Reeling Into St. Paddy's Day

Altan - Runaway Sunday
(Virgin Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

There you are on St. Patrick's Day; corned beef, cabbage, lamb stew and soda bread before you. Pints of Guinness hoisted high above, amidst good friends and family. If you've noticed anything missing it's probably not from the table but rather from the air. Nothing evokes the mood and spirit of the Irish more than the traditional music of Ireland.
Irish folk musicians such as The Chieftains, Natalie MacMaster and The Irish Weavers have all made a name for themselves performing time-honored Celtic music, but there is perhaps no finer traditional band of their generation than Altan.
Altan hails from Ireland's County Donegal and it is there where vocalist and fiddler Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh and Belfast native and flute player Frankie Kennedy formed the artistic nucleus for Altan under the name Ragalrne. In 1981 the couple wedded and began teaching in Dublin shortly before releasing their first album Ceol Aduaidh (which translates as "Music from the North").
Four years later they recorded their first album under their current name Altan and found themselves an instant success in the 'roots' music scene. In 1992 Kennedy was diagnosed with bone cancer and succumbed to the disease two years later, which left Mairead searching even deeper into her own music for inspiration. Altan's latest release, Runaway Sunday, finds Mairead along with fellow bandmembers Ciaran Tourish (fiddle), Dermot Byrne (accordion), Ciaran Curran (bouzouki), Daithi Sproule (guitar) and Mark Kelly (guitar) in top form as they breeze through Irish reels, jigs and strathspeys that would have their great-grandparents dancing on table tops if they were still alive. On the spirited medley "Clan Ranald/J.B.'s Reel/Paddy Mac's Reel/Kitty Sheain's" the band works themselves into a fiddle frenzy as Mairead and Tourish scrap back and forth at one another. "Germans", a 'barn dance' that was given to the band from Mairead's father and fiddle teacher, is an engaging two-step instrumental that takes the listener back to a simpler time. And on the introspective jig "Ciaran's Capers" Curran introduces a sedctive, new sound to Irish music with his mandolin-like Greek bouzouki.
Though the music speaks in volumes and of timeless ages, it is Mairead's angelic, serene voice that ignites the songs, "A Moment In Time", "I Wish My Love Was A Red Red Rose" and "Citi Ni Eadhra". With tunes of love and sorrow (sung both in English and Gaelic) her rich, passionate tones evoke an Irish pride that could paint the Chicago River green.

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