Saturday, April 11, 2015

Ireland's Music: The Alt

Knocknarea, near Sligo in the west of Ireland, is a place of history marked by stones and tombs going back to the Neolithic Age. It is a place of legend and story, going back, perhaps, beyond that. It is also a place of connection and friendship, qualities much in evidence when three Irish musicians gathered near there to rehearse for what would become a new collaboration. They named they decided to name their band and the first recording they would create after a glen on the side of the mountain which is called The Alt.

It is not that John Doyle, Nuala Kennedy, and Eamon O’Leary were looking for extra things to do: each has a lively career in solo work, in bands, and in teaching. When Kennedy and Doyle crossed paths on Cape Breton Island at the Celtic Colours Festival, though, they found a musical connection they wanted to explore further, and soon added O’Leary to the mix. Each of the three is an accomplished singer. Kennedy plays whistles and flutes. Doyle and O’Leary are both guitarists and play bouzouki. All of them are rooted in the music of Ireland, and have deep knowledge of songs and tunes of their native country, and each has experience of living and traveling in other lands.

All of these things play into the music they chose to record together. Though each is an accomplished writer of song and tune, they decided for their first album together to focus on music from the tradition. Each brought music to their gatherings, songs and tunes with story and melody that spoke to and of the traditions of the music of Ireland and to qualities of life, connection, and story that speak across time as well. There are love songs of varied sorts, songs of travel and of change, despair and hope, a touch of wry humor, and through it all, really fine stories well told. There is journey in the words and in the melodies as well, from quiet to rollicking, from rhythms to dance or tap your foot along to ones to lean in and listen closely. Songs include Finn Waterside, Willie Angler (also known as The Banks of the Bann), The Eighteenth of June, Lovely Nancy, Cha Tig Mor mo Bhean Dhachaigh sung in Scottish Gaelic, a nod to Kennedy’s longtime residence in Edinburgh), and One Morning in May.

Trading lead and harmony singing, lead lines and backup on their instruments, Doyle, Kennedy, and O’Leary create music which is at once intricate, delicate, strong, and straightforward. Begun in the shadow of Knocknarea in the west of Ireland and brought to recorded form in a quiet cabin the Appalachian Mountains of the southern United States,The Alt holds history, melody and stories well told, and the heart of friendship in the sharing of them all.

You may also wish to see
Shadow and Light: Irish Music from John Doyle
 music and journey

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


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