Often the first impressions that come to mind when handed a Celtic CD are of ethereal throated songstresses full of sorrow and longing for lost loves or traditional rowdy romps that seem to run quick and fast as if chased by the light, so cozying up to a newfangled take on the Irish Celtic traditions is a true delight.
Putting a new voice to those traditions is vocalist and musician Damien O’Kane. Those in the know might recognize him from such recordings Avenging and Bright, Banjophony with Ron Block, The Mystery Inch with David Kosky and Summer Hill.
Corralling a collection of mostly traditional songs on Areas of High Traffic, Mr. O’Kane has clearly and decisively put his own stamp on the music, fashioning a sound that’s fresh and easy.
It’s plain from the opening tracks of “‘Til Next Market Day,” that the music matters. There’s not a delicate fairy voice, a brash drinking song or an angry Celtic rocker in sight on this recording, instead there’s electric guitars, keyboards, piano, synthesizers wrapped up with Mr. O’Kane’s vocals and his own guitar and banjo work.
Joined by percussionist Cormac Byrne, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and keyboardist, pianist and synth master Anthony Davis, Mr. O’Kane takes the traditional past folksy into a sophisticated brand of folk that takes subtle dips into rock and jazz with aplomb.
Shimmering guitar and banjo lines provided by guest musician Ron Block remake traditional song “The Blacksmith” a standout track, just as the underlying rock sensibilities take “The Maid of Seventeen” beyond the expected.
And the goods just get better with the sweeping strains of “The Close of an Irish Day” or the dreamy moody sway of “The Banks of the Bann,” with additional vocals of Mr. O’Kane’s wife Kate Rusby.
Listeners get a dose of the inner musical workings of Mr. O’Kane by way of instrumentals “The Goddaughter Part 1” and “Interlude for Mama.”
The simply loveliness of “I Am A Youth” and “Erin’s Lovely Home” are as potent as they are soothing to the Irish soul. Areas of High Traffic closes out with a savvy version of “The Green Fields of America.”
Sleek and fresh, Areas of High Traffic is spectacularly rich and promises to break all the Celtic musical traditions it keeps.
Ar Log is Wales’ most veteran professional folk group. Saith VII is Ar log’s first album in 22 years. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, in 2017, the ensemble went on an international tour. One year later Ar log recorded Saith VII.
Saith – VII features beautifully-crafted new arrangements of traditional Welsh folk tunes and songs.
The current lineup includes Dave Burns pn lead vocals, guitar, and mandolin; Geraint Cynan on piano, organ, harmonium, keyboards and backing vocals; Geraint Glynne Davies on lead vocals and guitar; Iolo Jones on fiddle; Graham Pritchard on fiddle, mandolin and vocals; Dafydd Roberts on triple harp, flute, whistles and backing vocals; and Gwyndaf Roberts on knee harp, clarsach and backing vocals.
Ar Log’s discography includes Ar Log (1978), Ar Log II (1980), Ar Log III (1981), Yma O Hyd (1983), Meillionen (1983), Pedwar (1984),
Ar Log V (1988), Ar log VI (1996).
Saith – VII is an album of exceptionally expressive, timeless Welsh folk Songs.
Ar Log was formed initially to represent Wales at a Celtic Festival in Lorient, Brittany, in August 1976, and they were encouraged by The Dubliners to continue performing as a group after the festival. The founders were Dave Burns on guitar; Dafydd Roberts on triple harp and flute; Gwyndaf Roberts on knee harp and bass; and Iolo Jones (fiddle).
The ensemble eventually grew in size and had different lineups throughout the years.
Ar Log has toured throughout the British Isles, continental Europe, and North and South America promoting Welsh music and songs.
Ar Log (Dingle’s Records, 1978) Ar Log II (Dingle’s Records, 1980)
Ar Log III (Dingle’s Records, 1981) Yma O Hyd, with Dafydd Iwan (Sain, 1983)
Meillionen (Dingle’s Records, 1983)
Pedwar (Recordiau Ar Log, 1984)
Ar Log V (Sain, 1988) Ar log VI (Sain, 1996) Saith – VII (Sain, 2018)
Singer-songwriter Hollie Smith is a leading vocalist in the New Zealand music scene. She has collaborated with Trinity Roots, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Don McGlashan, One Million Dollars, Anika Moa and Boh Runga.
Hollie Smith has a deep, rich and soulful singing style. Hollie’s wide range of musical influences combine elements of soul, jazz, reggae, Celtic and R&B.
Shantalla is a Belgium-based band formed by several Irish musicians and one Scot. The band was created in 1995 by two members of an Irish band called Sean Talamh (Gaelic for ‘old ground’ or ‘old country’, meaning Ireland). Kieran Fahy and Michael Horgan teamed up with Gerry Murray and Joe Hennon (guitar) and decided to use a name that was easier to pronounce in English so they used Shantalla. They were later joined by Scottish singer Helen Flaherty.
