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ATLAS - Affinity 

ATLAS - Affinity 
Ropeadope Records RAD332

Intense, joyous, exhilarating music from this young duo: Atlas is Cillian King on concertinas and Cillian Doheny on guitars, and for such a small group they make an amazingly big splash. True, they rope in a few friends on fiddles and drums, but still this is a very impressive duo album. I'm guessing all the tunes are original - I certainly don't recognise any - although there's very little info with this CD-DVD combo. The DVD features most of the CD tracks in a studio setting, plus footage of the whole recording process, from serious string quartet arrangements to soul food sessions at the end of a long day.

The music is magnificent, glittering concertina and sparkling guitar, different lines intertwined with imaginative acoustic effects. The two title tracks in particular show a rare inventiveness, but it's clear from the start that Atlas are not your average Irish musicians. The traditional threads running through Affinity are overlaid and braided with modern rhythms, bags of swing, and that disregard for convention which is a hallmark of many brash young Irish bands. Musicophilia is in a Balkan 7/8 rhythm, mostly, and even the square pieces don't fit the neat holes for reels, jigs, hornpipes and so forth. Hyperion is like a song arrangement where the singer never opens their mouth, a long series of intros and fills and instrumental breaks, gently chilling. Amaryllis is understated and beautiful. Fail Better is unashamedly modern, somewhere between jazz and trance, an unusual sound for the concertina outside South America.

Tontine is the only piece which is easily labelled, a contemporary reel in the style of Gordon Duncan or Kevin O'Neill, something which would fit Treacherous Orchestra for instance. The partnership of guitar and concertina brings all the music to life, and while the fuller arrangements are very satisfying, you only really need Doheny and King to make this album fly. They finish with the charming and delicate One Day Like This, seemingly fragile behind clashing rhythms and jagged violins, but emerging triumphant - just like this CD. 

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 119 of The Living Tradition magazine.