Friday, May 11, 2007

now playing: solas

Reunion: A Decade of Solas

Solas means light, in Irish, and ten years on, they’re still shining strong.

Karan Casey takes the lead vocal on Pastures of Plenty to kick off a joyous, engaging seventeen track set that evokes memories of past Solas collaborations and creates new ones. When flute player Seamus Egan, fiddler Winifred Horan, Casey, and guitarist John Doyle pooled their irish and Irish American musical talents with a few friends back in 1996 they thought it was for a one off project. The blend of energy and grace, tradition and adventure, Irish and America, has kept Solas going full strength for ten years though, and spun off solo careers and collaborative recordings of all sorts from the musicians who’ve been part of the band. Egan and Horan still anchor the group, and when they decided to do a project marking ten years of music, they were delighted find old band mates and new friends able to join them. They came up with quite a set to share all the talents. “We started writing out lists of material and line ups from over the years, and what material represented each lineup best,” Egan explained. “We didn’t just want to recreate old versions of Solas, we wanted to create new lineups too, We wanted to hear what it would be like to have Karan singing harmony on something Deidre sang, or vice versa. We don’t have a chance to do this very often!”

From the Appalachian folk music of Silver Dagger to the County Down tale of he Newry Highwayman,from The Highlands of Holland to Rain and Snow to the quiet Lament for Frankie,it’s a lively evening full of song, tune, story, laughter, and collaboration which well honors the band’s history and its future.

They held the concert in Philadelphia. “A lot of the history of the band is on Philadelphia. Most of our records were made here,” Egan pointed out. The band is scattered across American and Ireland these days, but Egan moved back to Philadelphia five years ago ,” and it’s become a home base for the band,” he said. That gave them a chance to bring in the talents of musicians based in the area who had played on the band’s recordings, including Ben Wittman, Chico Huff, John Anthony, and Michael Aharon. “We had not really ahd the chance to play with them live on an ongoing basis,” Egan said.” They helped us pull this show off.”

It was an adventure. They had two days to rehearse, and not everyone was able to be there for both days. That energy and connection fuels some of the brighter moment of music, though. The musicians had not had not played some of the tunes together in years. “It could have been a disaster,” Egan said. “If we’d had time, we’d have thought of all the things that could have gone wrong!”

Listening to the lively weaving in and out of notes and instruments on Who’s in the What Now and The Flowing Bowl one has the impression that wouldn’t have stopped them anyway. Their joy in the work and in working together comes clear even as things wind down with Horan’s fiddle coming to the fore to close things out on Lament for Frankie.

There is a DVD included in the package . The work of the musicians and their sheer fun and great joy in sharing the music is well honored in that program, which includes sixteen cuts, some the same and some different from the audio CD, and nine bonus tracks, some of which appear on the audio version and some of which do not. There’s a lot of lively interaction with the audience, as well as behind the scenes footage and about half an hour of interviews.

“It was really amazing how fast the songs and the tunes came back, “ Egan said.” It feels like we’d been playing them all along--it felt like we’d just been playing a gig.

“Not even considering the lineup changes, ten years is a long time to be in one band,” he continued. “Back then we were so young, just starting out. Over the years everyone has come into their own as solo performers. Having that dynamic in the group was fantastic -- everyone coming back with an earned sense of confidence.”

Well earned, indeed: the lineup included John Doyle, Eamon MacElholm, Donal Clancy, Deirdre Scanlon, Seamus Egan, Winifred Horan, Ben Wittman, Karan Casey, Chico Huff, John Anthony, Michael Aharon, John Williams, and Antje Duvekot. What couldn’t that group come up with? It’s got Egan thinking about what’s next, too. “This performance definitely reminded us of the strength of our catalog. But more than that, it’s given us the inspiration to go back into the studio to record new things -- to go forward.”

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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