The group’s first album was recorded in 1998 for the Belgian label Wild Boar Music and distributed in many countries by Green Linnet.
Kieran Fahy – fiddle. Kieran had classical training and is an All-Ireland slow air fiddle champion. He won the first O’Carolan competition in Keadue. Kieran has released two solo albums and toured the USA with Duck Baker.
Helen Flaherty – vocals and bodhrán. Helen has a background in singing Scottish and Irish songs. She recorded with Mairtin Tom Sheainin MacDhonncha on his Blath na hOige album.
Joe Hennon – guitar. Joe is rock a musician that converted to traditional Irish music. He leads the young music group Clann Lir
Michael Horgan – uilleann pipes, flute, whistles. Michael has played with La Lugh, Mary Bergin and several other artists. He is involved in the recording of soundtracks and sessions with successful Belgian artists.
Gerry Murray – accordion, bouzouki, mandolin and whistles. Gerry is a twice Slogadh All-Ireland Champion. Before he left Ireland in the 1980s, he was a prominent music teacher in the North Monaghan area.
Born in 1964 as one of 12 children, O Lionaird grew up in west County Cork in Cúil Aodha, a remote, rural Gaeltacht area where Irish was the first language spoken by the people and emigration was as common as supper.
“Because I grew up in the countryside, I can understand so strongly that the only things these men had ever really heard were birds and cows and horses. So, from a familiar world of country lanes and cottages and seasonal farm work – that’s the mindscape Noel’s and Martin’s music comes from, a world of birdsong, of gentleness-all of a sudden, these people were hearing monstrous machines, Hilti guns, buses. The mind wouldn’t have the apparatus to deal with that, it could be quite a crushing experience. That was the threshold we were trying to cross…”
“I spend a vast proportion of my working time in London now, but until recently I knew nothing about the London-Irish community, apart from old fellas in Cull Aodha who’d worked their whole lives as laborers and their memories were very scattered. That workman’s life in London had, and indeed has, quite an invisibility to it. A never-ending supply of young men who are dead by their early 60s...’
Although many voices and accents and experiences are brought to bear on his solo CD, many percolate. From O Lionáird’s native Cúil Aodha where the local hinterland hosts many fine poets, storytellers, fiddlers and flute-players. 0 Lionáird’s own childhood experiences with the native choir in the Cúil Aodha church tangibly influence his music. Iarla was involved with the choir until his early 20s, when he left to study literature in University College, Dublin and worked for some years as a teacher. Increasingly, however, his sean nós (literally “old style”) crooning began to pop up on recordings such as on Shaun Davey’s symphony The Pilgrim and on the great accordion-player Tony McMahon’s album with Noel Hill, AISLINGI CHEOIL Indeed. It was McMahon who coaxed O Lionáird back into singing after a two-year “sabbatical.”
Nowadays, O Lionáird spends a considerable amount of his time with the big touring outfit Afro Celt Sound System. However O Lionáird also tours his own “multi-media” solo show, backed up by projected computer-generated imagery. “It’s basically a set of 17 songs, about half of them accompanied by backing tracks from Michael Brook, like ambient poems. It’s pretty intense, but it’s a fantastic workout for me.”
“I’m extremely fortunate with my solo work, in that I can indulge myself and make the work more dreamy-and more hardcore at times. I don’t have to go down the paths that people other than Real World would try and carve out for me. I’d wither away without that opportunity.”
Heidi Talbot (lead vocals & bodhran) was born and raised in Kill, County Kildare, Ireland. Her mother Rosaleen is a singer, pianist and the music director of the local church where Heidi sang as a young girl. Heidi learned to play the guitar at age 12, and soon found herself singing and playing at local sessions.
At sixteen, she enrolled at Dublin’s celebrated Bel Canto singing school, studying for the next year and a half under its founder and director Frank Merriman – ‘the best teacher in the universe,’ according to Sinead O’Connor, another former student.
She later performed throughout Counties Kildare and Dublin, Ireland, and was invited to move to the United States by the popular Cara Band of New York. She spent two years honing her voice and style amidst the city’s vibrant musical melting-pot. She went on to record a highly acclaimed solo album, self-titled Heidi Talbot.
In 2002 Talbot was invited to join Cherish the Ladies and in between the band’s hectic touring schedule she continued to develop her solo work, releasing Distant Future in 2004 on the Nashville-based roots label Compass Records. Produced by John Doyle, the record featured such distinguished guests as multi-instrumentalist Dirk Powell, concertinist John Williams and fiddler Rayna Gellert. Three years later, the recording of In Love & Light coincided with her decision to leave Cherish at the end of 2007.
