Trackpacking is a recurring series highlighting musicians that inspire me to travel.
So this is insane. In over three years of writing the Trackpacking series highlighting musicians that inspire me to travel, I haven’t once written about a Celtic music band. Not once. And this being a blog dedicated to exploring Scotland! I’m not sure what that says about me – I DO listen to a lot of Celtic music – but I can’t help feeling a little embarrassed.
That all changes today, and for the rest of this year I promise Trackpacking articles will focus on some of my favorite Celtic musicians. It seems so right to start with a band from my own backyard with whom I’ve recently become quite good friends: Rising Gael.
Rising Gael is a foursome hailing from Madison, Wisconsin whose signature sound is a creative blend of contemporary arrangements and classic Celtic instrumentation. For as young as the members are, all being in their early- to mid-20s, they’ve been together for nearly 10 years, and their four-album discography reveals a band eager to leave their mark on traditional Celtic songs like Donald McGillavry while exploring their own bluegrass-inflected songwriting in tracks like Black Mountainside.
This is a creative bunch. Case in point: The song Toirneach (see below), which means “Thunder” in Irish, is a melodious blend of Highland bagpipes, beatboxing, and turntable scratching. Yes, there is a song that features these three instruments. And it is good.
I tend to focus on creativity first, but creativity comes after technique, and the members of Rising Gael are all technically-gifted multi-instrumentalists. Erin Ellison fronts the band with powerful yet nuanced vocals and a wicked set of flutes and whistles that add that airy, melancholy feel so crucial to many Celtic songs. Jeff Olson holds down the percussive end of Rising Gael’s songs, blending his blazing bodhrán skills behind a modified drum kit in a setup that could very well be the first of its kind, while periodically blasting on the Highland bagpipes. The distinctive fiddle that floats and cuts through the band’s songs and pours on the Celtic mood is the handiwork of Katie Dionne, who also happens to be a professional Irish step dancer (Jeff and Erin are also trained in the art). Peter Tissot adds an energetic swagger with bluesy guitar riffs and low-end bass to fill out the rhythm section, and his backing vocals on Rising Gael’s latest album add a new layer of richness to their sound.
In the last couple of months, I’ve had the chance to see Rising Gael perform live twice. They bring a confidence and energy to the stage that results in far too many quaffed pints, so consider yourself forewarned when you see them touring this summer. I’ve been all over Scotland, in pubs and at folk festivals, listening to traditional folk music, so believe me when I tell you Rising Gael would hold their own against just about anyone in the genre. Actually, don’t just believe me, listen for yourself.
It’s a strange feeling, being inspired to travel but also to remain at home, to see a few Rising Gael shows, and to hang out with a group of legitimately good people (and an excellent tin whistle tutor).
Pack These Tracks
Some of these links will take you to the Rising Gael site. Just click the Discography button, and from there you can listen to samples of all these songs (iTunes also works for most).
- William’s Ghost, from These City Walls.
- Stretched on Your Grave, from One More Day.
- Fierce, from One More Day.
- Toirneach, from One More Day.
- Black is the Color, from IV.
Create a Moment with Rising Gael
- Soundtrack those late-night sessions planning that trip you’ve always wanted to take to the British Isles.
- Hop in the rental car, hook up the mp3 player, and hit the rolling Scottish hills.
- Hoist a horn of your finest ale and whisper a quiet sláinte to beautiful music.