I doubt if anyone’s ever wondered what they’d get if they mashed up traditional Celtic folk music with analog synthesizers, but the Sky Family has done just that. On their Celtic Revival! 2017 Gold Edition, you not only have traditional acoustic instruments such as guitars, fiddles, drum kits, brass and woodwinds. You also get sequencers, drum machines and analog era synthesizers that sound just like they were born on the very first day Robert Moog opened his laboratories and pioneered electronic music. And it sounds pretty A-OK to my two ears.
Perhaps not the only ones in this field, the Sky Family nonetheless makes this mashed-up sound their own on their 2017 album. Over the course of the fourteen songs which comprise this Celtic Revival! 2017 Gold Edition compilation, they run the genre gambit of Irish folk to pop to Celtic fusion to electronic to rock to Christian AC and then back around again. Just when you think you’ve put a pin in them and know their next move, they twist and turn to take off in another musical direction.
Psalm 150 which opens the series is probably the best, but not the only, example of where the Sky Family melts all these styles together in one gurgling sonic pot. It’s a rousing tune that modulates tonally as it progresses along. Nice background harmonies are counter pointed not only by some thundering drum rolls but by what I believe are percussion fills that mimic the sound of river dancing tap steps. I say I believe that they’re percussion sounds because, according the Sky Family press kit, a part of their live shows actually features the family performing Irish step dancing on stage. And clog dancing is exactly what it sounds like here on this little danceable ditty.
The dancing sounds and fiddle bowing meld well on Facing the Gale. It’s a rather fast, and at times even furious number built around repeated melodic sequential motifs and percussion breaks. A nice touch here is the honky-tonk sounding piano that makes a brief appearance in and out of the composition as it goes along towards its final cadence. Not quite as fulfilling was Blossom. This one leans too far into the pop direction and is just a tad too sweet for my taste.
Eye of the Storm really is where the Sky Family gets their groove on with mixing up those natural and synthesized sounds. None other than the bagpipes open up Nothing Separates. Melodically this one harks back to the songwriting structures and techniques employed by U.K. folk bands like Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span. Certainly a welcomed blast from the past for this reviewer. On In His Hand, like with Blossom, I here again feel the Skys miss their mark. It just never jells the way most of the other cuts do.
With a hint of flavor perhaps inspired by The Cranberries is Who Is like Him. A distinctively traditional Irish approach is taken with the vocals and serves the Sky Family well in balancing out the sometimes overly heavy backing instrumentation here. The introduction to The Cossack literally pulls at the old heart strings then evolves into a crazy Eastern Slavic Batynya folk dance. Imagine fiddlers playing an Irish reel then suddenly transforming into some kind of a kaleidoscopic klezmer ensemble and you’ll pretty well get the picture.
I must give solid props to the instrumental solos provided during Life on the Hedge before I come to a close with this record review. They’re done with a flair that’s noteworthy. All and all Celtic Revival! 2017 Gold Edition makes a pretty good presentation for the Sky Family. The strengths outweigh the weaknesses and the pros are stronger than the cons. When you reach for the sky, as the Sky Family undoubtedly endeavors with their work, you’re bound to miss catching a star every now and then.