You Go Gaelic, Girl

While Peter Garrett, the hyperkinetic, cranelike front man for Midnight Oil, used his law degree to delve into sociopolitical issues and tilt his lyrics toward a better future, Mary Jane Lamond went to school to preserve the past and possibly improve on it.

Lamond attended college in a small rural Nova Scotia town, where she enrolled in Celtic studies; her decision was no doubt influenced by annual summer visits to her grandparents' home in Cape Breton, the bleak north shore of that Canadian province populated by Scottish immigrants. Awash in the rhythmic tide of Gaelic music while attending "milling frolics," in which villagers would sing traditional ditties about seafaring, hunting and lost love, Lamond has tried to keep that link to the past alive while respectfully building a bridge to the modern era.

While many bands have tried unsuccessfully to add traditional instruments to a pop groove, Lamond, on her major-label CD releases, Suas e! and her latest, Lan Duil, carefully introduces electric guitars, drums and basses into the sacred world of bodhrans, fiddles and tin whistles, while singing entirely in Scottish Gaelic. For lack of a better phrase, the ubiquitous "world music" tag has been attached to her by critics, who have also ascribed to Lamond the silly Dword (diva) or conveniently compared her to Sarah McLachlan, merely because of their shared East Coast ties.

Unfortunately such comparisons do not give Lamond her due, kind of like the laughable comparisons between Oasis and the Beatles. Lamond rises above the din by creating music that ripples with bleak emotion, no matter the language barrier; she treats each song as a whole new project with varying meter and tone, achieving the same effect a modern hip-hop artist might achieve by hiring different producers for certain album tracks.

This kind of music isn't going to send shock waves through the industry or encourage millions of buyers into stores or even inspire anyone to slather Braveheart makeup on their faces. But the kindly folk up in Cape Breton will choke on their haggis when they hear Lamond has added a hip-hop drum beat to traditional Scottish "mouth music" in a reel titled "Seallaibh Curraigh Eoghainn (The Drummer)." Yet it makes sense: The words in this ancient music, an oral literary tradition, are specifically chosen for their rhythmic value, so the tune, in a sense, becomes a bridge between the fireside hearth and the club dance floor. In a live setting, Lamond's arrangements carry even more emotional power than in the studio, giving a whole new meaning to the term "soul music." - Greg Barr

Mary Jane Lamond performs Thursday, March 30, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, call (713)528-5999.

The Rakeàs Progress -- When W.H. Auden penned the words to Igor Stravinsky's English opera The Rake's Progress, he turned John Bunyan's stodgy allegory, known as Pilgrim's Progress, right on its ear. Auden had become inspired by William Hogarth's famous 18th-century vision of a young man surrounded by buxom, bonneted women in the throes of a barroom orgy. In the opera, a young country boy leaves home, is tempted in the Faustian way, then gets saved from greed and debauchery. Michael Hammond, director of the Shepherd School Opera at Rice University, believes the morals and motives of this neoclassical-style libretto are not too far from our own. Tim Long conducts the Shepherd School Chamber Orchestra. Keith Hudspeth plays Tom Rakewell, the lovable rogue, and Erin Wall sings the role of Anne Trulove, his proverbial savior.

Shepherd School Opera performs The Rake's Progress Thursday, March 23, through Wednesday, March 29, at the Wortham Opera Theater in Alice Pratt Brown Hall. Tickets are $8 and $10. Call (713)348-3578 for more information. (Cynthia Greenwood)

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Greg Barr
Contact: Greg Barr