Siúcra – A Place I Know

Siúcra – A Place I Know – (1999 ESL Records)

The sound of chatter and clinking glasses gradually subsides as the flute and guitar whirl into action, and the female vocalist cuts through the pub’s smoky air.  Siúcra’s debut CD, A Place I Know, opens with a cover of Ewan MacColl’s “Sweet Thames Flow Softly.”  Lead singer Beth Leachman, whose voice is slightly reminiscent of Kate Rusby, sounds so natural in MacColl’s setting that it initially is difficult to believe that this up-and-coming Celtic trio didn’t hone its skills and pay its debts in noisy pubs in Ireland and the United Kingdom; instead, it hails from Boulder, Colorado.

Working with Leachman, who also plays bodhran, are the husband and wife team of Matthew and Shannon Heaton.  Classically trained musicians, the Heatons add guitar and bodhran (Matthew) and flute and whistle (Shannon), making the flute-driven Siúcra a rare find. (While flutes and whistles are a dynamic part of Celtic bands, they sometimes seem to take a backseat to the more often featured fiddles.)

But don’t imagine a quaint trio spouting sweet, leisurely music, despite the fact that Siúcra indeed means sweet in Gaelic.  Matthew’s quick-moving, intense fingers over his acoustic guitar and Leachman’s voice and bodhran start the CD.  Shannon’s whistle soon joins them. Although Leachman’s  voice is sweet and truly authentic sounding (her voice resonates from the old-style school of Irish singing — “Leaving for Liverpool” in particular shows off these rich tones), it certainly isn’t quaint. (The a capella “Muldoon, the Solid Man” demonstrates its substance and vigor quite clearly.)  The whistle jumps into the lead for the closing reel added to MacColl’s song.  Shannon’s flute introduces the second track, the traditional “I’m Thinking, Ever Thinking,” but then she rests during the first verse and allows the voice and guitar to dominate the verses while the flute, with Shannon’s impressive vibrato,takes over in between.

That vibrato continues to hold sway on instrumental tracks such as “Down the Brown/Reel of Rio/Trip to Herve’s” and “The Small Girl/Frog in Galway,” taking over lines that other traditional Celtic bands might save for fiddles.  Using a flute might seem to give Siúcra a soft touch, but it’s a brief illusion. The flute works here and makes Siúcra as vibrant and hard-edged as any fiddle-based band.

Take a listen to *A Place I Know* and feel at home in a conversation-filled pub.  Keep an eye on the house band, however.  It’s going to go places.

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