East Bay Express-
Flower and McLaren, Twenty Years Twenty Rivers. You don't have to be a big fan of Celtic music to enjoy the work of Robin Flower (guitar, mandolin, fiddle) and Libby McLaren (piano, accordion). But it won't hurt...The local legends' take on the genre is smart and varied; fans will be aptly thrilled.
A hybrid of Ethnic, Folk and Celtic musical influences, Flower & McLaren’s 4th CD, “Twenty Years-Twenty Rivers,” is yet another lively and joyful celebration from accomplished multi-instrumentalists evolving their own unique musical genre in an age of drill-down specialization. Trading instruments and musical textures like a runner changes socks, Flower & McLaren mix and match (acoustic) instruments and moods throughout this musically abundant, 12-song (55+ minutes) album; blending guitar and accordion on an infectious jig (“The Monaghan Jig…”); piano and fiddle on a minor key, down-from-the-mountain-like air (“Rick & Val’s Happy Garden Day…”); mandolin and piano on a beautifully solemn ballad (“Sherrill’s Lament”); and even ragtime-inspired piano with brushed drums on a bouncy reel (“Sally’s Reel”). Regardless of pairing, though, their music is informed with the kind of lived-in and timeless grace that makes you swear these songs have been handed down through generations. And while folk purists are sticklers for tradition and heritage, what ultimately moves music and culture forward are visionaries who draw from the past to fashion art that is right for their times, without being stuck in the moment. “Twenty Years-Twenty Rivers,” the terrific new CD by Flower & McLaren, is an organic melding of acoustic and vocal music traditions beyond genre or unnecessary limitations.
-Rice B. & the RadioIndy Reviewer Team
"Robin Flower and Libby McLaren bring wit, searing virtuosity and warm
humanity to Steelhead in the Riffles, their fourth collaboration. The CD offers 24
original tunes and 4 Irish songs arranged into 12 brilliantly constructed
sets, covering a wide range of material. But the bottom line is that these women
are having the time of their lives, and it shows. Roaring from delicate to
powerhouse, their music is moving, fun, and dazzlingly imaginative.
This is not a genre that I know well. Sometimes a lack of knowledge can
be an impediment to full enjoyment, but that is definitely not the case with
Steelhead. Plain and simple, it's a good time. Flower plays mandolin, guitar
and fiddle, McLaren covers the piano, and accordion; both handle their axes
with equal amounts of passion and agility. Flower's sizzling strings grab your
attention right out of the gate but it is the second track, "Billy Tave's
Hornpipe," that turned my head around. The intricate interplay between piano and
bright mandolin is joyful perfection. Their years of playing together have
gained them a musical intimacy that is extraordinary. As they anticipate each
other's direction, their playing becomes a brilliant dance of unity and harmony,
adding a unique and enriching element of excitement to each piece.
A favorite track is "Luna's Slip Jig," opening with Flower's sweetly
yearning fiddle, slowly joined by McLaren's rolling piano, the two dancing
together with a delicate passion that is both exciting and moving. But the closing
"Mouth of Dillon Creek" is nothing short of perfection. This exquisite
composition drives piano and fiddle to an exciting crescendo; drive is the operative
word here, and I mean drive 'em hard. At song's end, you realize you've been
holding your breath in wonder.
Nope, not knowing much about Celtic Americana isn't going to hurt you on
Steelhead in the Riffles. You don't need to know what a riffle is to know
wildly imaginative music when you hear it."
Irish Music Magazine-
"What happens when two musical crafts people with a long-standing interest in
fishing and Irish music take a vacation in Ireland? Robin Flower and Libby
McLaren made a trip a couple of years ago. They don't say how good the flyfishing
was but they certainly caught the best of the music and filtered it through a
deep musical sensibility to produce this little gem of an album.
Flower and McLaren are mainstays of the vibrant Northern California
roots music scene. They play a multitude of instruments but this recording has a
focus on fiddle, accordion, piano and mandolin with twelve rich and varied
selections. On Cedar Waxwings at the Winter Window/Tom McLaren's Reel, the
interplay of piano and fiddle is particularly delightful. It's a piece that could
have been ripped right out of Michael O'Suilleabhain's composition book. It
builds to a crescendo crowned by some scat singing from McLaren on the reel
dedicated to her father.
