STONERING – Samhain
Written by Andy Ziehli
StoneRing’s latest CD, Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) is a collection of traditional Celtic and multi-regional folk songs arranged and performed in what is now a familiar StoneRing fashion; not quite contemporary, yet not truly traditional either. A five-piece band that is based out of Madison, StoneRing’s members are accomplished musicians whose hearts and souls are definitely into the music. There is not a lot of fancy or extraordinary solo work by any one member, just good solid accompaniment and performances.
Samhain starts out with the impressive instrumentation and vocals of “Wild Colonial Boy.” The rest of the CD stays in a repetitive vein, never taking any chances to become overly exciting. This is a group of fine players who have the ability to expand the musical boundaries of this style of music but seem to have chosen to play it safe, recording a good CD when they could have recorded a great one. The lively toe-tapper “I’se the B’y,” a traditional Canadian song, is Samhain’s brightest moment. “Beer, Beer, Beer,” a traditional beer-hall tune, is a great sing-along.
The arrangements are crisp and to the point, and the addition of multi-instrumentalist Bill Rients has greatly benefited this band. His mandolin, guitar and bass performances are superb and his production work is excellent. “The Winding Stone Path,” written by Rients with harpist/vocalist Beth Johnson, is another highlight. The guitar playing is pristine and the melody is reminiscent of a traditional Irish folk song that was written 100 years ago. Beth Johnson’s playing and vocals shine throughout the disc. Jill Shelton’s fiddle and the Irish flute playing of Linda Wendt bring bouts of energy to Samhain, but again they are never allowed to let loose as they should have been. Charlie Johnson is the main multi-instrumentalist and leader of StoneRing. His stamp and style dominate this effort. His style had even more room to open up, which could have demonstrated his impressive talents with even more grace.
Compared to other local Celtic/Irish bands, StoneRing are very successful and seem to be comfortable with their postition in this ever-growing market. Their laid-back, traditional Irish approach may not be adventurous enough for many Celtic music fans. I myself like a little more variety and meat with my Irish music, not unlike my Irish stew.