Drawing on the full, diverse spectrum of influences that inform her singing, Talbot released In Love & Light in February 2008. The CD includes guest contributions from Eddi Reader, ex-Solas guitarist John Doyle, fiddler John McCusker and flute/whistle ace Michael McGoldrick.
The Dublin-based jam band septet Kíla exploded onto the Irish music scene. The band has captivated audiences with transcendent performances fusing Celtic and world idioms. Their CD Tóg é Go Bog é (“Take it Easy”) went gold in Ireland with a top 20 pop single.
From the beginning, Kíla’s focus has been on original music, and their repertoire consists entirely of their own material. All seven band members are talented multi-instrumentalists and composers who have worked with such cutting-edge artists as Dead Can Dance and Hector Zazou. In addition, they have written extensively for film and television soundtracks. The tunes are built around traditional signatures, but wind their way down unexpected roads. Their Irish pop hit “Ón Taobh Tuathail Amach” (pronounced “on tave tulla mahk”) is an infectious Afro-reggae-Celtic chant heavy with percussion and horns.
Kíla began as a family affair about 10 years ago with the three brothers Ó Snodaigh (“o-snod-ah”), who were encouraged to form a traditional band in school. Rónán (vocals/bodhran), Colm (flute) and Rossa (bouzouki) Ó Snodaigh have been writing tunes, songs and poems in both English and Irish Gaelic from the time they were children. The band soon included Eoin Dillon on pipes and fiddler Dee Armstrong, who brought along the band’s other brother team, Lance (guitar) and Brian (bass) Hogan.
The band began to build a fan base in Ireland as an underground cult favorite. Their electrifying performances led by charismatic front man Rónán Ó Snodaigh began drawing hundreds of dancing fans. The Irish press soon took notice. Kíla’s first self-produced CD, Mind The Gap, came out in 1995 to rave reviews, The Irish Times hailing it as “a subversive musical intelligence at work.”
Major Celtic festivals in Europe began calling, and the band began making select appearances overseas. The band has performed at such major international venues as WOMAD festivals in Australia, New Zealand and Spain, the London Fleadh, WOMEX, the Vancouver and Winnipeg Folk Festivals, San Francisco Celtic Festival and SXSW.
Original Band Members
Rónán Ó Snodaigh (vocals, bodhrán, guitar, percussion)
Colm Ó Snodaigh (flute, whistles, vocals, saxophone, percussion)
Rossa Ó Snodaigh (bouzouki, bodhrán, didgeridoo, mandolin, djembe)
Mind The Gap (Kíla Records, 1995) Tóg É Go Bog É (Kíla Records, 1997)
Lemonade & Buns (Kíla Records, 2000)
Live At Vicar St. Dublin (Kíla Records, 2000)
Monkey! The Soundtrack (Kíla Records, 2001)
Handel’s Fantasy (Kíla Records, 2001)
Luna Park (Kíla Records, 2003) Live In Dublin (Kíla Records, 2004)
Kíla & Oki (Kíla Records, 2006)
Gamblers’ Ballet (Kíla Records, 2007)
Once Upon A Time (Kíla Records, 2008)
The Secret Of Kells (Kíla Records, 2009)
Rogha – The Best Of Kíla (Kíla Records, 2009)
Soisín (Kíla Records, 2010)
Song Of The Sea (Mercury 2014) Suas Sios (Kíla Records, 2015) Alive (Kíla Records, 2016)
Máire Brennan, better known as Moya Brennan is best known as the lead singer of Clannad, a group largely made up of Brennan family members. Her haunting voice adds an ethereal quality to the unique sound that the band have developed over two decades, winning them many accolades and awards in the process.
Moya has been singing since she was a child in Donegal in northwest Ireland – an area renowned for its rich musical heritage. Her mother teaches music and her father, after years leading a show band, now performs nightly in the Brennan family pub.
Moya and two of her brothers, Pol and Ciaran played their first shows with uncles Noel and Padraig Duggan in the 1970s. All the band members spoke Gaelic as their first language, and their commercial chances seemed modest. However, they made a breakthrough record, Theme From Harry’s Game in 1982, which reached number five in the UK charts, and appeared on the ‘Patriot Games’ soundtrack ten years later.
In 1986, the Clannad release, In A Lifetime, found Moya sharing vocals with Bono from U2. A compilation, Pastpresent, reached number five in the UK albums chart in 1989. The band won a Grammy Award (for 1997’s Landmarks), and provided the theme music to Last Of The Mohicans and Robin Of Sherwood, while Moya also sang the theme to Circle Of Friends in 1995.
Moya has also collaborated with a host of well known musicians, including Paul Young, Bruce Hornsby, Joe Jackson, Robert Plant, Shane McGowan Paul Brady and Russell Watson. In 1999 she scored a worldwide hit with Chicane on ‘Saltwater’.
