Explore the sounds of a Celtic Cafe with Putumayo World Music

by Kerry Dexter /
Kerry Dexter's picture
Jul 20, 2015 / 0 comments

The mission of Putumayo World Music is defined in its tagline: music guaranteed to make you feel good. Putumayo founder Dan Storper and ethnomusicologist Jacob Edgar search the world for music from varied cultures to meet this idea. Rather than presenting music by a single artist or group, Putumayo albums generally contain tracks from a range of artists, grouped around the idea of a certain culture or theme.

Putumayo's Celtic Cafe


For Celtic Cafe, the focus is on singers and songwriters from Ireland and Scotland, some performing new material, others choosing music from the traditions of Scotland and Ireland, all with respect and connection to both past and present. Rather than slam your glass on the table rowdy drinking songs, these are thoughtful and thought provoking pieces, both upbeat and of quiet nature, such as you might hear of an acoustic evening in Dublin or Derry or Glasgow or Aberdeen. There's a recipe for Irish coffee included in the liner notes too, in case you might want to add your own bit of ambience by making that up as you listen.

If you follow music here at Wandering Educators (or my work elsewhere) you'll have met several of these artists before.

The band Capercaillie is here with a lively song in Scottish Gaelic, with Argyllshire native Karen Matheson leading the singing. Matheson and Donald Shaw founded Capercaillie three decades ago when they were in secondary school in the west of Scotland, and over the years have taken Gaelic melodies and new compositions drawing on traditional roots across the world from India to the US, and into collaboration with artists from Africa to those of the Breton tradition. It is the Scottish Gaelic music they grew up with in Argyllshire that is always at the heart of what they do, so it natural for the song Him Bo in Gaelic to be their contribution to Celtic Cafe.




Cara Dillon, who grew up in Dungiven in Northern Ireland, offers a heartfelt version of The Parting Glass. Dillon's song is Jacob Edgar's favorite track on the disc. "Cara and her husband Sam Lakeman have become stars of new traditional music and I really admire them both for their devotion to bringing traditional music to wider audiences," he says. "She has such a lovely voice and it's a song that never fails to bring a tear to my eye. It's one of the greatest melodies of all time, and the lyrics are very poignant, timeless and poetic. Plus, my seventeen year-old daughter also loves the song...she said she wants it to be played at her funeral, which was both a very sad and a very beautiful thing to say...and it makes the song even more emotionally resonant for me because now that's what I think of every time I hear the song!"

Cara Dillon



Dougie MacLean, from Highland Perthshire, offers an upbeat take on Are Ye Sleepin' Maggie? with lyrics based on a poem by Scottish poet Robert Tannahill -- only appropriate, as MacLean was a member of the Tannahill Weavers earlier in his career, before focusing on his own songwriting. He has a long time successful solo career, among other things founding the Perthshire Amber Festival and penning well known songs including as Caledonia, This Love Will Carry, and Ready for the Storm.

Michael McGoldrick, from Manchester's Irish community (and backed by lovely harmony from Ireland's Heidi Talbot) weaves musical strands together as he offers Waterbound, a timeless sounding song which is a recent composition from American musician Dirk Powell. McGoldrick is also a longtime member of Capercaillie and has supported Cara Dillon in concert as well, in just those three aspects of his career illustrating the intertwining connections of the musics of Ireland and Scotland.

Michael McGoldrick at Celtic Connections

It is the intertwining of musical ideas from distant parts of the world that attracts Storper to his favorite track on the album. "I really like many of the songs quite a bit," he says, "but one that stands out is Braw Sailin' from Old Blind Dogs.  I really love the blending of music from different cultures and the combination of Celtic music and reggae on this track works really well for me." Though staying true to their Scottish roots has been a hallmark of the Dogs' music across the twenty some years of their existence, they've also been known to mix in elements from rock, jazz, and Middle Eastern music as well as reggae as they explore the many aspects of tradition.



Piper and flute player Calum Stewart from Scotland's north in Moray brings in his original tune Looking at a Rainbow through a Dirty Window.



Stewart's track is the only tune (music without words) in the collection. Storper and Edgar point out, though, that words aren't necessary to convey connection and encouragement through music. "Melody is the most important aspect of a song for Putumayo. We are looking for songs with a universal appeal, and usually, a great melody is the key factor in making a song exceptional, " Edgar says.

Stewart comments: ""Looking at a rainbow through a dirty window" always had a very clear sentiment for me, even from the moment the initial phrases were coming together. The tune is a simple and clear one, the title a metaphor really; it's about enduring hard times, and about striving to retain a glimpse of hope, no matter how distant and impossible it may appear. It's a hopeful piece of music." Stewart, who was brought up in a musical family and community, continues: "For me,  traditional music is linked strongly to  place, stories and to the people you learned it from. So in that respect, my home area of Moray and the North of Scotland generally, would play an important role in my composition, and certainly my take on traditional music in general." He adds that good  pieces of music "usually have stories to tell and a strong sense of place.  I always try and remember that."

Cara Dillon's track, The Parting Glass, is known in both Ireland and Scotland, and has a melody that stretches back across centuries. Dillon and her husband and musical partner Sam Lakeman are known for their skill at connecting past and present in their work. "We always try to keep the song at the forefront of what we do, myself and Sam," Dillon says, "because we both have such a great respect for the tradition."

The Baileys, The Battlefield Band, Finbar Furey, and Manran also contribute tracks. Taken altogether, Celtic Cafe is a useful and interesting gateway to the work of singers and songwriters in the music of Ireland and Scotland, one which stands well on its own and, if this music or some of the artists are new to you, will perhaps serve as inspiration to explore further.



Kerry Dexter is music editor at Wandering Educators. You may reach her at music at wandering educators dot com.
You may find more of Kerry's work in National Geographic Traveler, Strings, Symphony, Perceptive Travel, Journey to Scotland, and other places on line and in print, as well as at her own site Music Road.

Celtic Cafe photo courtesy and copyright Putumayo. All other photos taken at Celtic Connections, courtesy and copyright Kerry Dexter