So you say you've never heard of Night Noise? Neither had I until their latest release, The White Horse Sessions, recently showed up on my doorstep. Night Noise is a Portland Oregon-based quartet specializing in music with a distinctly Celtic flavor. The band has had a long and varied history. The first incarnation of Night Noise, Michael O Domhnaill (guitar, vocals, and whistle) and Billy Oskay (fiddle), released their self-titled debut album back in 1984. In 1987, the band released its second album, Something of Time and added two new members: O Dohmnaill's sister, Triona, on vocals, piano and synthesizer, and flutist Brian Dunning. Their third and fourth albums, A Different Shore and Shadow of Time, were released in the early nineties, the only lineup change this time being the replacement of Oskay with Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham. The White Horse Sessions, the band's seventh release and the third with the current lineup, is the first one comprised of tracks recorded while the band played to a live audience, something that Night Noise truly enjoys. "It's very different, much more physical" says O Dohmnaill. "The studio's more cerebral. You take your rough mixes home in the evening, and you can be quite chuffed with yourself, but you don't get the same physical kick off it that you do off the live show. It's a great buzz." Three of the tracks were recorded while on tour in Malaga Spain, a country that has a strong affinity for Night Noise and its music. The remaining tracks were recorded live at White Horse Studios in Portland, in front of an audience consisting of forty of the band's closest friends.
Night Noise is not just another Celtic "wannabee" content to release albums of sonic wallpaper in an effort to ride the coat tails of the current Irish music craze. On The White Horse Sessions, Night Noise manages to stay true to their Celtic roots while producing music which is rhythmically and melodically interesting and, at the same time, quite beautiful. The opening track, Silky Flanks, is full of interesting tempo variations and syncopated rhythms, giving the listener more than a taste of the virtuoso musicianship of which the members of Night Noise are capable. The varying tempos and episodic nature of this track make for music which remains interesting even after repeated listening. The virtuosity of Night Noise's members is again much in evidence on the lovely Jig Of Sorts, the group adroitly navigating this track's complex rhythmic variations while steering an unerring course through the fast-paced sections requiring perfect synchronization of ensemble.
One of the most beautiful songs on this disc is Shuan, a sublime ballad written by O Domhnaill. Although quite simple in concept, the song's lovely melodies are imbued with energy and emotion by Dunning and Cunningham, resulting in music making of the highest quality.
Do We, another of the more memorable tracks from The White Horse Sessions, starts with a haunting rhythm introduced by Ni Dhomnaill's synthesizer and O Dohmnaill's acoustic guitar, quickly transforming into a statement of the song's main theme featuring some lovely unison playing by Ni Dhomnaill, Dunning and Cunningham.
The White Horse Sessions not only showcases the members of Night Noise as outstandingly accomplished musicians, but songwriters as well. Eleven of the twelve songs on the disc were penned by a member of the group, and they each show a high level of craftsmanship and inventiveness. The twelfth track, a Celtic-inspired cover of Van Morrison's Moondance, was barely recognizable as the original but was, nonetheless, enjoyable in its own right.
As for the recorded sound, Windham Hill's 20-bit effort is wonderfully natural and up to the highest audiophile standards. Sound from both venues is excellent, the nod going to the tracks recorded in Malaga.
Fans of Celtic music will no doubt find that this disc is a fine
example of the genre and one which will be a welcome addition
to their collection. If you're not already a fan of Celtic music,
then this may just be the disc to change that forever.
-- Andrew Chasin