Music for dance, music for sharing stories, music for remembering -- the music of Ireland holds all these things. It’s a music which holds community and connection, stories told in many voices and many ways. [click on links or images to find clips from the music]
Though they have traveled the world with their music and collaborated with musicians including orchestras and country music stars, the lives of members of Altan are based in Donegal, in Ireland's far northwest. It is to that landscape, that focus, and that home they return for their album The Poison Glen. A gathering of song and tune both original and traditional, the album holds the voice of the Donegal landscape, with beauty, laughter, love, story, history, and adventure all thrown in. Standout cuts include Turfcutters’s Jig and The Blackest Crow.
The members of Solas had landscape at the heart of the stories they created for Shamrock City as well. The landscape in their case was that of Butte, Montana, in the western United States, which was at one time a mining boom town and also the place with the largest Irish population in the states. One of those Irishmen was Solas founder Seamus Egan’s grand uncle, and when Solas was invited to play a festival in Butte, the spark of finding his story began. A journey which shares history and asks questions about what lasts as well as nods to the courage of immigrants and miners are all part of the lively stories told on Shamrock City. Standout cuts include Far Americay, Tell God and the Devil, and No Forgotten Man .
Cathie Ryan holds both Ireland and America in her life as well, as she’s lived in both countries, and is the daughter of parents who emigrated from Ireland to the United States. On her album Through Wind and Rain you’ll find Fare Thee Well, in which Ryan weaves her own words with those of a haunting ballad of loss from the American South. I’m a Beauty is a song of affirmation and grace from Canadian write Laura Smith. There’s Oro, 'Sheanduine Doite a story song in Irish, and Mo Nion O, a wish for a well loved child, with verses in English and choruses in Irish, and there’s a lively set of tunes from Ryan's road band mates as well.
The four women of Long Time Courting know a bit about being on the road themselves: they each have flourishing careers in other musical endeavors but they liked the way they soundedg together so well they decided to make a group out of it. Alternate Routes is the New England based band’s debut recording, on which they share their varied voices (all four sing) and their skills on cello, guitar, fiddle, whistle, and flute to explore original and traditional song and tune. Notable tracks include Rose of Sharon, Maggie Dean, and York Street Stepper.
You may well have heard John Doyle play, even if his name is not familiar:he’s been musical director for folk icon Joan Baez, played jazz and bluegrass with the Alison Brown Quartet, taken part in host of project with Irish, Scottish, and Americana artists, and appears on Cathie Ryan’s album noted above. For his recording Shadow and Lightthough, Irishman Doyle focuses on his own songs, songs he’s written arising mainly from Irish history and legend. These include Clear the Way, Wheel of Fortune, Bound for Botany Bay, and The Arabic. Doyle’s fine hand with phrasing and matching word to melody is one of the gifts of this music, nowhere more well used than in Little Sparrow, a song he wrote for his daughter..
Kerry Dexter writes about music and creative practice at Music Road, and her work also appears in National Geographic Traveler, Journey to Scotland, Perceptive Travel, Wandering Educators and other publications. She is also a former music corespondent for Gather.