Spring Will Come - celebrating 30 years of playing hammered dulcimer

Playing Time - 56:13 -- Celebrating thirty years of playing hammered dulcimer, Karen Ashbrook's `Spring Will Come" blossoms with a delightful set of material with Irish, Flemish, Breton, Jewish, Iberian and Appalachian flavors. As a teen, Karen built her first hammered dulcimer from scratch in 1976. Recorded live in early 2006 at a concert in Rockville, Md., this CD is a celebration of the proficient and significant musician's accomplishments as a player, teacher and advocate. Before ultimately settling in the D.C./Baltimore area, Karen's adventurous approach to music took her on world travels with her dulcimer, wooden flute and pennywhistle.

Meeting many fine musicians on her journeys, Karen first crossed paths with Paul Oorts (harp guitar, musette accordion, cittern, vocals) in West Virginia at a dulcimer festival, and they would eventually marry. In this set, "Accordeon" depicts a kind of familial relationship between busking street musician and his instrument. David Scheim (piano, Celtic harp on 3 tracks) introduced Karen to Jewish music when she performed with his group, King David's Harp. "Jerusalem of Gold" and "Lo Yisa Goy" close the show to a rousing audience reaction to the optimistic set calling for peace. Meeting at a music camp in 2005, Steve Bloom (percussion) is a relatively new friend who appears on the CD. The concert also involved the other members of Karen's trio called "Ceoltoiri" -- Sue Richards (Celtic harp on 6 tracks) and Connie McKenna (vocals, guitar on one track). On songs like "My Lowlands Away" and "Boys of Bedlam," McKenna delivers each lyric with convincing sentiments.

It was a pleasure to hear these musicians' sweet set of songs characterized by vigor, freshness and clarity. Tempos attach right to the grooves, and renditions never sound rushed. They allow the audience to connect and relish in the moment. The pleasant interminable tarrying of "De Winter is Vergangen" (The Winter is Past) allows the harp's melody and flute's harmony to dance like the first daffodils of spring swaying in the breeze. While some might initially think that the fiddle would be missed in music of this nature, the other instruments provide plenty of sparkle and warmth. Ashbrook also knows how to make the dulcimer particularly gleaming and sweet sounding with such techniques as plucking or dampening the strings when appropriate. Her flute and whistle-playing are buoyant and lyrical. The creative joy of Oorts' jazzy guitar break in "Sandy River Belle" elicits appreciative audience applause. Overall, "Spring Will Come" is a luminous album full of both wanderlust and panache.

(Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR.)