In addition to being a music columnist for the Times Argus, central Vermont musician Art Edelstein is also an acoustic-guitar maven, and a self-taught authority on the life and music of Turlough Carolan. That late-17th-century Irish harper composed many beautiful pieces of music that have become folkie standards. Edelstein’s second CD, Borealis Guitar Duo, is a duet project with his East Calais neighbor, Mike Fullerton. The record offers a selection of 17 lovingly played Irish and Scottish harp pieces, waltzes and country dance music, arranged for two steel-string guitars.
It’s always interesting to hear “ancient” harp music played on steel, because the harps built hundreds of years ago in northwestern Europe were all steel strung, unlike the gut- and nylon-strung harps that are common today. Steel strings make each note ring and give it a longer sustain. The old harpers reportedly plucked those strings with long, curved fingernails that would have made the tone even sharper. So the sound on Borealis Guitar Duo is closer to that of the original harps, for which the music was composed.
Edelstein and Fullerton are meticulous guitarists and have chosen to record their snazzy instruments with a minimum of reverb and no additional accompaniment, so the glorious sound of the guitars is unfiltered.
Some of the playing seems a bit tentative, but on pieces such as opening track “Millbrae,” a Scottish reel, everything comes together and the duo just sails. Some of the most popular and common songs in the genre have been included — such as “George Brabazon” and “Sheebeg Sheemore.” But there’s enough variety on the musical menu that this is not just a collection of pretty, familiar music.
Art Edelstein and Mike Fullerton perform selections from Borealis Guitar Duo at the Bennington Irish Festival on Saturday, September 4, as part of a special program about Carolan.