POPPY SEEDS - Close Shaved
Own Label ROM 002 www.poppyseeds.fr
12 tracks, 56 minutes

Some great instrumental music here from a Breton band playing Irish tunes. Flute, fiddle, mandolin and guitars deliver a surprisingly full sound. Traditional favourites such as The Antrim Rose, The Poppy Leaf and one of the many Paddy Fahy's reels are combined with the band's own tunes: the excellent modern jigs Picking Chestnuts / Welcome to Mahé or the slow reels Coconut Nightmare / Flying Weasel. Four fine musicians, each capable of carrying the melody: in nearly an hour of music the mix never wears thin, the excitement never wanes. Poppy Seeds' sauce on the polkas Tom Sullivan's and The Tairngiri could be a little more piquante, but this is more than compensated for by a gorgeous rendition of Nina's Jig. Throw in an Arty McGlynn reel, a fine flute lament and a couple of Scottish tunes to finish, and you have the makings of an outstanding instrumental album.

The vocals are a different story. Close Shaved is the band's second album, and the title betrays the fact that English is very much a foreign language for these French Celts. Singer Camille Philippe's voice is tuneful and reasonably strong, and he chooses upbeat modern ballads including the country-style Rove Riley Rove and the comic title track Close Shave. The problem is that seductive French accent, thick enough to make even familiar lyrics difficult to decipher. For me it's hard to put aside images of Monty Python's Holy Grail. In the poignant Billy Gray, well known from Christy Moore's iconic recording, the face of Inspector Clouseau rises out of the tragic tale as we hear the doomed outlaw is wanted in Kansas City by "an officer of the lew". This is probably not a serious distraction for a French audience, and with just the three songs it's easy to smile through them, so do take the trouble to hear Poppy Seeds - but if you're not French it might be best to stick to the instrumental tracks.

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