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Slainte Mhath makes 21st century Celtic music

By Stephen Cooke - Halifax Herald

Cape Breton Quintet Slainte Mhath has been though a lot of changes over the years - in lineup and sound - but following the group's journey to find its own sound has been an enjoyable trip.

Playing a sample of its upcoming album VA over the phone from Sydney, Lisa Gallant is obviously excited about letting listeners in on the latest chapter of Slainte Mhath's musical travel diary. Judging by the brief clip she plays, you can add samples and loops to an arsenal that already includes African percussion and didgeridoo alongside traditional staples like keyboards, fiddle and bagpipes.

"I guess you could call it 'progressive Celtic' because the tunes and the arrangements have moved beyond what traditional Celtic is," says the lithe stepdancer and fiddler, who joins her bandmates at The Marquee Club on Saturday. "There are so many styles involved that it's hard to label it."

Gallant explains that the CD title VA is meant to represent the phonetic pronunciation of Slainte Mhath's last name, but it's also the French verb for "go", which is a simple and eloquent way of describing the band's constant forward motion.

Last summer, that momentum took it overseas for shows in England, Scotland, Denmark and Sweden where the group built its fanbase and honed its chops considerably.

"We played every day, sometimes twice or three times a day," says Gallant. "It did us a lot of good, we covered a lot of ground and played some really big festivals, theatres and cool pubs like The Lemon Tree in Aberdeen.

"The funny thing is over there, even if they don't know who you are, people will come out to see you if they know what kind of music you play."

The trip also helped Slainte Mhath score a nomination for BBC Scotland's folk music Horizon Award, making them the only Canadian act on the list. Not bad for a band once dubbed "Baby Barras" due to the presence of Barra MacNeils' younger siblings Boyd and Ryan. (The lineup is rounded out by bassist Brian Talbot and new piper John MacPhee.)

VA was recorded at Cape Breton's Sound Park Studio and Lakewind Sound, but it's Halifax's pioneering independent recording studio SoundMarket which celebrates its 10th anniversary tonight at the Marquee.

In 1991, owner and operator Terry Pulliam ended a career in commercial radio that included the popular C100 comedy series A Show Named Bob to start the studio, which captured the sound of the Halifax pop explosion in bands like Sloan and Jale, but would also be home to a wide variety of recordings from blues to hip-hop to Piggy, the Calypso Orchestra of the Maritimes.

Acts paying tribute to SoundMarket include Alison Outhit (in an all-too-rare appearance), Sixtoo, Coping, and A/V. In addition, Pulliam is holding an open house at the Gottingen Street studio on Saturday, from noon to 5pm., so you can see where the magic happens.

Downstairs from the Marquee, Hell's Kitchen hosts Jazz Night in Hell tonight with Freedom Jazz Band - featuring ECMA-nominated guitarist Harvey Millar - while ECMA-nominated Carlo Spinazzola lets loose some freewheeling blues as the featured Month of Mondays artist.

Another ECMA nominee, blues guitarist John Campbelljohn, plays with his trio at Two Gulls in Tantallon on Saturday night. An equally exciting slide artist, Morgan Davis, kicks up some dusty backroads blues on Friday and Saturday at Stayner's Wharf, and also plays his regular slot at Bearly's tonight.

For an unpredictable evening, drop by The Party House tonight for a special jam session/going away party for Nadi Fleschhut, off to study permaculture at a camp in California. Members of the Aaron MacDonald Band and the Jimmy Swift Band invite all and sundry to bring their instruments and help raise funds for the trip. The Aaron MacDonald Band plays on its lonesome at The Party House on Saturday.


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