The reflexively antimodern sector of the folk music press has sometimes criticized Capercaillie as a commercial sellout, although the results to date (one song in the lower reaches of the UK Top 40) hardly support that charge. A more plausible concern would be whether it all amounts to mere novelty but Capercaillie's arrangements seem inevitable, not novel. A traditional core of instruments headed by a fiddle anchors each song, and the music wouldn't make sense without it. Electronic percussion seems to expand the palette of sounds that are possible with acoustic instruments, not to define the essence of a piece, as it often would in a pop song. And when pure traditional tunes burst forth, as they often do in the middle of a piece or in a lengthy final jam, they are more than just touchstones they bring the music to a keen pitch of intensity.
Indeed, one thing that's kept Capercaillie growing for so long is that every so often it circles back to its roots, not discarding sonic experiments but incorporating them unobtrusively into pieces learned from older Scottish musicians. The group's latest album, Choice Language, so far released only in the UK, marks such a moment. Its luminous, timeless soundscapes will be featured when Capercaillie comes to the Ark on Monday, September 29.
[Originally published in September, 2003.]
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