String Sisters, Live (Compass Redords, 2009)

String Sisters are a folk supergroup of sorts, originally established as part of a program at the 1998 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. The group consists of six women prominent in the Celtic and Nordic fiddling traditions. Founder Catriona MacDonald comes from the Shetland Islands, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of the band Altan is from Ireland, Annbjørg Lien represents Norway, Emma Härdelin of the groups Garmarna and Triakel represents Sweden, and Liz Knowles and Liz Carroll represent the Irish fiddling tradition in America. The "sisters" became more active as a group in the second half of the last decade, and their album Live is taken from a concert they performed together in Norway in 2005 with the help of four accompanists. I consider myself a fan of four of the six people involved, so picking this CD up was a no-brainer for me.

Unfortunately, the idea looked a lot better on paper than it sounds in practice. With this many fiddlers, the jigs and reels lose their tightness. Furthermore, at times it sounds like the tunes were selected because they were easy enough for all six fiddlers to pick up quickly, not because they showcase the individual performers at their best. Ní Maonaogh and Härdelin flavor the proceedings with songs, and Lien does a solo on the hardanger fiddle, but otherwise the opportunities for any of the performers to shine are limited, and nothing on Live sticks out as being particularly memorable. Some duets or trios might have allowed the fiddlers to engage in more direct collaboration and interplay, but none of that was forthcoming, either.

A good Irish barroom session involves plenty of spontaneity. Live could really have used some of that. String Sisters have a lot of collective talent, but in this case the whole is much less than the sum of the collective parts. Perhaps this worked better in person, but on disc the performance just sounds watered down to me. The group has been touring more lately, and I hope they're gelling a lot better now than they did when this concert was recorded.

Overall grade: C

reviewed by Scott

"Rumble thy Bellyful"

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