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Bliss for a Celtic morning, the music of Golden Bough

June 29, 2007

By Jean Bartlett, Managing Editor

Golden Bough

Margie Butler has a beautiful folk lyric soprano vocal.  She also plays Celtic harp, penny whistle, recorder, bodhran and guitar with a precise and affectionate ease.  Folk tenor Paul Espinoza is all the colors of gypsy fire on lead guitar, accordion and octave-mandolin.  When overcome by a momentary need to rock ‘n’ roll, he is also known to throw in a few bars on blues harmonica.  Kathy Sierra’s smoky soprano blends like silk on the water with the vocals of band founders and husband and wife team, Espinoza and Butler, and Sierra is able to use her instrumental bow to sing a mighty fiddle (violin and viola).  The trio that is Golden Bough rides a musical magical carpet that carries all the best of the seven Celtic nations (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, The Isle of Man, French Brittany and Galicia). Golden Bough played Friday night at Pacifica Performances Sanchez Concert Hall.  They offered waltz and sailor dance, pirate plank walkers, hard shoe hornpipe and songs that strolled through Celtic grace.  All seats were taken and extra chairs spilled onto the dance floor.  So, people danced where they sat and clapped their hands to the rhythms of joy.

If you want a bit of history, masterfully blended with virtuosic instrumentation, sweet and sigh vocals – and, the occasional pun-filled yarn, then launch yourself straight into the arms of a Golden Bough concert.


  "The group has made a name for itself in Bordesholm. Thus the two concerts on Saturday and Sunday were sold out. (Golden Bough) create,  in a wonderful  way, the connection between the old and the new world, not only musically, but also the spirit.  Once in stride, (they) heated up the public and didn't get away without four encores."                                                                                                                                    Holsteinischer Courier, Germany

   "Both educational and fun, Golden Bough's enthusiastic performance captured the hearts of our Children's Music Festival Workshop participants. Their joyful performing style enchanted the children leading to a natural outpouring of contagious merriment.  'Bring them back' we have heard again and again."
                                                                                                                                       Redlands Bowl Music Festival

  "Golden Bough won the hearts of Redlands in 1996 and won them all over again in 1998.  Thank you for bringing your joy and charm to the Redlands Bowl with your very special, unique and long to be remembered music."
                                                    Florence Beeler, Program Director, Redlands Community Music Association, Inc.

                                            Songs of Scotland
  "I suppose we receive more albums of music from Scotland to review than that from any other country. More than not the performers themselves are from North O' The Border, but this is an exception. With varying line-ups, Golden Bough, based in California, have been specialising in Celtic songs and tunes for around 25 years. Currently a trio, comprising Margie Butler, Paul Espinoza and Kathy Ross Sierra, they've produced an eminently listenable collection of well-know Scots ballads and, although many of these have been done to death in the past, it's to Golden Bough's immense credit that their versions of titles like "Wheel of Fortune", "Lizzie Lindsay" and "Sixteen Come Sunday" bring a feeling of freshness to the whole album. Recommended!"
                                                                                                                                   Jim Marshall, The Folk Diary, UK

  "There is no more fitting title to tell what this CD is all about. The music of the Scottish Highlands - a journey through the wild landscape of rugged cliffs and gentle rivers, pure springs and babbling brooks - is an 
inspiration to all who believe in a better and healthier world.

  The trio Golden Bough, a name which has its origins in old Celtic mythology, has established itself in the interpretation of traditional Celtic songs with a love for the countries' rich history and music. It is worth remarking that Golden Bough is an American group that have collected traditional songs thanks to their travels. They have also released a CD entitled "Songs of the Celts," with songs and instrumentals from Ireland, Scotland, and England.

  Now however, the focus is entirely on Scotland. The words to four of the songs are poems from the Scottish poet Robert Burns. the beautiful "Aye Waukin' O", "Hey, How, my Johnie Lad / Hey, Ca Thro", " Ye Banks and 
Braes o' Bonnie Doon," and "Lizzy Lindsay." Most of the other songs are Golden Bough's arrangements of traditional tunes. On some of the numbers, they've invited guests from other groups such as The Wicked Tinkers, The Browne Sisters and Tempest.

  Golden Bough began in 1980 as a duo with Paul Espinoza (guitar, octave mandolin and accordion) and Margie Butler (flute, harp, bodhran) but with time other musicians joined them. At the time of their first CD recording in '81, they were a five-piece band. Various musicians came and went, and (many) CDs were recorded.

  In April 2001 the violinist Kathy Ross Sierra came and brought a new energy to the band. Her vocal contribution blends nicely with Paul and Margie's voices, and together their voices give Golden Bough a full, rich sound.  When the women sing together, it gives the music a more celestial air than Paul's voice alone: for example, "Wheel Of Fortune" where they sing, "Young women's hearts are so uncertain, sad experience teaches me" clearly tells 
the subject with the swing that reminds me of a folk dance.

  The songs on this CD range from ballads, like "Caledonia" / "Ladies' Evening Song" and "Donal Og" to joyous dance numbers and songs to sing along with, such as "The Gypsy Laddie" and "Sixteen Come Sunday." The CD 
closes with the most typical Scottish instrument: the bagpipes. Good use is made of other pipes and whistles on all of the songs.

  An ideal CD to begin or end a wonderful vacation in the Scottish Highlands."
                                                                                                                    Luc Gheldof, Rootstown Free-zine, Belgium

                                             Song of the Celts
  "The trio known as Golden Bough are skillful traditional Celtic/Irish musicians and there's a lots of evidence of that on their latest release, Song of the Celts. Unlike Celtic fusion music, the traditional songs contained on this recording have a spark and vitality (whether slower and more gentle or rollicking and lively) that testify to a refreshing level of authenticity.  Since I am the lead Celtic music reviewer here at Wind and Wire, I listen to a lot of it (Celtic music). While I seldom hear what I would consider a terrible Celtic album, groups like Golden Bough still manage to easily rise above the bandwagon-jumpers. There is a love of this music by the performers that is obvious.

  Of note, especially, are the vocal pieces on Song of the Celts, as well as Margie's harp playing, which simply sparkles. The vocal cuts may, in fact remind you (as it did me) of the outstanding English group Fairport Convention, owing to the group's great harmony vocals. The production here is flawless and tight. In addition, the arrangements on all the songs are excellent.

  All in all, I recommend this album as a great example of how to do something the right way when many are just doing it, period."                                                                                                          Bill Binkelman , Wind & Wire

  "The arrangements are simple, but every song has a wonderful lively feeling.  The fiddle sounds great; really nice. The combination of the piano-accordion, which is played with less vibrato, and the Celtic harp is very unique. They take turns playing the main lines, and by changing the parts, they naturally create a new atmosphere. We can feel relaxed by listening to the songs, but never be bored.  I recommend track 2 and 3.  I do like singing of Paul Espinoza's in track 3."                                                                                          Mr. Kikuchi, Corner House, Japan

  "In the footsteps of their great Celtic ancestors, Golden Bough has been crossing borders, both musical and cultural, for the past two decades. Having toured throughout America, Europe and The Orient, they have established themselves as one of America's premier Celtic bands. Golden Bough continues to draw from the rich wealth of the Celtic folk tradition for their inspiration and "Song of the Celts" is a wondrous display of their musical talents."                                                                                                            John O'Regan, Radio Limerick, Ireland

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