Patrick O’Donnell penned this review.
In the days when magic reigned and the fairy folk made themselves known to human folk, a “changeling” was a fairy baby switched with a human baby. Sometimes the parents took no notice until the child was older, when he or she began to exhibit some behavior or interests that the parents found quite strange. Given that explanation, I’m sure most of our parents wondered at one time or another if we’d been switched at birth. I’d say it’s a good bet the same thought also went through the minds of the respective parents of Karl and Deborah Clark Colón.
This married duo’s music is nothing short of — sorry, Batman and Robin — dynamic. It’s an old approach, if you will, to old and new music. But that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s what sets this album apart from the countless other Celtic CDs released this year. Changeling has found a way to dig down into the roots of folk and unearth some old treasures that likely haven’t been heard in generations. With a little modification by Karl Clark Colón — some editing, rewriting, and new arrangements — the tunes are ready again for the light of day. The duo also includes some original numbers that keep the album energized.
The Hidden World, then, represents a kind of shadow land between old and new, where the two can exist simultaneously without upsetting the balance (or purists). Still, a great musical selection is only half the battle. The performance must carry the rest of the weight. This Changeling does superbly and with a surprising grace. While their instrumentation is sparse, their sound is full. And while some vocalists would sound corny singing these ballads, Karl Clark Colón is a natural troubadour. Although he’s a fine guitarist, his greatest talent lies in his singing. He has a strong, rich voice that’s as much scattered sunlight as darkening cloud, giving him the ability to carry the tunes into territory sad or joyful with equal confidence. He has an amazing ability to infuse just the right amount of emotion where it’s needed, and knows exactly how to elicit even more feeling from the listener.
Deborah Clark Colón is just as important to the mix. Her playing — whether it’s on fiddle or viola — is inspired and spirited; her fingers dance across the strings like a fairy dancing across a dew covered cobweb. It’s evident she feels her music as deeply as her husband; that it flows from them, rather than just through them. In short, they are themselves instruments of the music they perform.
The duo receive a helping hand from Ged Foley (The House Band, Patrick Street) on low guitar, shaker, mandolin and guitar, and Craig Markley, who does a wee bit of throat singing (more on that later.) As mentioned before, Changeling resurrects some tunes that have been buried in piles of dust for ages. On an album of standout tracks, a few deserve special mention.
“Shane Crossagh” is a ballad of a Northern Irish outlaw and his faithful dog. I’ll leave the song to fill in the details, but Crossagh manages to escape his Orange pursuers, rob the leader and leave him trussed up in a glen. Karl Clark Colón’s vocals here remind me a bit of John Denver (that’s a compliment…); there’s a boyish buoyancy to his voice that leaves no doubt this is a song of wry celebration. “The Brewer Laddie” tells the tale of a kind young man whose true love wasn’t so true. Her wandering eye leads her away from her hard-working, steadfast beau to a dashing adventurer. But this is no song of weeping and wailing; ahh, no – there’s a twist. The brewer laddie is no fool, and realizes what he’s lost: nothing. His former flame, though, finds life with her dashing young blade to be quite a bit duller than she expected. After realizing she’s just another notch on his belt, she tries to go back to her brewer laddie — who’s now married and could care less for her cheating heart. Score one for the nice guy. “Bonnie Dundee” tells a tale of John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee, the Jacobite who rallied his supporters for a battle against those who ousted Catholic King James II from England. According to the history books, Claverhouse insisted on fighting alongside his men, and his leadership earned them many victories. In one battle, they were outnumbered two-to-one, armed with swords and facing muskets, but they sent the Brits a-running.
Perhaps my favorite ballad is “Song of Repentance,” in which a remorseful playboy looks back on his misspent youth:
My time of a time has been time sadly wasted
With thimblemen, tipplers and gay maids a score
I have sat by a candle and rhymed myself naked
With jokes that I’ve made and great oaths that I’ve swore.
Day in and day out all the wealth of my station
Away upon master musicians was thrown
And all that they played me I heard with elation
Not knowing that they too were best left alone.
With his performance on this ballad, it seems Karl Clark Colón manages to bring across the point of the lyrics while at the same time conveying a certain wistfullness, as if the playboy is not entirely convinced that his actions were all wasted time. Either that, or it’s my own wishful thinking …
But this CD is made up of more than ballads. Instrumentals are an equally enjoyable part of the mix. Some of my favorites: Deborah Clark Colón’s “Blue Ash”, a slow polka and two reels (“Jackie Tar” and “The Star of Munster”). With a mix of low guitar, fiddle, percussion via a can of beans and some throat singing, this original tune is one of the most interesting, odd and creative numbers on the disc. “Love at the Endings,” a set of reels that kicks the CD off, is a perfect introduction to Hidden World. It’s fast-paced, a bit quirky and a great showcase for the Colóns’ respective guitar and fiddle skills.
On “The Blackthorn,” the pair manage to weave a rich tapestry of sound with just viola and guitar. Deborah Clark Colón’s tender performance manages to wring every drop of emotion from this rather melancholy jig.
This album deserves — no, demands — a place on your CD rack. The outstanding songs, originality and traditional spirit speak of a love of music that’s embedded in the artists’ work. I can’t wait to hear their next album.