A look at recently released music of Irish and Irish-American interest.
Altan • The Poison Glen
In their newest album, The Poison Glen, Altan reverts to the sound that their fans initially fell in love with. Transforming from a virtually unknown duo in the mid-eighties to the six-piece band they are now, Altan is a band that has never really stopped growing or developing. It is clear from the jump with this effort that the intention was to take Altan back to the stage, to recreate their intoxicating live sound. Their more recent work has stood atop very large production, which at times would only water down the atmosphere that has made Altan unquestionably the next legendary name in Celtic music.
As a whole, The Poison Glen is a more somber album than Altan is known for, the tracks unfolding slowly with Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh’s crystal clear vocals very much at the helm. Her harmonies on “Caitlin Triall” harken back to a sound that listeners yearn for in Celtic music. Her vocal tracks, stripped bare of effects, seem to echo across centuries. Altan’s more playful side emerges in “Tommy Pott’s Slip Jig.” The Poison Glen is a diverse album; it is complete, polished and raises the bar for future Altan albums.
Moya Brennan • Heart Strings [Live]
With her many years of captivating audiences with her voice and harp, Moya Brennan is Celtic music royalty. In her more recent effort with Cormac de Barra, the pair set new standards for Irish harpists. With the release of her newest album, a live recording titled Heart Strings, Brennan will decidedly convince listeners that they haven’t heard her play until they’ve heard her live. The album, recorded during her live performance with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, features string arrangements by the lovely Julie Feeney and was recorded over two performances, one in Liverpool and one in Germany.
The energy in Heart Strings is palpable, with de Barra offering backing vocals on several of the tracks. The album really comes alive with “Sailing Away” when Feeney’s string arrangements take over to provide a thrilling departure from the very sweet vocal ballad “Molly Fair” preceding it. “Against The Wind” is another highlight, which seamlessly blends an Irish accent with the power of the Liverpool Philharmonic. Heart Strings [Live] is mesmerizing from start to finish.
Brock McGuire Band • Green Grass Blue Grass
Brock McGuire Band is refreshingly authentic. Garnering praise from Martin Hayes who called them “a showcase of tastefulness that combines the highest level of musicianship in Irish music and a seamless collaboration with some of America’s finest musicians,” Brock McGuire Band could well be on their way to becoming the definitive Celtic-bluegrass crossover band of this decade. Green Grass Blue Grass is packed with riveting sets that blend the twang of a banjo with the swing of Irish fiddles.
Guest appearances from Ricky Skaggs, Bryan Sutton and Mark Fain lend credence to Brock McGuire Band’s presence in the bluegrass community. Paul Brock (button accordion) and Manus McGuire (fiddle) are both County Clare natives whose ear for traditional Irish music comes through best in the medley “Johnny Will You Marry Me/Phil the Fluter’s Ball/The Rookery.” County Galway’s Enda Scahill’s tenor banjo and mandolin as well as Tipperary’s Denis Carey on keyboards combined with Brock and McGuire create a sound on the album like a bizarre seisiun one might stumble upon in an Irish pub in Nashville, delightfully bizarre.