Molly's Step Dance/Jig for Judith/Rosemary's Real Jig and Mellie's
Mandolin are tunes that march along nicely. Skip and Buzz's Wild Goose Chase is
another sweetly conceived melody that trips along on a pairing of piano and
mandolin. Andrei's First Waltz in America swings in a sweet country and Western
Isles style. Another excellent medley, book-ended by two trad favorites,
starts our gently with Over the Moor to Maggie, flies through Gleeson's Pub, and
ends up sauntering through Morning Dew. Bill Bender's/The Bank of
Ireland/Piper's Despair is a set driven along by a percussive guitar backing with consummate
accordion work by McLaren. The album closes with The Mouth of Dillon Creek,
a marvelous extended piece that wouldn't be out of place on a Kila record. It
features a shape-shifting tempo with a fiddle, piano, and bass merging into a
This album can be paired beautifully with a record such as A Fool's Dream
by Pat Crowley and Johnny McCarty. Each shares a solid, Irish
traditional-based musicality and pairs a collection of new compositions with a few old ones
thrown in as reminders of the source of the continuing inspiration."
Photo by Irene Young
"Robin Flower, a whiz on guitar, fiddle, and mandolin joins forces with
pianist and accordion player, Libby McLaren for a gorgeous collection of original
tunes. Inspired by a trip to Ireland where they sampled the musical wares
abundantly, Flower and McLaren put together a dozen sets of jigs, reels, and a
waltz or two. Brilliant!"
"This CD is so close to the traditional music style in Cape Breton that I
fell in love with it at first listen. Even so, its California sparkle makes it
unique in the world of Celtic Music.
These two ladies shamelessly indulged in a musical trip to Ireland
before making this CD, and that might explain how some of the music is reminiscent
of Cape Breton; if we take the musical tree back far enough there's sure to be
Irish in the Scottish Blend, or visa versa. I was completely taken in by the
traditional sound of their music partnered with a few modern twists.
A light but masterful touch brings the best from their instruments. The
music flies, lifts, and flows, with no slips or breaks.
I think it's time Flower and McLaren made a trip to Cape Breton. Id
like to hear them in person and if the Celtic Colors Festival folks are reading
this, hint, hint.
I'd like to check the family tree of these ladies, since I think a lot
of Cape Bretoners went west to California years ago, and I like to think they
might just belong to us. But even if they don't, they are inspiring folk
musicians and this CD has a special place in my collection."
Green Man Review-
"Robin Flower and Libby McLaren pull off the rare feat of playing rock-solid
traditional music and making it sound brand new while stretching in
delightfully unexpected directions.
The material on the album is a delight of instrumental pieces that are
entertaining and easy on the ear. The blend of instruments, the changeovers
and the arrangements are very neat and sharp.
The musicianship is superb; I couldn't fault it, neither will you, just
enjoy the album."
"It was a real pleasure to hear you sing. You have such extraordinary
control...you keep singing!"
"It is a musical marriage made in heaven, Flower and McLaren's. To be in the
presence of their joyous musicianship, so full of passion for life, is to
travel in the realm of pure delight."
"Robin Flower and Libby McLaren are breaking ground with their novel fusion of Celtic and progressive folk music."
Roz and Howard Larman,FolkScene (syndicated)-
"We love Steelhead in the Riffles, and have been playing it on all our programs."
Bruce Cameron, 2MCE-FM, Bathhurst, New South Wales-
"With an obvious leaning towards Celtic, Steelhead in the Riffles is an
Paul Stamler, KDHK Radio, St. Louis MO-
"Very fine playing on this CD!"
Rick Pietrzak, WPRK, Winter Park, Florida-
"It was my pleasure to spin Steelhead in the Riffles. It is a great CD with wonderful musicianship."
John McLaughlin, WMUC, College Park, Maryland-
"What a great pair this duo is!"
The Reviewer, New Zealand National Folk Festival-
"Brilliant instrumental sets and tight harmonies."
Danny Carnahan, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, Mandolin Magazine-
"Libby is one of the most accomplished piano players in folk music today, and Robin plays anything with strings with punch and panache. The textures are always shifting and their sheer joy just leaps off the stage. Upbeat and poignant, Robin and Libby's music is always straight from the heart by way of twenty incredibly nimble fingers and two lovely voices."
San Francisco Chronicle-
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