A Review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Steve Edge
Over the past decade, Altan has established itself as Ireland's premier traditional group. Their twin fiddle attack, plus Frankie Kennedy's flute and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh's voice are all distinctive trademarks of the sound of this superb band from Donegal. They have released five CD's on Green Linnet since 1986 - at least two of which won NAIRD Awards for Best Celtic Album of the Year. The First Ten Years features highlights from all those recordings.
There are strident fiddle medleys, gorgeous traditional ballads, and two riveting slow airs featuring Frankie Kennedy. Frankie had become one of Ireland's best flute players over the years (his is impeccable taste and skill are highlighted on "Dobbin's Flowery Vale" and "An Feochain"). Kennedy's untimely death from cancer last year is a tragic loss to Irish music in general and Altan in particular. That they are not only carrying on, but in fact going from strength to strength these days, is a tribute to their resilience and to incredible musicianship.
The fiddles of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and Ciaran Tourish are prominent throughout, and the sheer exuberance of the music shines through on medleys like "Andy De Jarlis" and "The Wedding Jig". Mairead contributes two beautiful ballads, with "Citi Na Gcumman" particularly memorable. Another outstanding track is "Donal Agus Morag", with Altan venturing into Capercaillie territory with a catchy chorus and lavish sound textures.
Altan has never strayed from traditional music. Instead it has kept the tradition alive with their brilliant playing and stirring arrangements. When they add percussion - Tommy Hayes on "Pretty Peg" and Donal Lunny on "The Cat That Ate The Candle" - they really kick into overdrive. What a pity they never tour with a bodhran player!
This CD is a great way to introduce yourself to the delights of Irish music and Altan. The only snag is you'll want to buy all their other CD's once you become hooked, and then you'll have to pass this one on to a friend. (Perhaps that's what Green Linnet had in mind all along!)
[Editor's note: Steve Edge is the Artistic Director of The Rogue Folk Club, Vancouver B.C. Canada, as well as, Host / Producer of "The Edge On Folk" on CiTR FM 101.9 in Vancouver.]