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ALTAN - Gleann Nimhe (The Poison Glen)

ALTAN - Gleann Nimhe (The Poison Glen)
Compass  COMPASS4571

The poison is the poison of enchantment here, as this premier Irish act releases a new studio album, its first in seven years, with (as far as I can tell, there being no personnel listing on the package) no line-up changes of late. The disc harks back to the simple, tried-and-well-tested approach of the classic early Altan albums, being a straightforward, well-balanced mix of typically exhilarating tune-sets and gorgeously turned songs, but with all that extra experience counting enormously in terms of ensemble, shading, phrasing, timing and general spirit.

The mellow energy of the assorted instrumental medleys (making up seven of the disc’s 13 tracks) is as miraculous as ever; any sense of “arrangement” is no contrivance and does not compromise the genial power of the playing, and although the overriding impression can be more one of barely-restrained ease, even understatement, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s hard to pick out highlights, but I most enjoyed the fiery fiddling on the pair of Donegal jigs (track 8), the Ardara Girls reel-set (track 3) with its almost delirious sprightliness (Dermot Byrne’s accordion work in particular) and the band’s glorious new take on The Wheels Of The World. The six songs here are the unchallenged province of the wonderful Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh of course, and her special brand of ethereal expressiveness proves as persuasive as ever on a deftly chosen and interesting mixture of material that ranges from the limpid Seolta Geala (a translation of a sea shanty, the melody for which is Rio Grande) to the beautiful lament An Ghealóg (which features the guest flute of Harry Bradley) and a fine duet rendition (in duet with Dáithi Sproule) of The Blackest Crow. Reminding me at times of the classic Bothy Band recordings, Gleann Nimhe is the sound of a band at ease, doing what they do well, enjoying every moment, and rejoicing in sharing it with you.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.