MUSIC | Irish duets

"The Pinery"
Daithi Sproule & Laura MacKenzie
New Folk Records

Two of the area's finest musicians - of any genre - have joined forces here to present a superb collection of duets that is as relaxing a way to end the day as anything I've heard.

Rewarded for their individual efforts with 2008 Bush Fellowships, their long-time musical partnership - reaching back to their days together in the Northern Star Ceili Band - they sound as comfortable together as a pair of old ... well, they're probably younger than I am; let's not go there.

Guitarist Sproule has enjoyed international acclaim as a member of the premiere trad Irish band Altan - who, dare I suggest, are about due for a new release - and also has released a handful of truly excellent solo recordings (most recently "The Crow in the Sun"). He has a sensitive touch and soothing voice that lends itself perfectly to this material.

For her part, MacKenzie has made herself a master of multiple instruments, and is featured here on whistles, flutes, small pipes, and concertina (full disclosure here: she's also a drumming student with the pipe band of which

I'm a member, and proving herself to be a mean wielder of the hardwood sticks). Though she mostly plays a backing role on vocals here, when she does take the fore - as on "Up the Airy Mountain" - she asserts herself with confidence and charm. Another standout performance features Stephen Foster's "Ah! May the Red Rose" paired with Sproule's "The Glenfarne Waltz."

A splendid collection of instrumentals and vocals, "The Pinery" closes with Sproule's slightly melancholy "Farewell to Minnesota" (and perhaps the "pinery" that is the North Woods?) that features both in fine form. Definitely a must-have record.

"Synergy EP"
Green Tea
Own label

Staples of the western Wisconsin bar scene and regulars on the college circuit around the Up- per Midwest, this Wausau-based outfit is among the Celtic "new wave" set, mixing a variety of musical styles into a distinctly infectious blend. They've already put out a pair of well-received full-length discs, and this five-song EP is a perfect introduction to new listeners -like me!

This sampler features the quintet in a trio of studio settings, including their popular cover of Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath," and a pair of live - and lively - sets recorded last March at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. It's a terrific introduction, blending as it does their rock/jazz/blues influences.