It’s been almost five years since the Barra MacNeils have released an album of new material so the last six months have been a happy time for Barra fans. First, there was the release of The Christmas Album, a collection of seasonal favorites that are sure to become traditional listening for years to come. Now comes Racket In The Attic which has the Northside family band adding a hard edged pop sensibility to their already formidable musical talents. All of the good stuff that has earned them fans world wide is still there; close sibling harmony, masterly playing, and dazzling arrangements. Only now, the Barras use them to kick some serious traditional Celtic butt.
This album is determinedly upbeat and sprightly; it’s not music wallpaper that tinkles away in the background, it commands the listener’s attention and makes it’s almost impossible not feel like they should be up and dancing. Most of the tunes are covers of either traditional tunes or more recent songs from established acts. “By Northern Light”, the moodiest piece, comes from the Oyster Band, who wrote “When I’m Up”, the Great Big Sea hit. Lucy gives an emotive vocal performance on Tom Paxton’s love ballad, “Everytime”. And Stewart kicks the album off in high gear with a cheery cover of “Don’t Call Me Early” by Tommy Sands.
With their most recent version of “Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie”, the Barras’ prove that the third time is a charm. The most high-stepping of this audience features a cracking fiddle tune from Paul Cranford, whose compositions are popping up everywhere. Instrumental tracks, like “Longest Day” by Stewart, showcase the band’s ability to weave intricate rhythms with traditional tunes. Even the weakest tune on the album, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News”, would be the strongest tune on anybody else’s album.
With producer Danny Greenspoon, the Barra MacNeils have made an album that will delight their fans and earn them new ones. It is radio friendly without sacrificing the group’s strength as one of the best traditional acts around. Racket In The Attic equals a smile on the face.