The McKassons
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The McKassons


Band Folk Celtic


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Sometimes it seems like Irish fiddling is played with the wrist, and Scottish fiddling with the shoulder. The bow drives across the strings, thick and throaty, creating a pulsing sound that feels more of muscle than tendon. The McKassons, a vibrant young Scottish band from Seattle, play like that. On their new CD, "Tripping Maggie," they thunder through jigs'n'reels one moment; then dazzle with a compositional sophistication that is cinematic, transporting, and tantalizingly modern. Brooke McKasson sings with a breathy, in-your-ear mezzo. Cali McKasson's keyboards are dynamically percussive and evocative; and her brother Ryan has fiddled with everyone from Beck to Bjork.

~ The Boston Globe - Boston Globe

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a classic on our hands. The McKassons, a little-known Celtic folk band from Tacoma, Washington, has recorded the Album of the Year. Who would've thought that a group performing traditional Irish and Scottish folk music in the Pacific Northwest could outdo their European peers.What makes the McKassons so impressive is the intensity of their performances.

It takes more than technical skill to create an authentic Celtic sound, and the McKassons produced these songs with fiery passion and soothing warmth. Just take a listen to Ryan McKasson's scorching fiddling on "Tripping Maggie" and "Mudrats"; they create the most exhilarating high and kick in the arse, the equivalent of downing several bottles of hard ale simultaneously. The group rocks without sounding rock. You have to think that, back in the day, Celtic folk musicians shook the shacks with as much two-fisted punch as the McKassons do.Throughout the album the fragile piano playing of Cali McKasson (yes, they are a family unit) lovingly calms the thunderous attack of her bandmates, especially on "The Grapevine," "Bonnie George Campbell," and "Tripping Maggie." The group's chemistry leaves me in awe; each functions as an intergral part of the band, providing rich colours.

The cover of Bruce Springsteen's "If I Should Fall Behind" has the distinction of topping the Boss himself. Brooke McKasson's unguarded emotions give Springsteen's words a sensitive, moving touch it never had before. Given a Celtic makeover, "If I Should Fall Behind" is a stunningly pretty remake. The track builds up with drama and precision; the musicianship is air-tight and transcendent.On this album, only their second, the McKassons define magic. And the wizardry these lads create do not involve any trickery. They are the real deal, blessed with abundant creativity, a heart full of soul, and fiddles, pianos, cellos, violas, banjos, and percussion that'll haunt your dreams. - Whisperin and Hollerin


Tall Tales (2004), Tripping Maggie (2006)



With family trees that stem from a Welsh sheep farmer in Texas, Scotch-Irish silver miners in Idaho, and Irish immigrants in Indiana, the words "Celtic-American" is as much a description of The McKassons' blood as it is of their music. And, when one talks about the sound of this dynamic quartet, it is best to think of it as a highway into their soul - without any of the gimmicks or cheesiness that has plagued the Celtic music genre in recent years. There is a refreshing honesty in their sound - something a bit intangible, a truth - that comes from a deep regard for the traditions and histories of their families. Even in the sleek, new, pioneering stuff that they come up with, there is a hint of mustiness from the old that keeps their music rooted and yet, at the same time, relevant to the now. The vocals are sincere and unaffected in a way that is undaunted, and the songs themselves seem to loiter around the themes of love, family, and hardship in way that is as altogether real as it was to past generations. The instrumentals are like rich tapestries of story, telling the tales of the best and worst of times, and the tunes themselves are like glimpses into the souls of the past and present.

The musical journey of the McKasson side of this band began very early. At the ages of 4 they began to learn music: Ryan on fiddle and Cali on piano. They spent thousands of hours jamming together in their young days and there were few family parties that they weren't asked to pull out the old wood box and ivory. This was their life back then - music, and lots of it. But it wasn't until their twenties that they felt compelled to perform on stage together, though it had always been in the back of their minds. At about that time Ryan married a beautiful young singer from a small town in Southern Indiana, Brooke (Jerrell) McKasson, who also happened to be, coincidentally, from a very musical family. She and her brother, Matt Jerrell, a singer and drummer, were brought up listening to and singing the rich American gospel tradition. Back in the day, their father was a tenor in a gospel quartet, the Challengers, that toured churches all around the country. They inherited their father's love and talent for music like it was DNA. For both of them, their approach to music has always been as natural and sincere as the clean air that wafts across the corn fields of home.

Tripping Maggie (released in the summer 2006), is culmination of these brother/sister pairs. It is like a backward evolution of the American folk music tradition - amplifying the connection between American blues and Celtic music, but in a way that almost completely negates the existence of Bill Monroe and bluegrass. It is as if this were the music of Americans that immigrated to Scotland or Ireland. And that's exactly what The McKassons music is - Americans playing Celtic music the way Americans should be expected to play it - with their own cultural baggage as a part of the mix.

In performance, the McKassons are enthusiastically high energy - foot stopping fun that gets the audience off their bums - and yet able to comfortably inhabit the warmth of slow space. Their concerts run the full spectrum of emotion like a piano glissando down the keyboard and their arrangements provide a variety that will leave people eager for more.