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SOLAS - The Turning Tide

The Turning Tide
Compass Records 4530

Starting with Hugo's Big Reel from Seamus Egan's prolific pen, the Solas sound is rich and powerful. Guitarist Eamonn McElholm wrote the slippery jig The Crows of Killimer, and the clearly labelled Box Reel Number 2 which gives way to a monster modal version of The Boys of Malin. Winnie Horan's Waltz for Máiréad is a fiddle masterpiece, smooth but rhythmic, somewhere between Paris café and Pennsylvania Avenue. Box-player Mick McAuley contributes Trip to Kareol, a challenging Balkan dance, bags of percussion behind a great melody. Two more Egan tunes complete the set, one a galloping modern reel and the other a timeless floating air. The arrangements are so good, you barely notice that each track is only a single melody. I could certainly have coped with a little more banjo too, maybe another number like Grady Fernando Comes to Town, but even without that Solas' music plucks at your heart and hammers on your soul.

Half this CD is given over to Máiréad Phelan's vocals, and in general she does not do herself justice here. The words are strangely unclear on several tracks: I find it hard to tell what is going on in Girl in the War particularly, and unfortunately the sleeve notes don't provide any lyrics. Songs by Richard Thompson and Bruce Springsteen may be very popular, but they don't come across especially well here and the words are curiously muddied again. Máiréad is beautifully clear on Karine Polwart's hard-hittting song Sorry, and this is definitely the strongest vocal track on The Turning Tide. The choice of traditional ballad A Sailor's Life is surprising, one of the most nonsensical versions of this well-known story, but the tune is catchy and the singing fine. The Turning Tide may not have met all my expectations, but it still bears the stamp of Solas' greatness. The instrumental genius of Seamus Egan, Mick McAuley and Winnie Horan offers up music which is fresh, exciting, and identifiably Irish, and their tide will surely turn again.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 85 of The Living Tradition magazine.