The MacKenzie Project gives marvelous debut at Wadsworth

Just two days after meeting for the first time to form The MacKenzie Project, the group gave an outstanding performance of Celtic music in Wadsworth Auditorium.

The Friday concert was the band's first ever show, but if group leader Roseanne MacKenzie hadn't shared that information no one in the audience would have been able to tell. The blending of Donogh Hennessey's guitar, Kimberly Fraser's piano, Pauline Scanlon's vocals, and MacKenzie's fiddling and step dancing created a seamless fusion of sound. The music was a combination of traditional Irish songs and fiddle sets in the style popular in MacKenzie's home of Cape Breton Island, Canada.

Although the group members only had a couple days to practice as a unit, they each had extensive experience with other ensembles. MacKenzie was a member of Cape Breton quartet The Cotters for five years. After The Cotters disbanded, she decided to continue her career with a new group. Her search for bandmates brought her fellow Cape Breton-native Fraser, who had an incredible piano solo and also dueted on fiddle and step danced with MacKenzie. Mutual connections brought Scanlon and Hennessy to the group. The pair of Irish musicians previously worked together on Scanlon's 2004 album Hush, and each spent time with the Sharon Shannon Band. Hennessy was also part of the Irish band Lunasa.

The group displayed incredible chemistry on stage, and was able to achieve an impressive level of audience interaction. The audience responded well, clapping along with many songs and laughing at the anecdotes Scanlon shared before most of the songs she sang. During one song, a fiddle and step dancing duet by MacKenzieand Fraser, MacKenzie invited anyone with step dancing experience to come up on stage and join them. Surprisingly, three audience members displayed their talents by doing just that and were met with great applause. During another song, Scanlon asked for and received assistance with the chorus.

Although all the songs had the same high energy and rich sound, those featuring Scanlon were the most impressive. She gave her personal touch to traditional Irish songs like "Wearing the Britches," a ballad about a fighting husband and wife and their struggle for power over each other. Her powerful yet delicate voice brought out the emotional side to each song that she sang, and did so in an Irish brogue which made her performance even more appealing. Also notable was the tune "A Case of You," which Scanlon described as the best expression of love that she had ever heard. Its chorus stated "I could drink a case of you and still be on my feet."

If The MacKenzie Project's first concert was any indication of its future, it will certainly be successful. Although their Celtic sound may not be mainstream, their talent and charisma will probably be enough to bring make them leaders in their genre and win over fans being exposed to Celtic music for the first time. Upcoming plans for the group include several U.S. tour dates in March and April and perhaps the release of an album by the end of the year.