Passport Series: Altan

Thursday, February 27, 2020

With a career at the pinnacle of traditional Irish music for nearly 35 years, Altan has achieved legendary status in a genre that has been equally shaped by the band’s influence and genius.


On THE WIDENING GYRE, the band explores the musical relationship between American roots music and the traditional music of Ireland. It’s the first full project Altan has recorded in Nashville, and working under the guiding hand of producer and Compass co-founder Garry West, the album pairs these Irish masters with some of the leading lights of American folk and bluegrass music, many of whom the members of Altan have known for years. The resulting music is completely engaging, simultaneously breaking new ground and reminding listeners of the ancient bond between Irish and Appalachian music.

Stand out tracks include “White Birds” featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter on a lush, meditative reimagining of the W.B. Yeats poem about being a bird on the sea, an appropriate metaphor for a band who has musically and physically crossed the Atlantic in the making of the album. Eddi Reader, “an amazing singer and very generous person,” says founding member Mairéad Ni Mhaonaigh, offers her angelic backing vocals to “Far Beyond Carrickfinn.” Altan borrowed the mournful waltz “No Ash Will Burn” from the legendary Nashville songwriter Walt Aldridge. Mairead’s crystalline vocals unlock the Celtic undertones of the song and contrast the plaintive baritone of Bruce Molsky, a longstanding friend of Altan and an old-time fiddler and singer of great renown. The bluegrass presence shows itself on “Buffalo Gals” and “Thomasino (Thomas Tourish’s Tune),” a lively fiddle song written by Altan’s own Ciaran Tourish which features bluegrass giants Darol Anger, Alison Brown, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Todd Phillips and Bryan Sutton. Tim O’Brien provides a duet vocal on “The House Carpenter (Gypsy Davy),” a track which spotlights the shared musical roots of Irish and Appalachian music with references to both of these historical songs.

“The hottest group in the Celtic realm…” —The Boston Globe
“Thought by many to be the finest traditional Irish combo working today, Altan seamlessly blend dazzling instrumental prowess and the gorgeously delicate vocals of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh.” —Chicago Weekly
“The appeal of Altan centres on the fact that they see no differences or divisions in music. As such, they have managed to cross the all- important cultural barriers between folk and world and rock music.” —The Sunday Tribune (Dublin)

Over those years they have established themselves as one of the most important live acts to play traditional Irish music in Ireland and on the World stage. The Boston Globe has described them as “The hottest group in the Celtic realm!” Altan have toured all over the USA and Europe. They also enjoy popularity in Japan where they frequently tour and have hosted Altan festivals in the middle of Tokyo to thousands of enthusiastic fans.

 

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