Album Review - Hanz Araki & Kathryn Claire / The Celtic Conspiracy Box Set

It's remarkably ambitious in this day and age for any Celtic musician to release more than one new album in a year, let alone an entire box set, but sometimes you have to follow your inspiration, and it's clear that ace Northwest fluter and singer Hanz Araki has been tapping a deep well of creativity these days. With his partner, fiddler and singer Kathryn Claire, the two have formed The Celtic Conspiracy, a loose group of collaborators who have been putting on themed shows for the past few years in the Northwest. The themes range from topics like murder ballads to songs of labor and songs of emigration to season themes of winter and spring. They've turned up a lot of material from this and now have put together a box set of four albums, one for each theme.

Hanz Araki & Kathryn Claire. The Celtic Conspiracy Box Set.
2012. self-released.

The discs are:

A Winter Solstice Celebration

-As I Roved Out: Songs of Spring

-The Emigrant's Song/The Laborer's Lament (which brings two themes together)

-Songs of Love & Murder

The most recent disc, A Winter Solstice Celebration, is a lovely celebration of wintery Christmas themes. You can actually buy this one separately, and I'd definitely recommend it for a Celtic Christmas album stocking stuffer. It's got a lot of British influences actually, namely old and sometimes ancient Carols from sources like Kathyrn's childhood Christmas'. Themed tunes from the Irish tradition abound as well, like "Christmas Eve" , "Apples in Winter", "The Frost is All Over". I'm a sucker for tunes with themed names, so this is always welcome.

You can pick up A Winter Solstice Celebration separately HERE. But if you have the money ($50 for the box set and you have to email Kathryn directly to get it-, the full box set is certainly a great present for the Celtic and especially Irish trad music fan. Hanz is one of my most favorite Irish flute players, with a deft sensitivity to the melodies of this old music, and command of subtlety that few other musicians possess. Perhaps this innate focus on melody and the beauty of the music comes from his other background as a sixth-generation Japanese shakuhachi master? In any case, any music from Hanz's flute is a real treat. He sings beautifully with Kathryn as well, and the two share song duties on a good number of tracks here. Together, their dense harmonies are the hallmarks of the albums for sure. Special note should be also made to their clever reworkings of some of these songs. On the more common songs, the duo have totally reworked their common arrangements to justify their inclusion, and brought new life to the old standards. I'm thinking specifically of "Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender," which gets a eerie harmony vocal treatment that brings out the old horror of the song, "The Banks of Red Roses," which only needs Hanz's stunning voice to make me love this song again, and "My Johnny Was A Shoemaker," an old Steeleye Span chestnut that Kathryn nails. There's unusual songs here too and hidden gems, and with four albums you'll find a lot to love. Kudos to Hanz and Kathryn for this ambitious project; it's absolutely a job well done.

Hanz Araki & Kathryn Claire: Apples in Winter/The Frost Is All Over

Hanz Araki & Kathryn Claire: The Banks of Red Roses


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