Willson & McKee
On This Day of Days
(self released) www.jigheads.com (2013)
On This Day of Days is the newest CD release by American Celtic music duo Ken Willson and Kim McKee. The album begins with two rarer and deliciously lovely traditional tunes; “Kishmul’s Galley” is a sweeping sea tale, sung by Willson, with some lovely accordion backing by McKee, while the instrumental “Fig Set” is a beautiful showcase of her multi-tracked harp and squeezebox playing. McKee’s exquisite vocals are featured on her rendition of Michael MacConnell’s classic “The Tinkerman's Daughter.” Willson’s strong tenor is featured on the robust and lusty western tale of “Sarah Daly,” while McKee’s rendition of the traditional, spectral “Lover’s Ghost,” is shiver inducing.
The duo show off their instrumental prowess on such tunes as “Lucifer Sandwich Polkas,” and the “Green Lily set,” where McKee alternates playing harp, bodhran, accordion and guitar, and Willson commands guitar, mandolin, bass and even zouk. The proud grandparents feature two lovely child-centered tunes in the traditional “Gartan Mother’s Lullaby,” and the McKee-penned harp tune “Baby’s First Laugh.” Elsewhere, such traditional fare as “The Loch Tay Boatsong,” “Welcome Home Paddy,” and “Hunting the Hare,” are all given fine arrangements, the latter song featuring the divine harmony vocals of their daughter Darci. Willson and McKee have a talent for avoiding overwrought, and much over-played songs that are in most American Celtic band’s repertoire, in favor of well- researched, and more obscure tunes and songs that allow their unique approach to shine. The fact that they can also write some damn fine tunes really stacks the deck in their favor. The album ends perfectly with the pastoral “Tip the Bottle,” giving the listener the impression they have just completed a very pleasant journey, indeed.
With twenty years of touring behind them, Willson and McKee remain one of the more exciting and entertaining Celtic music duos today. Their live shows are a wondrous mix of song, stories, humor and drop dead gorgeous music. Though they mostly tour the American west, these days, they are well worth traveling a distance to see. Baring a road trip, this delightful and heartfelt new album is the next best thing.
— Lahri Bond