Album Review by Mark Bayross
The Emerald Isle. Guinness. Horses running free through cobbled streets. That famous Irishman, Leonardo Di Caprio, teaching Kate Winslet the joy of the jig in the bowels of the Titanic….Ireland is in such danger of becoming a self-parody these days that the very thought of Riverdance or The Corrs must send many Irishmen into fits of horror.
With song titles like THE VERDANT BRAES OF SCREEN, THE WAVES OF GINOLA and ISLAND GIRL, you have a fair idea what to expect from this Irish supergroup. This is their seventh studio album as Altan, and they are widely acknowledged as one of the most successful traditional Irish bands in the world, particularly in the US.
And traditional they most certainly are. Some of the song titles are in Gaelic, while the title of track 7 packs all the clichés in: GUSTY’S FLORIST / CON SLIP JIL / THE PRETTY UYOUNG GIRLS OF CARROCK / The Humours of Whiskey”.
Jaunty celtic jigs are interspersed with breathy acoustic ballads, while you can sit back and picture the rolling hills for yourself. The ballads are quite pretty, with a haunting other-worldly quality of a stripped-down Enya (hardly surprising as Enya once recorded with lead singer Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh). On GREEN GROW THE RUSHES the folk guitar is accompanied by a harmonica; on EOGHAININ O RAGADAIN” by an accordian; and a tinkering piano floats in on SUMMER WILL COME (Tiocfaidh An Samhradh)”.
Occasionally a slightly country feel comes into play: the twanging guitar on GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY evokes a kind of camp fire balladry of old, while an electric guitar spruces up THE OOPIK WALTZ.
But its really up to the jigs of the aforementioned GUSTY’S FROLICKS….”, THE KING OF MEENASILLAGH / LAMYES / THE HIGH FIDDLE REEL, THE DISPUTE AT THE CROSSROADS / COLUMBA WARD’S / SUN’S REEL and the opening THERE’S A FAIR TOMORROW (BEIDH AONACH AMARACH) to liven things up. The problem is, once you’ve heard one frenetic fiddle, you’ve kind of heard them all.
So, a beautiful bit of Celtic escapism, or a cliché-ridden “Now That’s What I Call Oirish, Begorrah”, depending on how you look at it. All I can say is, it sure beats Be*Witched.