Solas Are On Their Way!
By Gwen Orel
Solas are one of the most ground-breaking, significant bands in Irish traditional music. They are touring to promote their brand new album The Turning Tide, and the energy of these players at the top of their game should not be missed (check out dates on http://www.solasmusic.com).
The new album blends their musical sizzle with a new spirit of social inquiry. "Something is definitely afoot," says founding member Seamus Egan (guitary, banjo, flute, whistles, bodhran), about the title of the album and its inspiration. "The tide is turning, but we don't know if it's for the betterment yet. We don't know where we're going."
What the band saw on the road, touring during the last presidential election in the U.S., playing while the economy crashed, shaped the album, which includes covers of songs by Bruce Springsteen and Richard Thompson, as well as the exciting sets they do so well. "We wanted to try and do songs that touched on some of the social issues going around today," says Egan.
Even the harmonies evoke sixties folk rock, as well as the harmonies of such classic Irish groups the Bothy Band, with backup harmonies for the first time from Mick McAuley (button accordion, guitar), and Eamon McElholm (guitar, piano). "We are connecting the dots back to the likes of Crosby, Stills, Nash," said Egan. Fiddler Winnie Horan agreed. "I grew up listening to the Eagles and the Allman Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel."
The Turning Tide is the second album with young Irish vocalist County Kilkenny vocalist Mairead Phelan, and her energy has also invigorated the band, Horan said. In fact, she wrote a gypsy-flavored waltz for the singer, who always makes her laugh on the road. Phelan's soft voice, blended with Egan's pure whistles, give American singer/songwriter Josh Ritter's quiet outcry "A Girl in the War," written about the Iraq war, an Irish lilt. "The Ghost of Tom Joad," inspired by Steinbeck's classic novel and film, is the first time Solas has ever done a Springsteen song, and the combination of American roots with Irish arrangements create an unforgettable anthem. Not only did Springsteen's lyrics about disenfranchisement and injustice speak to Egan, he had to admit "we are big Boss fans."
"Sorry," by Scottish singer/songwriter Karine Polwart, seems quiet but really expresses rage. Egan said, "It seems all anyone needs to do now is say sorry no matter what they've done...banks, corporations, wall street.. it all rings hollow. At some point, it isn't enough."
But other tunes express nothing but sheer joy. Egan's instrumental, "A Tune for Roan," dedicated to a newborn baby girl in his extended family, is all delicacy and optimism. Egan's original "Hugo's Big Reel" is just a lot of fun. Still, it is the passion infusing the songs that makes this new album unforgettable, and distinguishes Solas from just a great band of superplayers--taking them to a new level of artistry, and a new point of departure.