In the band's original songs (all members contribute, and several sing), the relationship is closer. The traditional-style tune usually has a specific part to play in telling the story. In "Ode to Joe" it represents the ties to home of a traveling soldier from Quebec during World War II (there's also a French Canadian layer in Greenwich Meantime's music); in the full-blown pop-punk "Leaving Toronto," bagpipes speak of the freedom of the open road. The range of styles is huge, touching on pure pop ("A Girl"), singer-songwriter folk ("Falling for Silence"), traditional folk song ("The Leaving of Liverpool"), folk of an older generation (Si Kahn's "Aragon Mill," here called "Belfast Mill"), African jazz ("Sikulela"), and even the ersatz Irish sound that has sprung up so often in country music over the last decade ("Ireland," originally done and partly written by Garth Brooks). It all hangs together because of the band's nimbleness in fitting Celtic tunes into these forms. Eclectic music often stands or falls on the skills of its percussionists, and Nigel Gibson and Steph McAlear use a large collection of instruments and seem able to keep up with whatever the rest of the band throws at them.
Greenwich Meantime comes to the Ark on Friday, July 7. Its base is Cornwall, Ontario, and several of its members played with the high-energy Glengarry Bhoys, who appeared at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival a couple of years ago, and all have switched off among Canada's remarkable collection of Celtic bands. We in Ann Arbor are lucky to have a border-state seat from which we can spot new developments in this vital tradition, and Greenwich Meantime is unusually promising.