Her autobiography, The Other Side of the Rainbow (2000), was a powerful and honest account of music, fame, misfortune, love and spirituality.
The Two Horizons project, released in 2004, produced 80 minutes of music that Moya and producer Ross Cullum were happy with. In the final stages, Chris Hughes came in to oversee the final editing of the record, lending fresh ears and experience to shaping the finished product.
‘It was a monumental task bringing the album down to its final running time but we’ve encapsulated the essence of what we started with.’ Moya said.
The same degree of synergy carried Two Horizons through photo sessions and designers. Artwork and costumes echo the Two Horizons theme and soulfulness of the music. Everyone seemed to appreciate and understand the project’s broad picture, much to Moya’s satisfaction.
‘I think it’s the best thing I’ve done,’ she enthused. ‘I’m loving it. I’ve never heard my voice sound the way it does now. The production is fantastic and the harp sounds amazing, which is very much a part of what the record is about.’
Moya used her new record to celebrate the Irish harp in her own personal scheme. Coming from Donegal, in the North West of Ireland she had learned to play the harp as a schoolgirl and it was the start of an enduring love. However, she was often reluctant to highlight her playing in public. She felt that the harp was over-exposed ? a national emblem, often degraded by the advertising trade. Even with Clannad, a group that has drawn from the deep wells of Irish tradition, there has been a rather coy attitude to the harp. Not so this time.
Moya started this project in the summer of 2001. From an early stage, she’d been convinced that this record should have some kind of a narrative. To this extent, she was encouraged by her new record company and particularly by Max Hole, a key figure at Universal International. Moya started working on storyboards, aiming to thread a series of songs around a defined theme.
She was thinking about Ireland’s past, and her reading included the blind harpist, Turlough O’ Carolan. She was also fascinated by the global use of harp music in many of the world’s traditional cultures and possible Irish connections, for instance, the kora harp in West Africa. Meanwhile a close friend was researching the ancient site of Tara, where, according to legend, the High Kings of Ireland met in pursuit of reconciliation and sublime art.
The title Two Horizons was partly inspired by a visit to the site of Tara. She’d arrived just before dawn, and when she ascended the hill, the moon was on one horizon, and directly opposite, the sun was on the rise. Here it was, a perfect metaphor for the past and the future, a place where music, memories and myth could all take shape.
Moya split her recording sessions between her home studio near Dublin and that of her producer, Ross Cullum, in London. Ross had previously worked on records by Tori Amos, Tears For Fears, and even Moya’s sister, Enya. They began writing together, and on the track ‘Bright Star’, Moya was so inspired that she produced the words and vocal lines in two hours. Also, Ross was finding new ways to frame Moya’s voice. ‘He was careful not to take my music out of its context,’ she notes. ‘But he also gave a modern, rhythmical aspect to it.’
The energy of the project kept bringing her back to the harp and so the instrument appeared on a series of tracks. It also became an important motif in the theme ? a quest through time and landscape to find the legendary harp that played at Tara. At a certain stage in recording the album Moya felt that the storyline had become too specific. She then decided to make things more open to interpretation. ‘When people talk to me about what Clannad’s music has done to them,’ she explains, ‘they say that they put the record on and they form their own pictures and feelings and emotions. So I wanted to leave a certain amount to the imagination.’
Guest musicians on the album included folk giant Martin Carthy, Robbie McIntosh (sometime Paul McCartney guitarist) and old friend Anto Drennan, now working with The Corrs. Moya’s band also played live on some key sessions, while a wealth of traditional players included Maire Breatnach, Nigel Eaton and Troy Doneckley.
Máire (RCA, 1992)
Misty Eyed Adventures (RCA, 1994)
Perfect Time (Universal, 1998) Whisper To The Wild Water (Word Entertainment, 1999)
New Irish Hymns (Kingsway Music 2001) Two Horizons (Universal, 2003) An Irish Christmas (BEO Records, 2005) Signature (BEO Records, 2006) Heart Strings (BEO Records, 2008)
My Match Is A Makin’, with Cormac de Barra (2010)
T with the Maggies Compass Records, 2010)
Voices & Harps, with Cormac de Barra (2011) Affinity, with Cormac de Barra (2013) Canvas (BEO Records, 2017)
2005 – Óró – A Live Session
2007 – Signature Special Tour Edition
2008 – Heart Strings
Donal Clancy was born in Canada in 1975 and later moved to Ireland. He has been involved with the best bands in Irish music, starting out in Clancy, O’Connell, and Clancy with his father Liam and his cousin Robbie O’Connell, helping to found the band Danú and them moving on to become part of Eileen Ivers Band before taking a pivotal spot playing guitar with one of the hottest Irish and Irish American bands around, Solas. When it was time to make a change, he found his old band Danú in need of a guitar player again, and that’s still one of his main gigs.