Caliban - Caliban

Year of Release: 1998
Label: Magna Carta
Catalog Number: MA-9050-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 46:15:00

I have been meaning to share my thoughts on Caliban's 1998 release since I bought it a while ago. But for one reason or another, usually time constraints, it would be left off, and then not included in the next "issue." I'm going to rectify this now, because this is one of my favourite releases from '98.

Those who already enjoy Tempest's Celtic rock will enjoy Caliban as well. The name Caliban is somewhat a play on words, as Caliban is a character in the Shakespearean play The Tempest, and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Leif Sorbye and fiddler Michael Mullen are "characters" in (members of) Tempest. In The Tempest, Caliban represents man as his basic level. This album is a "stripped down" version of Tempest, in that it is acoustic - music at its basic level - but, like Tempest, contains a mixture of instrumentals and vocal tracks, most based on traditional compositions from throughout Europe.

As is true with Tempest material, the instrumentals are actually collections of smaller pieces. "The Pony Set" is a combination of four traditional Irish jigs; "Major Malley" contains a march followed by a "fiddle tune written around 200 years ago by Nathaniel Gow." It is here that Mullen gets to show off his dexterity and subtlety in playing. The duo are joined by Robert Berry (bass, keys and guitar) who also co-produced this disk with Mullen and Sorbye.

Sorbye's voice is as rich and warm as usual and works as well as on the rockier tunes as on the more laid back, gentle ballads. For example, on the Richard Thompson tune "Beeswing" - there's a melancholy sweetness to it, enhanced by the wistful tones of Mullen's fiddle.

Because all these tracks are in an acoustic setting, each exudes warmth, helped by those with rolling rhythms that carry you along - "Journeyman," for example. A toe-tapping track that's not a drinking song exactly, but the rhythm is similar and the impression is of a tale told in a tavern.

"Oh No" is a lively tune, penned nearly thirty years ago by Scottish comedian Billy Connelly. And despite the slightly upbeat arrangement, the Norwegian traditional "Jeg Lagde Meg Så Silde" (I Laid Me Down To Rest) is a very tragic track, sung, of course, in Norweigian. Although only a portion of the lyrics are translated into English, the depth of feeling is conveyed in Sorbye's vocals; the sadness is felt and the song is understood on an emotional level - and that wouldn't be true if Sorbye wasn't an expressive vocalist. The piece itself concerns a man being summoned back to his sweetheart who is dying.

"What Put The Blood?" is an a cappella "murder ballad from the British Isles" - and while sung in harmony, it is Sorbye's voice that dominates. Mullen's voice is higher and adds counterbalance to Sorbye's deeper tones.

The album is such a pleasure to listen to. It doesn't crowd a room, but it can fill it. The high, sweet notes reach the ceiling, the low-end touches the floor, and all the rich tones in the middle fill the rest. It's like a blanket: warm, secure. Perhaps a rather strange analogy - what I mean is that there are so many levels and so much contrast between Mullen's fiddle and Sorbye's mandolins, especially on the "Tipsy Sailor," a melding of four different tradition reels that has a very live feel, as Sorbye picks and strums his way through, then in harmony with Mullen. As the momentum builds, you can help but tap along - or get up and dance. In fact, you could follow either instrument throughout out and hear the track differently.

This comes highly recommended.

The Open Door (3:37) / Beeswing (5:47) / The Journeyman (2:52) / Tipsy Sailor (6:34) / Oh No (3:15) / Jeg Lagde Meg S? Silde (3:46) / The Pony Set (6:19) / Bold John Barleycorn (2:54) / Major Malley (3:47) / What Put The Blood? (3:14) / Company of Wolves (6:50)

Lief Sorbye - lead vocals, octave-mandola, harmonica, bodhran, and mandolin
Michael Mullen - fiddle, harmony vocals, and viola
Robert Berry - bass, keyboards, and guitar

Caliban (1998)

Genre: Progressive Folk

Origin US

Added: December 13th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1119
Language: english


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