Crooked Still, the group I heard the Chocolate Drops open for in 2007. Their early albums feature the most kick-ass bluegrass cellist you could hope to hear.
posted by mr vino at 2:36 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Came here to say Alasdair Roberts too (e.g.).
posted by caek at 3:06 PM on April 17, 2013

Best answer: Now that I've gotten home and had a listen - nthing my Solas recommendation. Enter the Haggis may be too "rock" for you, as may Fisherman's Blues (except for the cut When Will We Be Married).

You MIGHT also like this song by Scottish singer Karen Matheson. The instrumentation's a little funkier than usual.

Oh, another thought - if you really wanna go out on a limb, there's always Afro Celt Sound System, which combines Irish, West African, techno, and hip-hop. (Their big "oh, hey wait, I think I actually maybe heard that once" hit was When You're Falling - the band was on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, and he did a guest turn to give them a bit of a boost.) You may also want to dip into some of the work of Afro Celt's lead singer, Iarla O' Lionaird - although that may skew too traditional for you; none of the overblown-heavily-produced-Celtic-Woman stuff, mind, but he seems to favor slower Gaelic ballads and that can get maudlin, but then again I quite like this non-Gaelic song.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one more thing - check out the Green Linnet record label overall.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:28 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Love those songs (and the rest) by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. But, be sure to check out The Chieftains. They aren't alt-celtic, but actual traditional celtic.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops have worked with them on a recent album Voice of Ages. Here's a link to their song "Pretty Little Girl" on Youtube to give you an idea. I think a lot of tracks on the album are collaborations with folk and alt-country artists. Agree with "Now there are two" that you may want to go further back in time. The Chieftains have a long history of working with different country and folk artists.
posted by bessiemae at 5:36 PM on April 17, 2013

Best answer: Was going to say the first one is nearly exactly like "Mouth Music" but MsMolly beat me to it. Also agree with Afro Celt Sound System, especially the third one, and Steeleye Span definitely an odd mixture of awesome and twee and huh? Green Linnet has done at least one sampler which is pretty awesome - good way of getting an overall picture of what's out there.

Personal favourites apart from those mentioned: Kornog, a Breton band which does a lot of instrumental but also some traditional songs which often sound like fairy tales - bloody and moralistic. They do songs in Breton too, just can't find one.

Blue Moose and the Unbuttoned Zippers are a little band but they are fantastic - such energy! Two of my favourites - Roustabout (not the best audio/visual quality ever but gives you an idea of their eclectic approach) and the Moose Schottis (ignore cheesy intro).

Altan (but steer clear of the "best of" album which has full orchestration) - they're a bit more traditional and some of the best fiddle-playing ever. They also sing in Gaelic a lot. On subsequent thought, am not sure if you'd think they're twee. Hm.

Clann Zu started out in Australia making some pretty good post-Celtic pop and then went to Ireland where they got extremely dark and less Celtic. Ah well.

The Pogues! How has no one suggested the Pogues? Ok, stopping now.
posted by Athanassiel at 8:51 PM on April 17, 2013

Yeah, I don't think you're looking for alternative so much as more traditional music, rather than the New Agey Celtic stuff. My favorite Irish groups are Lunasa, who have been mentioned already, Danu and Planxty. This Green Linnet compilation is a great primer that could help you further suss out what you do and don't like.
posted by Polyhymnia at 8:59 PM on April 17, 2013

A lot of modern "Celtic" music is sort of like modern Nashville country... you've gotta go way back to hear the real thing, or to revival acts. The good news is that there's a lot of good stuff out there if you poke around.
I like Alasdair Fraser, a great Scottish fiddler who favors simple arrangements. Bonnie Rideout is good too... Scottish, Shetland and Nova Scotia styles tend to be a little rougher and grittier than Irish.
I like a lot of Eliza Carthy's songs... she veers wildly from really compelling to (to my ears) overproduced and way too chipper over the course of an album, but the good ones are quite good.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 10:29 PM on April 17, 2013

I wonder if one of the things you're looking for is the rhythmicality, emotionality, and/or intensity of the song. By contrast, the Loreena McKennitt and Thistle & Shamrock varieties of modern Celtic music feel more like artful, melodic pieces that work well in the background. (Oh, and I love love love the way the CCD drummer essentially turns his bass drum into a bodhran.)

Many of the bands cited in this thread have their moments of this, but not too many are thoroughly, consistently as charged / electric as that CCD clip. If that and/or the stripped-down, sparseness of the song are what drive you, I have a few thoughts:

* Boiled in Lead, especially the album Old Lead.

* Earliest Fairport Convention, with Sandy Denny. Also early Pentangle. These will both be late-60s.

* Yes to Afro Celt Sound System, Pogues, some Andy Stewart / Silly Wizard, some Oysterband (start and maybe end with the live album From Little Rock to Leipzig).

* Maybe an odd choice, but go back to Big Country's first album, The Crossing. Coming upon "In a Big Country" late at night on MTV in 1983 was similarly transfixing.

* This also may be stretching it a bit, but some Dead Can Dance might fit the bill.
posted by sesquipedalia at 2:26 AM on April 18, 2013

Best answer: Last one! Ultimately, if what you were digging was just the rawness of the track and the just-one-singer-and-spare-instrumentation of it, you may dig Nothing But The Water (Part 1) by Grace Potter. They used a bit of it in the preview trailer to some short-lived TV show a year back so you may have heard of it. (Part 2 is very different, so stick to this one.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:08 AM on April 18, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you so much for all the responses. I meant to get back to the thread earlier, but I've been caught up following the Boston mega-threads. Yes, the sparseness or bareness of the piece is what I was trying, and failing to articulate when I wrote the question, and that's helped me narrow my search for similar music significantly. Between AskMe and Spotify, I am an extremely happy person.
posted by bibliowench at 10:59 AM on April 20, 2013

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