The Lacemakers’ mission statement is “Interlacing Celtic, traditonal, and original music for all occasions.” They are Heloise Love, Miss Darla, and Kim Donaldson, and while the name is new, the performers are veterans. Love has been singing and playing traditional Celtic and American music for at least a decade with her own band and should be familiar to many local fans of the genre. Likewise, Darla, who writes the group’s originals, has been playing guitar, mandolin, and mountain dulcimer and singing with the traditional music duo Sheela-na-gig. Completing the package is Donaldson, a good North County fiddler and banjo player whose vocal contributions fill out the trio’s harmonies perfectly.
The Lacemakers, their debut, is a 13-song sampling of folk music, much of it originating an ocean and two centuries removed, but delivered in a way that shows respect for the timeless qualities of the songs, while bringing them a fresh vitality. There are also three originals that fit in comfortably, Appalachian tunes with traditional bloodlines.
The bulk of the lead singing is handled by Love, who has a clear and distinctive voice that isn’t overpowering, but conveys the viewpoint of the Irish or Scottish narrator of the folk tales, then blends perfectly into the sublime three-part harmonies on chorus after chorus. Add simple, low-fi arrangements that give the instruments a touch of medieval charm (helped greatly on many of the tunes by whistle flourishes added by Abby Donaldson), and it’s a winning formula.
Early in the disc, the Irish folk ballads “Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore” and “Star of the County Down” are beautifully realized examples of songs that could not be more Irish. The former is rendered in deep harmonies, the latter brisk, lively, and still somehow melancholy. The whistle and fiddle combine to establish a musical time machine, as a stately, Renaissance-inspired instrumental waltz, “Southwind/Gentle Maiden/Planxty Fanny Power,” reminds the listener that these folk songs are as to be treasured as the dark and worn castles of Scotland and the Emerald Isle.
The next three songs only serve to hammer this point home with more emphasis; more traditional Celtic standards delivered with flair. “Twa Corbies/ The Butterfly” wraps a memorable folk song in the middle of an pretty, delicate instrumental whistle/fiddle cocoon. The level stays high for “Leatherwinged Bat,” a clear disc highlight that pulls together story, arrangement, and vocals perfectly. By the end of “Mac Pherson’s Farewell,” about a 1700 Scottish outlaw who fiddled on the gallows, the listener has taken a musical trip to an 1875 pub in County Galway.
Appalachian music is well-represented as well. There are sharp renditions of “The Blackest Crow” and “The Cuckoo” (except the annoying “bird tweet” effects), and Darla’s contributions include a Civil War tale, “Number 44,” with banjo work by Donaldson. Her vocal twang on this and “Rose Hill” make these stand out; “Hill” in particular has country bark and Americana bite.
The Lacemakers self-titled debut is a front-to-back superb example of music in the genre, not to be missed by folk music enthusiasts.