Solas: Winifred Horan (vocals, fiddle, viola); Mick McAuley (vocals, low whistle, button & piano accordions); Deidre Scanlan (vocals); Seamus Egan (electric & nylon string guitar, flute, low whistle, banjo, piano); Donal Clancy (guitar, bouzouki).
Additional personnel: Antje Duvekot (vocals); Duke Levine (electric guitar, lap steel); Chico Huff (electric bass); Ben Wittman (piano, drums, percussion); Dave West (keyboards, programming).
Recorded at Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, New York.
From the beginning, Solas has been a group that likes to mix it up, blending traditional Celtic melodies with an updated instrumental approach, but their fourth album, 2000's The Hour Before Dawn, found them moving away from the passionate jigs and reels of their earlier work into a more introspective style. The group's fifth disc, The Edge of Silence, finds them venturing even farther down this path; the sessions were produced by Solas leader Seamus Egan in collaboration with Neil Dorfsman, who has previously worked with Dire Straits and Sting, and it's certainly the group's most polished and stylistically diverse work to date. Many of the selections sound as if they're more strongly influenced by new age atmospherics and moody pop styles than anything in the lexicon of traditional Celtic music, and even the most trad-style numbers (such as "Charmy Chaplin" and "Legless") sound significantly more streamlined than this group did on their earlier work; the languid drift of "Black Annis," the subtly anthemic melodicism of their take on Bob Dylan's "Dignity," and electronic percussion textures of "Darkness, Darkness" make it clear Solas are governed less by Irish music's past than their own creative vision of the future. Which is to say that some of the purists who embraced the group's earlier work may be a bit put off by the glossy surfaces and pop-friendly melodies on The Edge of Silence, and once in a while one does miss the bracing fire of something like "The Yellow Tinker/Cranking Out/Master Crowley's #2" from their debut. But the material is strong; this band plays with grace and real passion (fiddler Winifred Horan, guitarist Donal Clancy, and accordionist Mick McAuley are all in superb form), and Deirdre Scanlan's vocals are a thing of beauty. If Solas are moving closer to pop music on The Edge of Silence, they're clearly doing so on their own terms, and with their talents and sense of creative daring very much intact. ~ Mark Deming