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The Standing Stones:
Reviews

Celtic knotwork

Glen stone I've just finished listening to your CD and thoroughly enjoyed it--the material well researched and nicely performed ... when I return for the next program, Sept. 9th, I'll be pleased to include material from The Standing Stones.

Max Ferguson
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

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By looking to the past The Standing Stones have released a CD that is informative, educational and entertaining. The songs and music run the gamut of the Gaelic diaspora.

Celtic Heritage Magazine

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Kells image It's a beauty! Multi-instrumentalists, vocalists all at once, I'm impressed. Some very unusual arrangements with the cello and all. Newfoundland is a Wide Plantation is one of the strangest songs I've ever heard and the story that goes along with it will be quite fun to tell on the radio.

Jürgen Kramer
Radio ZuSa, Lüneburg, Germany

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WHERE IN THIS WIDE WORLD
by The Standing Stones

Harper Where in this Wide World is the debut album of the versatile Northern California duo of Vicki Parrish (vocals, harp, cello) and Michael Robinson (guitar, tenor banjo, mandolin, flute, whistle, fiddle, accordion, guitar synthesizer, bass, vocals, whew!). The album encompasses a broad range of traditional music from England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, and includes several fine original compositions in the traditional style. The duo masterfully performs a wide variety of tunes, among them: an energetic Irish polka medley Bean Uí Mhurchú/Gort Rua/Sailor's Polka, a lively medley of traditional Scottish and Irish mouth music pieces Dúlaman na Binne Buí/Hìn Hìn Haradala/A Stór a Stór a Ghrá/Eilean nam Bothan, the humorous song The Mice are at It Again, and the haunting ballad The Standing Stones.

Several of the pieces on the album are sung in Scottish Gaelic and Michael has kindly provided English translations of the Gaelic songs in the liner notes. Of particular note is a beautiful version of the traditional Irish song The Leitrim Queen which Vicki sings as a slow air with the accompaniment of her Caswell Gwydion wire-strung harp. Vicki's graceful vocal ornamentation on the ballad The Bonny Light Horseman demonstrates eloquently the traditional Celtic style.

The influence of O'Carolan can be heard in the beautiful air A Good Rollup which Michael wrote as a tribute to a dear friend who had passed on and features Vicki playing the wire-strung harp. The O'Carolan tune Fanny Power is an interesting arrangement which, while differing significantly from most arrangements that I have heard, still is very true of the traditional style. Michael's remarkable musical versatility features prominently throughout the album and is particularly notable in several medleys which showcase Michael's talent both as an accomplished musician and composer.

There are many other musical highlights contained within the CD which runs approximately 68 minutes. For the general listener, this album provides an excellent introduction to the world of both vocal and instrumental Celtic traditional music. For those who have already developed an appreciation of the fabulous musical heritage of the Celts, The Standing Stones have provided an album full of unique arrangements and new compositions which shed new light on this wonderful musical tradition without diminishing its pure Celtic spirit.

Folk Harp Journal
Winter 1995

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Where in This Wide World album cover

The Standing Stones
Where in This Wide World


An impressive collection of traditional tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Newfoundland, and the Orkney Islands, with a lovely air and a set of snappy reels by duo member Michael Robinson. Of special interest are the songs sung in Gaelic, as both Vicki Parrish and Michael have studied Irish extensively. Vicki's vocals are reminiscent of Maire Brennan's of Clannad - strong, warm, and lyrical. Michael's earthy vocal style is well-suited to the folk nature of several of the songs. An array of instruments are used on this album, giving the listener the feel of being welcomed to a ceilidh!

Garden logo A Harper's Garden

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Gaelic music duo remains true to traditional tunes

... The two specialize in traditional Gaelic music--from that part of the world settled by the Celts, who peopled Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and then sent sizable populations on to Australia, Canada and the United States. And it's got nothing to do with the heart-tugging Danny Boy or the green and beery brand of sentiment that flows freely this time each year.

So, what kind of Irish music is the Standing Stones promoting?

Bird ornament Clan marches, slow airs and the compositions of the old Celtic harpists; the occasional witty vaudeville-type number such as The Mice Are At It Again; lots of the dance music which is Ireland's stock in trade: jigs, reels, hornpipes and the like; the curious and hypnotic unaccompanied "mouth music", whose verses Parrish and Robinson toss rapidly back and forth in Gaelic.

Then there are the sometimes haunting songs recalling battles and rebellions occurring in the 1730s. Even the name Standing Stones suggests a historic tradition borrowed from a song involving neolithic pillars used in betrothal ceremonies.

Music detective

Robinson, an electrical engineer with a Ph.D., is the group's official sleuth. He digs through musty libraries for the words and music of songs preserved in collegiate masters theses or collected for 1930s WPA projects. He makes trips to Dublin and coaxes tunes out of Ireland's champion players. It's a never-ending quest ... but that intensive research has paid off in a repertoire of more than 100 tunes, only a sampling of which is contained on the CD. A number are sung in the original Irish or Scottish Gaelic.

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Robinson, in a sense, was born into this brand of music. An Australian native (with Gaelic roots), he grew up in Toronto with a mother and grandmother who were fiddlers and a father who collected folk songs. Along the way he acquired an interest in the culture.

"Even as a kid I used to read stories of the Irish mythical heroes," he said.

Parrish, growing up "on all the usual '50s stuff" in Tacoma, Wash., "just sort of flipped over it" when introduced to the rowdy, rollicking, toe-tapping rhythms of the Clancy Brothers.

A classically trained cello player since high school days, Parrish came late to the wire harp--just seven years ago.

... She describes her partner as "one of those people who can pick up any instrument and play it."

One-man band

Indeed, the list of Robinson's skills is impressive: tenor banjo, fiddle, mandolin, accordion, flute, guitar, bodhran (pronounced BORE-on) drum. And oh, yes, the tin whistle. If he's got any favorite, he says, after pausing to consider, it's "the one I happen to be playing at the moment."

Celtic ornament ... When the two met at a Scottish Games event about four years ago, they discovered they shared a love of Irish music, literature and language. Robinson, with 12 years of study under his belt, teaches classes through the Irish Language Association in Mountain View.

And Parrish has added Irish Gaelic to an already accomplished list of language accomplishments including Hindi, German, Spanish and Russian--a language equivalent to Irish in difficulty, she says.

While Standing Stones is committed to preserving the traditional, Parrish says, "at the same time we're trying to come up with interesting ideas."

Unconventional sounds

They pair unexpected sounds: cello with tenor banjo; harp with accordion. They change tempo: speed it up, or slow it down to allow for the intricate "ornamentation"--convoluted curlicues of melody--so beloved by traditional musicians. "We experiment until we hear what would sound the best."

"It's a big time commitment," says Robinson of the eight-hour-a-week practice sessions that go on, often, until 2 a.m.

Indeed, the long hours involved lost them the third partner of what was originally a threesome. But they like the mix the way it is.

... They've seen the trend in Celtic music drift away from the traditional into Celtic Rock or take on an airy New Age sound. All well and good but, if anything, it only confirms their stand as advocates for the traditional. ...

San José Mercury News
Mar. 15, 1995


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Traditional Celtic Music
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