If this album’s title is intended to be an instruction, then it is a superfluous one. From the opening notes to the closing chord of Laugh, Dance & Sing I’m grinning involuntarily, my feet are tapping instinctively and I’m soon singing along as I drift away on a warm wave of infectious rhythms.
Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys originate from Prince Edward Island on the east coast of Canada. The eclectic range of ancient and modern musical influences on that part of the world provide them with a signature sound channelling traditional Celtic music, epitomised by MacKeeman’s high-speed ‘Down East’ fiddle playing style, infused variously with bluegrass, country, swing and rockabilly.
It is the traditional and original tunes that impress most. MacKeeman’s own compositions Dusty Derby and Pickle King Polka sit comfortably alongside traditional fiddle-driven material like Ridin’ The Fiddle and Black Mountain Rag.
Two covers written by fellow Canadians in the traditional style, fiddler Roy Warhurst’s lively Back 40 Ripoff and Snowbird writer Gene MacLellan’s Song for a Seagull, all slappy double bass, snare drum and harmonies, also show off the band’s virtuosity to great effect.
But there is a range of musical styles on display here. A Maritime Lullabye, for example, MacKeeman’s own composition, is a hauntingly slow, sincere and measured piece, while the west coast feel of his Hot Vacation would not be out of place on a Beach Boys album.
A banjo-heavy cover of Tom Petty’s King’s Highway is a whirlwind three minutes of unadulterated joy, while in contrast the saccharine tones of guitarist Peter Cann’s song Cavan Road render it completely out of keeping stylistically with anything else on the album, although paradoxically it still blends in perfectly. Rather incongruously though, two short tunes from bass and banjo player Tom Webb, 2 Balls 2 Strikes and Bake Sale, barely get out of the blocks at just over a minute each.
Touring extensively around the world in recent years, including UK appearances at Glastonbury and WOMAD, the band has earned a reputation for delivering an exhilarating and manic live show characterised by highly skilled musicianship, showmanship, engaging banter and dancing. Not for nothing, apparently, has MacKeeman earned the nickname ‘Crazy Legs’. The breakneck speed of the album reinforces this feel, only just topping the half hour mark in length but comprising thirteen tracks, none longer than three and a half minutes. Think Pokey LaFarge on heat.
All of which suggests it might have been an advantage to have seen the band live before listening to this album, to help visualise that hi-energy live performance that must surely complement the inevitable laughing, dancing and singing of the album title. I intend to rectify that shortcoming at Celtic Connections in the New Year. I’m already looking forward to it with a smile on my face, and I’m sure the dancing and singing won’t be far behind.
Gordie MacKeeman and His Rhythm Boys comprise the eponymous Gordie on fiddle, cello, guitar and vocals, Peter Cann on guitars and banjo, Tom Webb on bass and banjo, and Mark Geddes on percussion and keyboards. Album producer Dale Murray helps out on guitars here also.
After Celtic Connections in late January, the band tours throughout England in February.
Review by: Ian Taylor
Laugh, Dance & Sing is Out Now
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For tour details visit: www.gordiemackeeman.com