This is a very talented quintet but, my God, Winifred Horan is a demoness on the fiddle! No sooner does the first cut break, "Eoin Bear's Reel", than your head's spinning, feet cutting the steps of an Irish jig on smiling clover beside Shaughnessy's Pub in the old country. Seven Curses, a lively trad ballad, reminds one of Renaissance with Mairead Phelan's sweet voice following Annie Haslam's airs, the rest of the group harmonizing behind her.
Seamus Egan plays an interesting role, alternating between a wealth of instruments (flute, low whistles, banjo, nylon-string guitar, electric guitar, bodhran, mandolin, and percussion), a drummer who steps into the breach where more is called for. On the other hand, Mick Auley covers the button accordion and guitar while Eamon McElholm plies the keys and further guitars. All of this works exceedingly well in many cuts, flourishing in a really full sound, and especially on songs like Tilly's Jig / The Happy Traveler with it's more baroque Gentle-GIant-ish wont.
Of course it doesn't hurt that the group ushered in a bunch of session musicians either, bending them into a seamlessly euphonious mix, but that fades quickly into a softly lush spareness in "Mollai na Gcuach ni Chuillenain", a haunting song staying long in the mind. Instrumentals tend to slightly dominate For Love and Laughter, either wistful or hi-energy. Vital Mental Medicine / The Pullet rotates Horan out to concentrate on the rest of the string pluckers, though she enters in later for Jean-Luc Ponty-ish accompaniment, chasing the guitars and caught up in a delicious frenzy.
Solas respects the old musics tremendously but progresses them into new contexts until each tune sparkles with the same vitality had back when all was new. There is a Time blends a number of modes into a cut that would've been at home on an Art In America or Flairck LP, maybe even a Cano slab. And if you thought Celtic music couldn't help but antiquate itself, this will change such a notion rapidly. Along with Sliotar, Bad Haggis, and other contemporaries, I suspect the tradition is about to undergo another small upheaval, well beyond Sarah McLachlan or Enya, and it's about time. Those two were good enough for the middling temperament of the typical radio audience, but Solas is the real thing.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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