After honing its chops at local festivals and cafes, Boise folk quintet Beltane dropped its self-titled debut in May.
In both its press materials and its name--an homage to the Irish and Scottish spring festival celebrated primarily by pagans--Beltane calls its sound Celtic music. But the 12 songs that comprise the album have more in common with Spanish and Latin music, making heavy use of minor keys, acoustic guitar and flute flourishes.
The pagan influence is undeniable, though.
Lyrics never veer from naturalistic themes and exaltations of pagan festivals. Track five is a ballad dedicated to "Moon Mother," followed by a moody track called "Banshee." Others explore the harvest, a "Sweet Solstice Night," and the traditional fires of the festival from which the band took its name. The lyrical mono-focus is a negative, not only because it is largely unrelatable to non-pagans, but because it is a dull and somewhat cliched examination of the subject matter.
It isn't music that is tremendously engaging sonically to begin with. The 12 tracks maintain a basic mid-tempo meter and a sonic formula of strummed acoustic guitars backed by hand percussion and flourishes of flute and lead guitar. The centerpiece of every song is harmonized vocals from chief songwriter Susan Nelson-Sangiorgi, violinist Dana Logan and bassist Krista Oberlindacher Lloyd. All over-sing, with pushy and overly stylized harmonies. And the Gheorghe Zamfir-esque flutes are often as corny as are the melodies.
There is a time and place for Beltane's music, and it's most likely small-scale, outdoor cultural festivals. But recorded acoustic folk music is generally about less--emphasizing subtlety and the lack of having anything to hide behind, which forces sincerity. But everything from Beltane's pushy vocals to the out-of-place effects on the lead guitar to the lyrics all being forced through a single myopic theme make the group sound positively fake.