Solas: Karan Casey (vocals); John Doyle (guitar); Winifred Horan (fiddle); Seamus Egan (flute); John Williams (accordion).
Solas succeed where other Irish bands fail: They're lively without being frenetic; Karan Casey's vocals are high and clear without being ethereal or waifish; and they manage to add texture and complexity to the many traditionals they play. Their self-titled debut contains five songs (not enough!) and eight jigs, reels, and airs. The group know how to build an instrumental up to a fevered pitch, as on "The Yellow Tinker/Cranking Out/Master Crowley's #2," which creates fantasy swirls of accordion and fiddle before the guitar enters with its insistent rhythms. Not that all the pieces are fast: "Crested Hens" is a slow, sweet air -- a bit reminiscent of Jay Ungar or Eileen Ivers -- and "My Johnny's Gone for a Soldier" is a sweet love song about an Irish rebellion. Solas is simply one of the best, most varied albums of Irish music to come out in a long time. ~ Kurt Keefner