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Callan's Celtic ruckus

* "Callan" means ruckus in Irish-Gaelic, but the Pittsburgh band that goes by that name is not from the Pogues/Dropkick Murphys school of Celtic.

Callan trains its blend of ringing acoustic instruments on traditional music and originals by Sheila Liming, a sweet-voiced singer and Scottish piper who came to Pittsburgh from Seattle in 2006 to study at Carnegie Mellon.

Callan debuted in 2010 with "The Road to Fort Duquesne" and now follows that with a second album, "Uneven Through the Ground," that will be celebrated with a release show Friday at Club Cafe.

Since the debut some of the personnel shifted, with the end result of Callan becoming a quintet with the addition of another string instrument.

"It made the arrangements a little more complex and intricate," says bodhran player Kip Ruefle, also known as the drummer for ATS. "A lot of times in these trad bands, melody instruments, they all play the same thing. That's not what we do. We try do arrangements so that someone will have the melody and then the other instruments will do some type of counterpoint or a harmony line underneath. That way we have an ensemble thing where things kind of weave in and out."

Callan -- which also features Cara Masset (fiddle), Steve Seel (guitar/bouzouki) and Chris Klehm (guitar/mandolin) -- cut the 11 songs on the new album playing live in the studio. They came out with such standards as "Star of the County Down" and "Ned of the Hill" and a few Liming originals, including the upbeat title track.

The band finds that most of the work is seasonal, happening in March and during the festival time in September.

"We probably play quite a bit, but it's not like there's a ton of places for Celtic traditional music in town," Mr. Ruefle says. "Playing with this band in the last few years is a far cry from playing in ATS, though. If you're not a rock 'n' roll player, and you're a folk player, especially a little gray hair, people treat you like a real musician. I think I've made more money in five years with Callan than 30 years in A.T.S."

The Club Cafe show will showcase songs from the two albums as well some traditional Celtic Yuletide pieces.

"I might even get to sing the Pogues' 'Fairytale of New York,' " he says.

He's going to have to now.

The CD release show is at 7 p.m. with Sue Powers and Burr Beard. Admission is $7. www.clubcafelive.com

Bell pays 'Witness'

* T. Mitchell Bell made his recording debut in 2009 with a concept record he made in Nashville about his great-great-grandfather who died as a Union soldier in the Civil War.

Now, the McMurray-based singer-songwriter returns with "Witness," turning his focus toward a variety of topics, including the plight of coal miners ("Company Store"), rampant consumerism ("Empty Inside"), fracking ("Valley Below") and economic decline ("Iron Bird").

This time, he says, the musical approach was to go in more of an old-school Beatles/Pink Floyd direction, but you can clearly hear the Neil Young/Bob Dylan influence as well.

"It would have been easy to put out another Americana, roots-based record this time," he says, "but honestly I was getting burned out hearing every me-too Avett-Mumford-oldtimey band out there."

A handful of the songs go back 20 years, he says, "and the weird part is they still sound relevant to what is happening today.

"As I started putting a list of songs together, I realized there was a common theme with some and then it was like putting pieces of a puzzle together."

The densely produced sound pieces fit as well, with a group of scene vets -- Steve Trettel, Randy Venturini, Bill Maruca, Vince Agwada, Patti Spadaro, Matt Locy, Steve Sciulli and Bob Banerjee -- helping to make "Witness" a cohesive listen from start to finish.

"I wanted this to be an old-school album," he says, "where you listen to the whole thing and feel like it was all one song."

For more information, go to http://mitchbell.wordpress.com/


Scott Mervis. smervis@post-gazette.com

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