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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Excalibur II: The Celtic Ring CD (album) cover


Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)


Various Genres

3.47 | 23 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
3 stars This is neither more nor less progressive than the two "Excalibur" disks that bracket it, yet until recently it was the only one to be found on this site, a fact that can be attributed to the presence of JON ANDERSON and JOHN WETTON on different tracks. Apart from a more generous serving of rock, part II is not really much different from its older sibling, and it even includes FAIRPORT CONVENTION and a few others for continuity.

This is progressive tinged Celtic rock composed and arranged by a man clearly in love with both. In his master plan he looks to ALAN PARSONS, hmself a guest on the opening cut, but individual tracks seem more inspired by contemporary Irish, Scottish and Breton folk rock. One might expect more weighting towards his native Brittany, but Simon's best friends, whether occupying progressive or folk territory, tend to hail from the UK. One of the many fascinating aspects to this work is how SIMON manages to bend the artists to his style rather than accommodate their own. In so doing he enables them to thrust up and out of their self imposed shackles. The aforementioned Wetton and Anderson both deliver excellent vocal performances, but, especially in the case of "Circle of Life", the majestic accompaniment would make the song a winner even if an average singer had been enlisted. JOHN ANTHONY HELLIWELL plays sax with more urgency than on on all but the best that SUPERTRAMP could muster, just as ROGER HODGSON's vexatious whir was kept in check by Excalibur I's material. Even the reigning "reine" of Celtic folk, MADDY PRIOR, is barely recognizable in the setting of the masterfully understated "Secret Garden", the highlight of the disk if one must be named. The more chameleon like FAIRPORT CONVENTION delivers the top notch "Pilgrims" with hard rock panache - love those pipes- while JACQUI MCSHEE's "Sacrifice" remains under the oddly comforting spell of ANDREAS WOLLENWEIDER's new age harp until perhaps the best lead guitar solo of the disk forms the outro. Among new discoveries, MERZHIN (Breton for "Merlin") is unchallenged, thanks to the sly "De L'Autre Cote", sadly the only French language track here. They too have been asked to sidestep their predominant style of celtic punk to deliver this more suave contribution. Make no mistake, this is at least as much an ALAN SIMON (Project) album as it is a various artists compilation.

Not all the oldsters succeed, and from the last 6 tracks barely a memorable passage can be evinced. Both JUSTIN HAYWARD and LES HOLROYD flounder, but the material itself must be held at least equally accountable. Their respective songs model the exuberance of coronachs that magnify the advanced age of the performers. It doesn't help that "Celtic Heart" is altogether too similar in tune to the POGUES classic "Fairytale of New York", albeit a gusto free version of same.

This middle installment of ALAN SIMON's trilogy is again an uneven compendium with ample entertainment value, decidedly let down by a moribund home stretch. Still recommended if you are a fan of the contributors or an incorrigible prog folk nerd.

kenethlevine | 3/5 |


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