December 1998

Various Artists - Fire in the Kitchen
Unisphere Records 09026 63133-2
Released: 1998

by Bruce Bassett

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***

[Reviewed on CD]Fire in the Kitchen is a collection of mainly Celtic music performed by various artists who were brought together by The Chieftains. It is borne in the spirit of the time-honored Atlantic Canadian tradition of the "kitchen party," a festive affair that occurs frequently on the islands of Cape Breton and Newfoundland. It occurs when all party-goers are uncontrollably drawn to the kitchen, where live music, laughing, singing, dancing, smiling and alcoholic imbibing are in order. At one time, I thought the impetus behind gathering in the kitchen had something to do with the location of the beer. I now hypothesize that it is part of the genetic pre-programming of the inhabitants of this unique culture.

The eternal Paddy Moloney is the head chef in charge of creating this Canadian version of a hearty Irish stew. Like all good cooks, The Chieftains get their fingers involved heavily in the creative process. Bringing their 30+ years of experience with traditional Irish and Celtic music to the fold, they aid in the arranging and performing of the music, and in the mixing and production.

A good Irish Stew requires variety and quality in its ingredients, along with proper mixing and preparation. Fire in the Kitchen’s main ingredient is an ample dose of lively jigs and reels courtesy of the likes of Leahy (one of the two non-Atlantic Canadian contributors); the charismatic, and perhaps demonically possessed, fiddling phenom Ashley MacIsaac; and MacIsaac’s technically proficient fiddling cousin Natalie MacMaster. And, if that weren’t enough spice, the always effervescent Great Big Sea chimes in with a new take on "Lukey’s Boat," while the Barra MacNeils contribute the rollicking pub favorite "Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie." Contrasting the "fire" is an assortment of more relaxed songs, the best being the lovelorn ballad "My Bonnie" performed by Laura Smith, who imparts on it her trademark weather-worn, heartfelt vocals.

For me, the pièce de resistance comes from an unlikely source. Le Lys Vert, a band I was totally unfamiliar with, enraptures with "La Bottine Souriante," a tune that draws life from the band’s French culture and artfully combines Celtic sounds with hues of zydeco and jazz.The quality and variety of ingredients are very good. Unfortunately, the sonic mix and preparation leaves much to be desired. Apparently the stew must have been boiled a little too long, resulting in a somewhat bland, over-condensed sound with insufficient air between instruments.

For the Celtically uninitiated, Fire in The Kitchen accords a good taste of what is available in this genre. For the well-seasoned listener, however, this recording is nice to have, but many of these artists individually have stronger releases with comparatively superior sonic merits.