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Dan MacDonald: Barra MacNeils haven’t lost their touch

Top-notch entertainment can be found this summer on various Cape Breton stages

The Barra MacNeils have been at it for more than three decades and even after all that time, they are still a popular and in-demand group considered one of the best Celtic concert bands on the circuit.

Celebrating that fact, the Sydney Mines family recently released a new CD, “On The Bright Side.” Recorded and mixed by Jamie Foulds at Sydney’s Soundpark Studios, the 10-cut project highlights their traditional roots but pushes the edges with some new material.

This is a wonderful recording, from the opening notes of the lively “Welcome to Boston” through to the swinging finish with the “Saratoga Set.”

In between you get treated to gems like the haunting “Ribhinn Donn” (Brown Haired Girl). With a voice that seems to get better as she goes along, this is Lucy’s masterpiece, a delightful Gaelic number with soft and subtle accompaniment. A counterpoint is Stewart’s “The Underachiever,” a darker view of life. It’s a whimsical a cappella number that highlights the Barra brothers family harmonies.

The whole recording is packed with entertainment and perfection in every note.

The Barra MacNeils have been on the road for more than 30 years and for some members, performing for far longer than that.

“On The Bright Side” is a great showcase for what the Barras are and what they continue to do, even after all these years.

One of their few local performances this year takes place at St. Andrew’s Church in their hometown of Sydney Mines, on Wednesday evening.

Dan MacDonald has been involved with the Cape Breton and East Coast music scene for almost 50 years. He can be reached at