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ALTAN - The Gap Of Dreams 

ALTAN - The Gap Of Dreams 
Compass Records COMCD4708

After more albums than I can easily count and more years than I care to recall, Donegal's premier traditional band is still going strong. There have been a few line-up changes since I last reviewed an Altan album, most notably the replacement of Dermot Byrne by Martin Tourish on accordion, and the departure of founder member Ciaran Tourish on fiddle which does leave the instrumentals weaker, but the basic formula still works: tunes and songs with a strong Donegal flavour, a mix of old and new, with a contemporary acoustic edge to the arrangements. The Gap Of Dreams tips the balance towards songs, with seven songs here, three of them in English. The chilling Month Of January sends a shiver down my spine, as much for the purity of the singing as for the cold-blooded story. Dark Inishowen is no more cheerful, but doesn't work the same magic - perhaps it is too fresh. The final Fare Thee Well, A Stór could hardly fail to charm, being set to Shetland fiddle icon Tom Anderson's wonderful slow air, Da Slockit Light, answering the prayers of all the singers who wished they could perform this melody.

The title track features three new jigs, one by Mairéad, one by her daughter Nia, and one by guitarist Mark Kelly's son Sam, paving the way perhaps for Altan - The Next Generation. These fine tunes are followed up by the old reel Seán sa Cheo attributed to Néilidh Boyle, and two stirring compositions from Martin Tourish, before the first of four Gaelic songs. I particularly enjoyed Cumha An Oileáin, sweetly sung despite the sad words, and set to a beautiful tune. Other instrumental highlights include Ciarán Curran's bouzouki setting of The South West Wind, a piping classic, and a fine fiddle rendition of The Cameronian. Mark Kelly's tune, Port Alex, celebrates another youngster's birth, and showcases his own deft playing. My favourite track is a medley which expresses the music of Donegal as performed by Altan since their inception, with fiddle and bouzouki, a clear full sound ending with The Mermaid Of Mullaghmore which would be at home on any Altan album since the original Ceol Aduaidh back in the mists of time.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 124 of The Living Tradition magazine.