Like all good things it was worth waiting for. Top traditional music group Altan recently released their first studio album in almost seven years to widespread and critical acclaim.
Entitled ‘The Poison Glen - Gleann Nimhe’, it captures the heart of soul of this genre with all the glorious subtlety and sweeping majesty that the title suggests. Each of the 13-tracks on offer has a unique and genuine quality that make you sit up and want more. Gleann Nimhe is their thirteenth album.’Gleann Nimhe’, meaning the “Poisoned Glen”, is, as we all know, in Dunlewey.
The track are: A Fig for a Kiss (Slip Jigs); Cailín Deas Crúite na mBó (Song); The Pretty Young Girls from Ardara Set (Highlands and Reels); The Blackest Crow (Song); Tommy Potts Slip (Jig); The House at the Corner; Seolta Geala (Song); The New Rigged Ship; Eddie Curran’s (Reels); Caitlín Triall (Song); The Wheels of the World (Slow Reel); The Lancers (Jigs); Lily of the West (Song) and An Ghealóg (Song).
Altan has been together for 3O years, and this album is a return to the simpler sound of earlier recordings, after their work with the Concert Orchestra.
Vocalist, fiddler and founding member Mairead Ni Mhaoinaigh says:”We went back to the roots of the six members of the band, with only Harry Bradley (flute) and Jim Higgins (percussion) as guests on this one. I also wanted to have the voice more to the fore in terms of the sound, less produced so that we could bring the music into the listener’s room a little more.’
Ni Mhaoinigh sings five songs on the album, and is joined by the current lineup of Ciaran Tourish (fiddle), Dermot Byrne (accordion), Mark Kelly (guitar), Ciarán Curran (bouzouki) and Daithi Sproule (guitar).
Altan was formed in the 80s by Mairead Ni Mhaoinigh and husband, flute player Frankie Kennedy, who sadly passed away in 1994.
This band are one of the most acclaimed trad bands, with fans that include Mick Jagger and Dolly Parton. They play a Donegal style that help them stand out from others. The playing on the album is fresh, lively and sounds very much like the band are really enjoying themselves. There is no hiding place in traditional music and as Altan have shown album after album, if you’ve got it you may as well flaunt it for all its worth. They make no apologies for their love of the language and the tunes and intertwine them with such intricacy and musicianship that you can’t help but be blown away. In other words it’s effortless in terms of listenability and pleasure. Altan are saying - get in out of the cold, throw a log on the fire, and don’t think for a minute you’re standing in the conrer - get out there and enjoy yourself!
Although the title ‘The Poison Glen’ might sound a little bit of a contradiction this kind of ‘poison’ will do you no harm at all!
“In fact,” says Mairéad, “it’s a mistranslation from ‘heavenly glen’, but the name ‘poison glen’ is now so old that a lot of stories have been created around it.
The band are photographed in it on the album’s cover, with colours from a Maxfield Parrish painting (artwork was created by Edain O’Donnell).
The Ireland of myth and legend is just home to her: “It’s part of our psyche and makeup. When we were growing up, it was just a matter of fact, this is where Balor of the Evil Eye lived. These giants and fairies were real.”
When the wind is howling outside, it’s easy to understand why people believed.
“It’s misty and mysterious. You woudn’t know who’s lurking outside in the shadows.”
Her pure, high voice has always had an evocative quality, as if she’s singing from a misty twilight herself. The music the band makes is very rooted in place.
“Where you live really is what you’re about creatively. In a place like Donegal, which is so naturally beautiful and very very wild, the elements are ruling your life in a way still, even in this modern age. You realize how incredibly powerful that was years ago when people would have to walk everywhere.”
As for whether she believes in the Gentle Folk, she wisely replies, “I don’t say I know everything. I wouldn’t close any doors.”