Last night my wife Geri and I went to a concert by Solas, the acclaimed Irish band. It was an amazing show, especially for a place as out-of-the-way as Idaho Falls. Solas plays traditional Irish music but infuses their tunes with modern twists that have made them popular across genres. If you have never heard of Solas, you owe it to yourself to check them out. They have an excellent webpage at http://www.solasmusic.com/.
The musicians made several references to the difficulty getting enough air at our high altitude and worked very hard to put on a rousing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping show.
Since its birth in 1996, Solas has been loudly proclaimed as the most popular, influential, and exciting Celtic band to ever emerge from the United States. Even before the release of its first Shanachie CD, the Boston Herald trumpeted the quartet as "the first truly great Irish band to arise from America and the Irish Echo ranked Solas among the "most exciting bands anywhere in the world."
Since then, the praise has only grown louder. The Philadelphia Inquirer said they make "mind-blowing Irish folk music, maybe the world's best". The New York Times praised their "unbridled vitality", the Washington Post dubbed them one of the "world's finest Celtic-folk ensembles" and the Austin American-Statesman called them "the standard by which contemporary Celtic groups are judged."
Solas is virtually unique in the new territory it has opened up for Celtic music. It has performed at all the major Celtic and folk festivals, including Philadelphia, Edmonton, the legendary National Folk Festival, and Milwaukee's Irish fest; but also at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and the chamber music summer series at Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It has performed at Symphony Hall, Wolf Trap, the Ford Amphitheater, and Queens Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland. In New York City, where the band was based in its early years, it has played at the legendary Bottom Line folk club, but also at vaunted classical venues Town Hall and Symphony Space.
The Solas sound today is anchored by founders Seamus Egan, who plays flute, tenor banjo, mandolin, whistle, guitar and bodhran, and fiddler Winifred Horan. They are two of the most respected—and imitated—musicians anywhere in acoustic music. Mick McAuley from Kilkenny plays accordion and concertina; Eamon McElholm from Tyrone plays guitar and keyboards. Deirdre Scanlan is the band's latest vocal discovery, gorgeously filling the role carved out by founding vocalist Karan Casey.
(My note: A special treat last night was the appearance of original singer Karan Casey, who retired to be a mother a few years ago and made the trip to Idaho from Waterford, Ireland.)
Supplemental background information:
Solas has emerged as the most exciting band in traditional Irish music. The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine says, "Seamus Egan and Solas make mind-blowing Irish folk music, maybe the world's best," while the Los Angeles Times says, "Solas offers a compellingly original, strikingly contemporary view of traditional Celtic sounds." Although Solas can play undiluted traditional Irish music as well as anyone alive or departed, they are always varying the mix of fire tested tradition and contemporary sensibility with an ease and naturalness that is as astonishing as their overwhelming musicianship. As a result, they transcend musical genres into the realm of pure musical expression that only a relative handful of musicians attain. The internationally acclaimed supergroup has not only captured the hearts and ears of Irish music fans, but fans all around the globe with their blend of Celtic traditional, folk and country melodies, bluesy sometimes jazz-inspired improvisations and global rhythms. Solas has built a fanbase that includes the likes of Bela Fleck, Emmylou Harris and the much sought-after rap producer Timbaland who surprisingly sampled the band on his radio hit "All Yall." Waiting for an Echo, Solas' newest gem, promises to attract new fans and further endear old ones.
Seamus Egan is an instrumental wizard who has mastered everything from the flute to tenor banjo, mandolin, tin whistle, low whistle, guitars and bodhran. Born in Hatboro, PA. and raised for a time in Foxford, Co. Mayo, Ireland, he has been signed to Shanachie Entertainment since the age of 13! Fans may remember Sarah McLaughlan's Grammy-winning hit "I'll Remember You," penned by Seamus along with Sarah and Dave Merg. The master composer has also written music and played on soundtracks for the films Brothers McMullen and the Oscar winning movie Dead Man Walking, as well as the stage show Dancing on Dangerous Ground. Seamus recently added acting to his many list of talents. In the summer, he completed filming the independent film "American Wake."
Native New Yorker Winifred Horan is a graduate of Boston's prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. She has played in Cherish the Ladies and the Sharon Shannon Band and has recorded with everyone from Richard Shindell and Patty Larkin to Liz Carroll and Eileen Ivers. Incidentally, Winifred is a nine-time Irish stepdancing titlist, and an All-Ireland fiddle champion. Horan's recent solo outing, Just One Wish, was hailed as one of the best Celtic or roots albums of 2002 by the Boston Globe, Philadelphia City Paper, Irish Times and Irish Echo. Horan's technical virtuosity coupled with her yen for musical roaming is a key element to the fascinating sound of Solas.
Mick McAuley hails from Callan, Co. Kilkenny and has long been regarded as one of Ireland's finest button accordionists. Born into a well known musical family, Mick has been playing whistles and accordion from the time he was a child. By the time he was eleven, he had already appeared on national tv. As a teenager he toured extensively throughout Europe at various cultural festivals while turning his hand to the concertina. Mick, who also sings background vocals for Solas, has performed and/or recorded with Ron Kavana, Terry Woods as "the Bucks", The Alias Band, Niamh Parsons and the Loose Connections, Karan Casey, Susan McKeown, and Paul Brennan of Clannad. In September 2003, Mick will release his Shanachie debut as a leader, An Ocean's Breadth.
Just before joining Solas, Deirdre Scanlan released her solo debut, Speak Softly, which attracted widespread praise throughout Ireland. Deirdre possesses one of those ethereal voices that keeps listeners hanging on to her every word. A native of Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, she also appeared on a recording by Nenagh Singers Circle and played fiddle with the Paddy O'Brien Ormond Ceili Band in her home county.
Eamon McElholm is a multi-talented musician, who is also an accomplished singer/songwriter, also plays keyboard and sings background vocals for Solas. He has been touring with Solas since August 2002. Eamon was born and raised in County Tyrone in the North of Ireland. For the last several years he has been heavily involved with the well-known Irish band 'Stockton's Wing' as singer, songwriter and guitarist. A few years ago Eamon was awarded the Performing Rights Society/ John Lennon Songwriters Award, at the time he was a student in Manchester, England.